It is truly no secret that I love pasta—I mean, really love it. I eat it at least twice, sometimes three times, a week. My last meal on this planet would definitely, without a single doubt, be a big plate of whole-wheat spaghetti (don’t @ me), drenched in Marcella Hazan’s iconic tomato sauce and snow-capped with salty Parmesan cheese. (Okay, you get the point.)
Other than being, well, super delicious, pasta is reliably quick and simple weeknight fodder. With pasta, I can pretty much always have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes—15 minutes, if I really move sharpish.
But even for me, pasta is not always the right kind of meal: For one, even spending 30 minutes cooking is sometimes overextending myself. And pasta can get a little repetitive. Not to mention, vegetarian pasta dishes can be lacking on the protein front, especially ones with speedy cook times. So how do I keep my pasta dinners uber-quick, and fresh, balanced, and exciting?
Cue Anna Jones, Guardian columnist, four-time cookbook author, and renowned food stylist. Both professionally and personally, Anna embraces a vegetarian, plant-forward lifestyle, and also understands the realities of a jam-packed weeknight.
I’ve noticed two wonderful things about Anna’s cooking: 1) She cooks with the seasons, so her recipes change up pretty often throughout the year, but always capture the best vegetable offerings, and 2) In these seasonal offerings, everything from pasta to traybakes to soups and salads, Anna thoughtfully, intently layers textures and flavors. She’ll add heft to most meals with nuts, beans, lentils, and hardy grains. She’ll turn to bright, fresh herbs; sharp and salty cheeses; and zingy citrus zest to add punch. Each ingredient has a clear, important role in the dish.
Recently, in a weeknight dinner rut, I turned to the “spring” section of Anna’s book for ideas, and hit the pasta jackpot. (It was a Tuesday, and I was pretty exhausted after work.) Luckily for me, Anna has perfected the art of the “one-pan pasta,” and in her several recipes for them in the book, employs the same seasonal and textural creativity that I love so much about her cooking style.
Below, you’ll find a couple of Anna’s perfect one-pan pastas—one that uses bunches of fresh, springy greenery (literally!); the other, a pasta I know I’ll turn to again and again in the late summer and beyond. Best news is, they’re both made with totally unfussy ingredients, and are ready in some 15 to 20 minutes.
In this dish, Anna cleverly uses the starch from spaghetti, fresh peas and asparagus, and Parmesan or pecorino cheese to create a thick, velvety sauce to coat the pasta. When the pasta’s cooked, she adds in sorrel, a bright, lemony, springtime green, roughly torn basil or mint, and the zest and juice of two lemons. It’s done in about 15 minutes, and is basically April in a bowl.
Here, Anna creates another self-saucing pasta, using a few smartypants moves. First, she sears quick-cooking, thin-skinned delicata squash (though you could use peeled butternut, or even big chunks of summer squash), and to this adds the pasta and the boiling water.
The starch from the squash and pasta water creates a sauce, along with curly kale leaves and some thinly sliced, full-of-flavor kale stems; Parmesan or pecorino; whole-wheat rigatoni or penne; and half a can of pre-cooked green lentils to near-instantly bulk things up (whole-wheat pasta gives off slightly less starch than its durum cousins). Anna also packs in a ton of flavor with a cube of vegetable bouillon, and two whole tablespoons of drained baby capers.
And these two variants are just the tip of the iceberg: You can apply the same one-pot technique Anna uses in these dishes to just about any quick-cooking vegetable/pasta combo. Just use a pasta shape with a cooking time of about 8 minutes, and maintain the right ratio of water-to-pasta (4 1/2 cups—a liter—of water for 12 ounces of pasta). A farfalle/broccoli floret/cherry tomato situation, with plenty of lemon and Parm, might very well be dinner tonight.