I love the idea of Meatless Monday (info here), even though I’m abysmal about practicing it. I seem to do Meatless Wednesdays, which, you know, doesn’t have the same ring to it. Even if you’re an avowed carnivore, having a vegetarian (or even vegan!) meal once a week is a great way to shake up your cooking routine. And one easy way to achieve this goal is a pasta dinner.
Gluten-free pastas are readily available just about anywhere, and while the selection of shapes isn’t wide (think mostly spaghetti and penne shapes, with a few others tossed in every now and then), the taste is pretty darn good. The most common base ingredients are brown rice, corn, or quinoa. I tend to prefer the corn-based GF pastas as they are a bit more forgiving when I accidentally leave them cooking for too long.
Needless to say, pasta dishes generally come together very quickly, so you can have a great meal on the table in less than half an hour. Make the sauce while your water is boiling, cook the pasta, toss with sauce, serve! This thirty minute window holds true even if you’re making pesto from scratch.
In addition to aforementioned pesto — a great, flavorful sauce — there are other ways to dress up vegetarian pastas. A simple marinara sauce can be perfect if you’re looking for a light meal. Top the dish with a bit of shredded basil. If you’re a fan of Alfredo sauces, just combine heavy cream, butter, and grated parmesan for an elegant sauce. Season to taste, add some finely chopped parsley for color, and serve.
One of my favorite additions to pasta is grilled or roasted vegetables, your classic pasta primavera with whatever’s in season. You can use an Alfredo sauce, a tomato-based sauce, or simple olive oil and garlic with a touch of lemon zest. In our house, we use zucchini ribbons as an elegant accompaniment to a lightly dressed pasta.
Legumes like chickpeas add hearty protein to a pasta dish. Pair them with feta cheese, spinach, and an olive oil and garlic sauce. Grilled or steamed asparagus and a balsamic vinegar-based sauce is always a good choice.
Another favorite for vegetarian pasta meals is a quick sesame sauce, using sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, and a little bit of (optional) sugar for an Asian twist on pasta night. Take it a step further with peanut butter for a peanut sauce. Use traditional Asian-style rice noodles or Italian-style noodles — your choice.
If you’re feeling ambitious, a vegetable lasagna makes for a great change. Chunks of eggplant or zucchini or any other vegetables fill in for the meat in your layers. Or roll a ratatouille-style combination of veggies in cooked lasagna noodles, cover with marinara sauce, and bake for 20 minutes (until heated all the way through).
Obviously, there is no end to the pasta-bilities (sorry, couldn’t resist!) when it comes to meat-free pasta dishes. What are your favorites? Tell me about them in the comments!
Tip of the Week
Reserve about a cup of pasta water in case you need a bit more liquid to help your sauce coat the pasta thoroughly. I usually scoop out a bit before draining my pasta, and I generally use a half cup at the most.
Menu of the Week
Pesto is one of my favorite additions to pasta, rice, potatoes, meats. You can go traditional with basil, olive oil, parmesan, and pine nuts. Or you can use kale and walnuts. Artichoke hearts. Here are some great suggestions at Love and Lemons http://www.loveandlemons.com/2012/08/03/pesto-ways/ — as you can see, it’s all about variations on the basic recipe.
- Pasta with Pesto Sauce
- Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette