Back to Basics: Pasta

After good old fashioned beans on toast, pasta is probably the most common student dinner. There was a guy in my flat last year who I swear only ever ate pasta, often with tomato ketchup – much to my horror! But today I am going to give you a few ideas of how else pasta can be served to make a relatively boring ingredient part of a great dish.

There are always stories circulating the internet of idiots who thought that it was a good idea to cook their pasta in the kettle – I suppose you can see the logic, the packet does say put into boiling water but really? It makes you wonder, sometimes. Anyway, on behalf of universities all over the country, please don’t cook your pasta this way. It will stick to the inside and kill the heating elements. You will not be popular with your flatmates when they all have to chip in to buy a new one.

Cooking pasta is easy, as I pray that you know already. Like when cooking rice I don’t weigh out my pasta, as I know that for me a few handfuls is enough. An average portion though is about 75-80g.

To cook it, take a saucepan and fill it between 1/2 and 3/4 with water (either from the tap or pre boiled in the kettle). Put it on the hob and bring it to the boil. Add the pasta to the water – my advice is to add a few pieces in first and then add the rest, you will see why when you do it – and then cook for how ever long it says on the packet. See, simple. If you can’t manage that… Well…

Now that you know how to cook pasta (although I hope you knew already), let’s talk about what you can do with it:

  • BBQ Chicken Bake: To make it for one person, you need a pre-cooked chicken breast (depending on the size, cook in the oven at 220C for 25 minutes on one side then 15 on the other. You can do this the morning before, the day before or just buy pre-cooked chicken from the supermarket). Slice half an onion (I use red as I prefer the taste but white works perfectly well too) and fry it until soft over a medium heat. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the instructions. Drain the water from the saucepan you used to cook the pasta and put it back over a medium heat. Add 100ml tomato passata, a squirt of BBQ sauce, the chicken (sliced) and the fried onions and mix together. Transfer into an oven safe dish, sprinkle cheese over it and bake in the oven for between 15-20 minutes. Average cost: £1.49 (using fresh chicken)

 

  • Pasta and Ratatouille: You can make the ratatouille in advance and freeze it in portions. With this recipe I can generally get 4-5 portions out of it. To make the ratatouille take an onion and chop into thick slices. Take a red, yellow and orange pepper. Take out the core (if you don’t know how to chop a pepper without losing a finger, I will be putting up a quick guide to chopping vegetables soon) and cut into chunks. Put these vegetables into a pan with some oil (or whatever equivalent you use, I use frylight spray) and fry for a few minutes. Add a courgette that has been sliced into think chunks. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and bring to the boil. Season with salt, pepper and a tsp of mixed herbs. Leave on a low heat until the courgette is soft. At this point you can cook the pasta and then serve with a ladle of the ratatouille. Average cost: 55p (assuming you batch cook the ratatouille)

 

  • Cheesy Leek and Onion Pasta: Slice half and onion and 1/4-1/3 of a leek. Fry the onions for a few minutes and then add the leeks. Meanwhile make up your cheese sauce. Whilst you could make it from scratch, I find that using a packet of cheese sauce mix always works better and fails far less often! Whilst doing that, cook your pasta. When the onions and leeks are soft and the cheese sauce is ready, mix all with the pasta and serve. Average cost: 65p

Obviously none of these ideas quite match up to the technical skills required to squirt tomato ketchup over a portion of pasta but they are very tasty nonetheless. Pasta is such a versatile ingredient and these recipes can easily be adjusted to your tastes. Add any vegetables you want to the ratatouille or fry some mince and throw it into the cheesy leek and onion pasta for a change.

Anyway, I hope this has given you some ideas for dinners. Have a great day!

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