Thursday, January 12, 2012

Easy Ways to Jazz Up Pasta

I got a good start on a few of my 28 in 28 goals this week! Last night I went to my first YNPN (Young Nonprofit Professionals Network) event, part of goal #13, and today I did day 2 of the Couch to 5k program, goal #6. I have to say, running is much easier when the weather is almost always perfect and there is such great scenery!

I also broke in some of my new bakeware tonight, but not in the way you might think. We got a set of super cute Giada bakeware for the wedding that I just unpacked:
Go figure, the first time I use any of it is to make these:

Rice Krispies Treats! The ingredients were taking up space in our cabinets, so we figured what the heck. The marshmellows were leftover from a camping trip where I impressed my coworkers by introducing them to the magic of putting a Reese's cup on your s'mores YUM. These treats will be an exercise in portion control for sure, but good just the same!

Now that we're living in California, we are definitely on a tighter budget which means we have to be even more creative in the kitchen. Ok, the rice krispies treats weren't so creative, but in general we've been looking for ways to make really basic meals more interesting. Pasta has become a staple for dinner, not only because it's cheap, but it's quick and easy. Here are a few ways I've jazzed up our pasta dinners recently:

Johnsonville Chicken Sausage

Or whatever type of sausage you like. I've never really tried chicken sausage before, but there was a coupon in the paper a few weeks ago, so when these went on sale we decided to try them.

They come in a few different flavors. What's nice is you could grill the ones you don't use another night for a whole different meal! For our pasta though, I cut the sausages in half, then sliced them and sauteed them in a pan to crisp them up a little bit.

For this particular meal, I used another not so secret ingredient...

Ricotta Cheese

Adding in a couple of scoops of ricotta to your pasta sauce makes it super creamy! Using these cute orcchiette pastas helps the meal feel a little more special too :)


Once we used up the sausage, I still wanted to add something to our dinner to give it more flavor. We happened to have salami in the fridge for sandwiches, so I sliced it into thin strips and sauteed it to make it crispy.

I actually liked this even better than the sausage! The salami reminded me of a dish I used to order at this great restaurant in Richmond called La Grotta that has prosciutto in it. That inspired another pasta dish a few nights later...

Sauteed Portobello Mushrooms

I actually used baby portobellos this time, but you could chop up the big guys too. These are really great if you're a vegetarian or are cutting back on meat, they have a great meaty flavor. One thing I've learned about mushrooms: more is better, those babies shrink up when you cook them! I used two containers for this dinner which seemed like a lot when I dumped them in the pan, but was actually the perfect amount.

Salami and sauteed mushrooms went perfectly with the delicious vodka sauce I got from Trader Joe's

Extra Veggies

I try to keep some chopped up veggies like onions, red peppers, tomatoes, etc. in the fridge so I can just throw them into whatever we're eating. For pasta, I like to saute them first so they're not super crunchy. If you really wanted to hide them, you could steam or cook them and puree them before adding them to the sauce. Super sneaky!

A "Fancy" Sauce

I know making batches of my own sauce would probably be cheaper, but it's also messy and not nearly as tasty. I'm in love with Trader Joe's sauces right now, easily the BEST jarred sauce I've found.

We've also discovered that Von's has a really great vodka sauce as well, and it's the store brand so it's inexpensive. Usually you can find a variety of sauces in the pasta isle, some might be a little more expensive than your standard Ragu, but it's worth it considering how much they affect the flavor. Plus the pasta was already cheap!

We have pasta at least once a week, and I usually make more than enough so I have leftovers for lunch the next day or two. Last week we tried Trader Joe's pesto filled tortellini pasta which was really good as well.

If you have any tips on other ways to jazz up pasta, share it in the comments!


  1. Great tips! I love jazzin' up pasta with lots of added veggies and chicken sausage too.

  2. if you want a simple non messy pasta sauce that you can make ....
    tomato ketchup
    tomato puree
    tinned tomato
    cooked chicken
    fresh basil
    blend it all up ( apart from the chicken) cut the chicken into cubes about 1cm thick fry it in a bit of the sauce and a dash of olive oil
    it tastes amazing
    or you could even just do the chicken bit using a premade sauce