There’s something down-to-earth, cozy, and comfortable about one-pot meals. Particularly one-pot meals that include pasta, vegetables, and protein. The Mexican cooks have it all with their sopas secas, which include the ubiquitous “Mexican Rice,” but also include pots of pasta or even lentils and occasionally beans. Sopa seca means dry soup and, to our ears and cooking hearts, just means you only put enough liquid in the dry rice, pasta, lentils, or beans, to cook the ingredients–no more. In other words, if you cooked pasta in the traditional way, you’d cook it in a large pot of boiling water and drain it. Here, you use just enough liquid (broth or water) to get everything tender and creamy without the addition of cream. Though a scoop of sour cream often wouldn’t go amiss.
For Good Friday — or any night when time is of the essence and meat isn’t on the menu — try this quick and easy one-pot dinner I made using leftover salmon the other night. If you have no leftover protein, you can, while the pasta simmers, quickly cook up a small piece of salmon or even a couple of chicken thighs if you’re indulging in “meat.” Alternately, you could put small fresh pieces of salmon into the pot for the last few minutes. (I haven’t tried this, but I’m guessing it would work.)
I’ll give directions rather than a recipe because you absolutely make this with what you have on hand. Basically you’ll cook about four cups chopped vegetables in oil with garlic, add a pound of broken pasta and a quart of broth, and cook it all until it’s done, stirring in already-cooked salmon right at the end. If you have no salmon, or don’t eat fish, skip it; it’ll be a lovely vegetarian meal. Season the whole pot with lots of fresh chopped parsley or basil or whatever fresh soft herb you have. Leftovers are epic. Here’s a clearer idea as long as you remember the vegetables can be switched out for your own choices:
one-pot pasta with salmon and vegetables or good friday in a bowl:
Begin with a large pot — 10 or 12 quarts. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil with a little crushed red pepper and add one or two chopped onions or an onion and the sliced whites of a leek (or a cup of chopped shallots–you get the picture), a few chopped pieces of celery, and/or chopped carrot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add about 4 cloves of chopped garlic; cook for a minute. Next, stir in 3-4 cups of fresh, chopped vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squash, or whatever you might have on hand. Add a handful of chopped parsley (save some for garnish.) Sprinkle again with a tiny bit of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of Herbes de Provence. Let this all cook down a few minutes and then add a pound of broken whole wheat spaghetti or linguine. Cook, stirring carefully — it burns easily — for another 2-4 minutes or until just beginning to be golden.
Pour in four cups of vegetable broth and a half cup of water–included because I’m at altitude; add 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste. Let it come to a boil and then turn it down; simmer 10 minutes, stirring regularly, or until the pasta is nearly tender. At this point, add whatever vegetables you have that cook very quickly– like spinach, mushrooms, or finely chopped zucchini, for instance, as well as 1/3 – 1/2 pound cooked salmon, broken into bite-sized pieces. Cook just until everything is barely tender and the liquid is almost totally absorbed a la risotto. If the pasta isn’t done and the liquid is gone, add another 1/2 cup water and continue to cook until things taste as you’d like them to. Taste and adjust seasonings –really, this is a lot of pasta and it NEEDS SEASONING–and serve hot garnished with grated Parmesan, toasted bread crumbs, more parsley, or chopped toasted nuts. 4-6 servings.
Cook’s Note: I separately steamed a cup or so of asparagus and added it at the center just because it’s that time of year and also because I can’t help loving the color. While it’s technically spring, winter keeps reappearing in my yard and green makes my heart sing.
If you liked that, you might like another one pan salmon, vegetables, and whole wheat pasta—which seem to be a tiny theme here and there in the blog. (below)