It is rare for me to feature a food topic two weeks in a row, but if the reader response to last week’s Penne alla Vodka recipe is any indication, you won’t mind a few more pasta recipes.

The season of Lent begins today, and last week I received an email from a reader who requested some ideas for meatless pasta dishes. Many observers of this holy season abstain from eating meat on Fridays, my family included, and this reader’s question prompted a fun family discussion about which recipes to recommend.

The world of pasta recipes is wonderfully diverse, and as an Italian American family, pasta is a staple in our home. Our conversation bounced around from recipe to recipe until we finally settled on some criteria to help us shape an answer for our reader.

This was no easy feat as the world of pasta is infinitely versatile, so we decided to narrow it down by creating three categories of pasta sauces: tomato, cream and oil. Each of us took a category and picked a favorite recipe to share, and this process also helped us shape our own Lenten menu plans.

The following are our choices for meatless pasta recipes, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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Tomato-based sauce

Sarah’s Pick: Penne all’Arrabbiata (Angry Pasta).

Loosely translated, Penne all’Arrabbiata means “angry pasta,” and this spicy tomato sauce is one of my all-time favorites. Quick and easy to make, the heat comes from a serrano pepper and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.

You could skip the white wine reduction to make the cooking process even simpler without sacrificing on flavor. When it is not Lent, we often enjoy this dish with links of Italian sausage, but it is deliciously filling all on its own.

Making your own sauce with just a few ingredients will result in a better flavor. The recipe can easily be doubled (not the peppers) and frozen for another meal. Forum file photo
Making your own sauce with just a few ingredients will result in a better flavor. The recipe can easily be doubled (not the peppers) and frozen for another meal. Forum file photo

Penne all’Arrabbiata (Angry Pasta)

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente according to directions on package

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 to 5 large garlic cloves, minced

½ to 1 serrano pepper, finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat if desired)

¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ yellow onion, small-diced

½ cup dry white wine, optional

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a medium saucepot, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute garlic for 1 minute, stirring often and being careful not to brown the garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the crushed red peppers and saute for another minute.

Add the onions and serrano pepper and cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring often, until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes.

If using, add the white wine and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by at least half. (The alcohol content will evaporate as it reduces.)

Add the tomatoes, stir and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low or low and cover pot, leaving a little room to allow steam to escape. Cook for at least 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions on package. Be sure to season water with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt before adding the pasta. When al dente, drain pasta and return to large pot.

Pour or ladle the sauce into the pot and toss pasta until noodles are evenly coated. Transfer to serving bowls and top with a dollop more sauce, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve and enjoy.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • Arrabbiata sauce may be refrigerated for at least 5 days, or frozen for several months in an airtight container.
  • This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for larger batches, but DON’T double or triple the peppers. Start with the recommended measurements, then taste and adjust as desired.

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Oil-based sauce

Tony’s Pick: Pasta Primavera.

Loaded with fresh vegetables, pasta primavera gets a wonderful infusion of flavor from a garlicky olive oil-based sauce and a fistful of fresh basil added at the end. The white wine reduction adds complexity to the dish and is a key component to building great flavor.

You can play with the variety of vegetables to suit your taste, and the pasta primavera can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.

When ready to serve, garnish Pasta Primavera with basil, Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Forum file photo
When ready to serve, garnish Pasta Primavera with basil, Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Forum file photo

Pasta Primavera

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente according to instructions on package

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ cup carrot, cut into ¼-inch sticks, 2 inches long

½ cup white wine

1 cup crimini or button mushrooms, quartered

1 cup sugar snap peas, whole

1 cup tomatoes, diced

½ cup water

2 cups fresh spinach leaves, stems removed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ cup basil, cut julienne style, to garnish

Directions:

Saute red onion and olive oil over medium to low heat for 2 to 3 minutes until the onion starts to soften. Add garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and carrots, and cook for 2 more minutes.

Deglaze the pan with white wine and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes until the wine is reduced by half (this process removes the flavor bits from the bottom of the pan and incorporates them into the sauce).

Add mushrooms, sugar snap peas and tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium-low heat. Add pasta noodles and water, stirring the mixture to coat all the pieces. Add the spinach and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes until spinach starts to wilt.

Add butter, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and mix together well. To serve, garnish with basil, more Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Sarah’s Tip:

  • Always season your pasta water with salt before adding the pasta. A good rule of thumb is at least 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for every 4 quarts of water.

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Cream-based sauce

Gio’s Pick: Creamy Pesto Pasta.

Last September, I featured a recipe for Creamy Pesto Chicken Pasta, one of my son, Gio’s, favorite weeknight pasta dishes. With a lush and creamy pesto sauce, this dish is still deliciously filling, even without the chicken.

It is also even easier to make and I have indicated in today’s recipe where to begin for a meatless option.

Creamy Pesto Pasta is a one-pan dish of deliciousness that can be ready to eat in under 30 minutes. Forum file photo
Creamy Pesto Pasta is a one-pan dish of deliciousness that can be ready to eat in under 30 minutes. Forum file photo

Creamy Pesto Pasta (with or without chicken)

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

12 ounces penne pasta (3/4 of a 1-pound package)

1 ½ pounds chicken breast

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided

¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 pound asparagus, ends removed and cut into pieces (1-2 inches long)

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup basil pesto

¼ cup Parmesan, grated

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat; add penne pasta and cook according to directions on package until al dente, then drain into a colander.

As the pasta cooks, slice the chicken breasts in half lengthwise, then season each side with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken and reduce heat to medium.

Cook on each side until golden brown and fully cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. To test, chicken should be opaque with clear juices or reach 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.

Remove cutlets from the pan and let rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes, then slice into bite-sized strips similar in size to the penne noodles.

Start here for meatless option:

To the same pan (or a new pan if you're not using chicken), add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the asparagus pieces. Cook asparagus over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add heavy cream and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer 3 to 5 minutes until the cream appears thick, frothy and bubbly.

Add pesto and stir to combine, then add cooked chicken (skip for meatless) and continue cooking over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally to combine. Taste and add more seasoning if desired, starting with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.

Add tomatoes (if using) and grated Parmesan, and cook for 1 more minute, stirring to combine.

Add cooked pasta and toss until evenly coated with the sauce. Remove pan from heat and transfer pasta to serving bowl. Serve immediately. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several days.

Heavy cream is added to the pan with the asparagus and brought to a frothy, bubbling simmer. The sauce is ready when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Forum file photo
Heavy cream is added to the pan with the asparagus and brought to a frothy, bubbling simmer. The sauce is ready when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Forum file photo

Recipe Time Capsule:

This week in...

Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.