What’s Cooking: Pasta plus vegetables equals quick weekday meal

A long-simmered pasta sauce is a beautiful thing, but for a lot of cooks, that’s a project for a weekend day, if ever.

The pasta itself, however, can be the perfect base ingredient for a quick evening meal. And with all the fresh produce coming into season, a busy cook doesn’t have to resort to jarred sauce.

Any of the recipes below can be adjusted for personal preference or for whatever vegetables look best that week.

For example, a bunch of thin asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, can substitute for the frozen artichoke hearts in the pasta shells recipe.

Just be sure to chop or slice any veggies into pieces that will cook quickly. And cooking the pasta “al dente” will allow it to absorb some of the sauce when everything’s combined.

Fettuccine primavera

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Serves 6

This quintessential springtime pasta includes lots and lots of fresh herbs, as well as leafy greens. The specific vegetables and herbs used are up to you; choose what looks best at the market.

Adapted from “Fine Cooking Fresh: 350 Recipes that Celebrate the Season” by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton Press, $19.95, 256 pages). Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen.


Kosher salt

1  pound fettuccine

2  tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

2  cloves garlic, minced

3  cups very thinly sliced mixed spring vegetables (asparagus, baby carrots, baby leeks, baby zucchini, green onions and sugar snap peas)

1  cup whole, shelled fresh or thawed frozen peas or baby lima beans, or mix of both

1  cup milk mixed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch or heavy whipping cream

1  tablespoon thinly sliced lemon zest

2  cups loosely packed baby arugula

½  cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese

½  cup roughly chopped or chiffonade of mixed fresh herbs such as basil, chervil, chives, mint, parsley and tarragon, divided

¼  teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or more to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼  cup toasted pine nuts


Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 6 minutes. While pasta is cooking, scoop out 1½ cups of pasta cooking water; set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until softened and fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of reserved pasta water. Add the sliced vegetables and peas or lima beans (if using fresh). Cover and simmer until the vegetables are just tender, about 3 minutes. Add the milk or cream and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer.

Drain the fettuccine and return to its cooking pot. Toss with the vegetables and cream sauce, arugula, Parmigiano, all but 1 tablespoon of the herbs, and the pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If necessary, adjust the consistency of the sauce with the reserved 1/2 cup pasta water; the sauce should generously coat the vegetables and pasta.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining fresh herbs and the pine nuts.

Per serving: 390 calories (32 percent from fat), 14 g fat (8 g sat.), 55 g carb., 12 g protein, 460 mg sodium, 95 mg chol., 6 g fiber.

Pasta with leeks and greens

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Parents often ask nutrition consultant Casey Seidenberg how to encourage their children to eat dark, leafy greens. One of her suggestions is to start with pasta, a food kids generally love, then add the greens.

Instead of adding big leaves, which might deter a greens-adverse kid, chop a bunch of dark leafy greens into tiny pieces. We’ve all watched a large bag of spinach steam itself into almost nothing. The same holds true with other leafy greens, so these will shrink all the more when cooked. Start with a small handful of greens to help familiarize your child with the flavor of sautéed greens, then add more each time you make the recipe.

Adapted by Seidenberg from “Greens Glorious Greens!” by Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers (St. Martin’s, $22.99, 288 pages).


3  medium leeks, white and light-green parts

Kosher salt

8  ounces dried whole-wheat or multigrain spiral pasta

1/4   cup extra-virgin olive oil

3  cloves garlic, minced

2  pounds mixed greens, such as chard, arugula, spinach and beet greens, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish (optional)


Cut the leeks crosswise into very thin rounds and place in a bowl of cool water; swish around and let sit for a few minutes so the grit dislodged from the leek layers settles to the bottom of the bowl. Drain without reintroducing any grit to the leeks.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt, then the pasta. Cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the leeks and stir to coat; cook for about 10 minutes, until the leeks are softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the chopped greens. Cook until the greens are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the skillet. (Reserve up to 1/2 cup of the pasta water to add to the skillet if you need a little more liquid.) Toss the pasta with the greens, adding the remaining tablespoon of oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide among individual wide, shallow bowls. Top with the cheese, if desired.

Per serving: 410 calories; 16 g fat (2 g sat.); 0 mg chol.; 320 mg sodium; 58 g carb.; 11 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 15 g protein

Pasta shells with artichokes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Serves 4

This recipe is from Joe Gray of the Chicago Tribune, who writes: “Fresh artichokes are one of my favorite foods, and yet I find myself passing them by at the grocery store, having thought about the work in cleaning them and decided against it. Even baby artichokes require trimming and peeling, then a long cook time. Too much for a weeknight.

“This is a time when a good frozen product comes in handy, and I’ve found frozen artichokes to have good texture and flavor. Plus, they’re already trimmed, cooked and even quartered, requiring just a few minutes more heat to get them ready, especially if you pop them in the microwave.

“Here they ground a pasta dish, made with shells to mimic the shape of the baby ‘chokes. Lemon zest brightens their flavor while a little cream adds richness.”


1  pound medium pasta shells (conchiglie)

1  package (1 pound) frozen baby artichokes or artichoke hearts or 2 packages (9 ounces each)

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  clove garlic, chopped

1/4  teaspoon salt

1/2  cup dry white wine

2 to 4 tablespoons cream

1/2  cup chopped Italian parsley

1/2  cup brine-cured green olives (not canned or jarred), quartered

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2  cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving


Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water over high heat until al dente. Meanwhile, thaw artichokes in the microwave according to package directions. (It’s OK if artichokes are not completely thawed; they will continue to cook.) Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, but don’t allow to brown or burn, 1 minute.

Add the artichokes; season with the salt. Cook to warm through. Stir in the wine; reduce the heat to medium. Allow to reduce slightly. Stir in 2 to 4 tablespoons cream, as you like; cook to thicken slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley, olives and lemon zest.

Drain the pasta; return to the pot. Toss the artichokes, sauce and Romano cheese with the pasta. Serve, passing more grated Romano at the table.

Per serving: 641 calories, 18 g fat (5 g sat.), 19 mg chol., 97 g carb., 23 g protein, 646 mg sodium, 10 g fiber