I’m all in favour of Faster Pasta, and in fact, the best kind of comfort pasta is the sort you can make comfortably. No stressing yourself out, no worrying if you have all the ingredients. The idea of Faster Pasta is to approach pasta like a salad. You can work anything in it, and indeed Indians have on many occasions added bell peppers and corn, multiple seasonings and such to pasta to smack some more flavour into what is ideally a rather simple, almost frugal dish.
Tackling something as simple as aglio e olio (garlic and oil), I thought to myself, you know what else goes great with extra virgin olive oil and garlic? Chilli and eggs. Fried eggs with runny yolks tossed through with noodles, a bit of pasta water, aglio and olio make a delicious messy breakfast pasta of broken fried eggs that I’ll happily serve a mound of alongside some sautéed spinach or even raw greens will do. Also, bread! The runny yellows of the eggs set in the remnant heat as you toss the pasta. Lots of cracked black pepper and chilli flakes aside, you could even add mixed dried herbs if you’re into that, though remember to activate it in the olive oil and garlic mix. 3 fried eggs for a serves 2 portions of 180g of dried pasta.
I still meet people who haven’t warmed up to the idea of alternate pestos, which can potentially be even better than the basil + pine nut combo. If you start thinking about a pesto-like an Indian chutney with a leaf and a nut, you can play around with it even more. Curry leaves activated in oil and blitzed with cashews will make a curry leaf pesto, Kale, basil and walnuts make another, Steamed broccoli with spinach and cashews, Spinach, Almonds and Basil, it’s ridiculous the number of permutation combinations you can try. One of my favourites though is an arugula pesto with almonds, garlic and lots of lemon juice. Fantastic with spaghetti in my opinion, but why stop there?
I love to dress pasta salads with pesto and toss everything through, but why stop there? Pasta salads are great to showcase fresh ingredients. I had some lovely Italian heirloom tomatoes on me, so I blitzed one large tomato with a teaspoon of capers, 2 garlic cloves, a splash of red wine vinegar and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Fantastic to dress a salad of fusilli or farfalle. This particular pasta is from Naturally Yours. It’s a black rice and chia seed pasta salad with prawns that have been cooked very briefly in some EVOO, garlic and chilli.
I never let one or two ingredients hold me back from feeding a craving. Puttanesca, for instance, can even be made without tomatoes, and let me tell you that a classic puttanesca is my ultimate go-to comfort pasta because it’s the perfect mix of juicy tomatoes, salty capers, umami anchovies fried with a small onion and garlic with chilli and lots of soft squishy friend olives to finish. Minus the tomatoes, the combination still works incredibly well. There’s lesser, almost no cooking involved in this case and say you weren’t crazy about anchovies, you can totally skip that too. Just remember to stir in some basil during the tossing and some fresh basil to finish. Alternately, Olives, mint and capers blitzed with a clove of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and paprika flakes finished with a generous squeeze of lemon juice alsoworks beautifully interlaced with strands of spaghetti. Use olives from a jar, or use ready tapenade paste— both work just fine. If you’d like, you can finish with some cherry tomatoes too.
Zoodles is another thing I wanted to touch upon when talking about faster pasta. If you have a machine to make the zoodles, then you’re never far from a good meal. A quick blanch in boiling water followed by a sear in the pan for the zoodles, followed by garlic, lemon, basil and a touch of cream or coconut milk will yield a ridiculously good and speedy pasta. Since I strongly advocate a long and slow tomato sauce, I haven’t included an idea with tomato sauce for the zoodles, but when you are short on time, you could always add a spoon of sun-dried tomato paste here, or add some cherry tomatoes to add a lovely pink hue to the white sauce. Linguini or spaghetti is a great sub for the zoodles here in which case I suggest adding some zucchini to make it a touch more healthy.
Making a faster pasta dish is not rocket science, and it’s a great way to find your bearings in the kitchen while still letting your imagination run wild.