Sometimes my aversion to washing dishes turns out to be a good thing. Whenever I’m getting ready to cook, I try to imagine what the kitchen will look like at the end of the process and decide whether the meal I’m about to make is worth the mess I’m about to create.
This mental exercise can sometimes lead to poor dietary decisions. One cannot live on cereal alone. It can also lead to smart, efficient cooking, as is the case with skillet pasta.
For the purposes of this conversation, skillet pasta refers to a pasta dish that can be made, from start to finish, in one skillet.
Meals made in one pan are sometimes more of a gimmick than a gateway to a good meal. Here, though, what’s been edited out of the recipe is a big pot of boiling water that would typically be used to cook the pasta before combining it with its sauce. Instead, we cook the pasta in a little broth, which adds flavor and results in perfectly al dente pasta.
This technique can be applied to an endless array of pasta dishes. For this Skillet Chicken, Zucchini and Ricotta Pasta, we sauté cut-up boneless, skinless chicken thighs until lightly browned. You could use almost any other protein in its place, though. Steak, pork, shrimp or tofu would all work well.
Once the protein is cooked through, it’s transferred to a plate and the vegetables go into the skillet. Since it’s late summer, many of us are looking for ways to use a glut of zucchini and summer squash. Both work well in this recipe, but almost any other vegetable would, too. Carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, whatever you have on hand, can be cooked and removed from the skillet to make way for the pasta. I toss in some tomato after the pasta is cooked, because I like the freshness and color it adds to the dish. You can sauté it with the zucchini, though, if you prefer.
Here’s where the magic happens. The pasta is tossed into the skillet with the broth of your choice (or water, if that’s what you have) and simmered until just tender. There will likely be a little broth left in the pan, which helps form the sauce.
If I’m looking for a creamy sauce, I usually add some ricotta, cream or even cream cheese. Otherwise I might add a little butter or olive oil. Either way, a generous handful of grated Parmesan, some fresh herbs, and a splash of lemon juice will finish the dish.
The result is a dinner that’s quick, delicious and easy to clean up. It’s everything I imagined.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.