The simplest Italian pasta dish is spaghetti aglio e olio, pasta with garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil. If you’re on a budget, this is an inexpensive dish when paired with a big bowl of soup and a salad.
But you can build on this basic dish if your budget is more generous.
Instead of olive oil, you can use butter (or use both) and add some leftover roasted chicken. Or shrimp if you’ve just been paid. A bit of shrimp (100 gm per portion) can make you feel like you’re dining out at a fancy Italian restaurant, especially if you add a glass of a dry white wine to your meal. Clams or mussels are other protein options. Or a nice piece of salmon. If you’re avoiding meat but still want some protein in your dish, add a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas.
Add some jarred pasta sauce to the previous meal for a change in colour and flavour. And tomatoes are veggies, aren’t they? If you have tomatoes in your garden, dice up one and add that to the meal above. Grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half, are another option.
If you’re not in the mood for tomatoes, transform your aglio e olio into an Alfredo sauce with the addition of whipping cream and grated Parmesan cheese. Sometimes the cheese goes on sale and it freezes well, grated or ungrated.
Another option is to add some whipping cream to the tomato sauce. The result is a fancy ‘blush’ or pink sauce. You can add white wine to thin out a leftover Alfredo sauce if you’ve got some in the your cupboard or fridge. Vodka is another add-in to a blush sauce instead of the white wine.
And, if you’re a veggie fanatic, add blanched spinach or Swiss chard or kale to your pasta dish.
Kale is a bit on the bitter side so you may want to blanch it ahead of time or sautee it with your olive oil and garlic. Asparagus is another alternative. And, of course, you can sautee your favourite mushrooms in the olive oil until golden brown and remove them from the pan before adding your garlic, and return them to the pan along with your cooked and drained pasta to warm through.