I love a quick lunch and pasta is our go-to around here. I teach, so most summer lunches are at home. Having sandwiches every day just won’t cut it for someone who loves food as much as I do, so I always keep pasta and a few staples on hand.
First, let’s start with what you need to always have on hand for a quick meal. I keep a variety of pastas at all times. You can use whatever you like (or what you find on sale). I put all my packages into a plastic tub with a lockable lid and keep them on the floor in my pantry. They are a great starting point for so many meals. If all else fails, cook a package up in salty water, drain, coat with butter or olive oil, salt and pepper, and Parmesan cheese, and you will please most of the pickiest eaters! This will work for a quick lunch or a simple side.
Next, I always keep onions in a basket in a dark cabinet and bell peppers (a variety of colors) in the freezer. Buy them when they are on sale (or if you’re lucky enough to have a farmer-friend, offer to take the end-of-season ones off their hands), chop them into large chunks, put them on a waxed paper lined baking sheet and freeze them. Once frozen, dump them into a gallon sized freezer bag and keep them until you need them. You can pull out the amount you need and slice them into the sizes you want without even thawing them. My husband doesn’t really like onions and peppers, so I usually leave them both large and either remove them before serving or blend them with an immersion blender. I also keep fresh garlic because I love the flavor, but garlic powder will work in a pinch.
As far as proteins go, deli ham is a good thing to keep in the refrigerator because it can be used for sandwiches, to add to scrambled eggs, or for a variety of pasta dishes (more of those in later posts!). Frozen shrimp is good to have to make a quick, impressive meal for guests. I also usually have bacon because, well, who doesn’t love bacon? A few extras that I add to many of my pasta dishes are black and green olives, banana peppers, crushed red pepper flakes, and herbs (fresh when I have them and dried when I don’t). Last, but not least, I keep olive oil and unsalted butter on hand at all times. The olive oil adds a hint of flavor, and the butter goes into everything from breakfast to dinner to dessert.
Okay, now that you know my basics, let me show you a quick meal we threw together for lunch today. It’s a simple shrimp pasta dish that is easy enough for a lunch with the kids or impressive enough to serve to pop-in guests. The first thing you’ll want to do is to get a large pot of water over high heat to bring it to a boil. It takes this step a little while, so I always start my water first. Grab a bag of frozen shrimp and start to run them under cool water today thaw. You’re off to a great start! Dinner should be on the table in about 20 minutes.
Get a large skillet started over medium high heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil to it. Take two or three slices of bacon and chop them into one-inch pieces. Add them to the skillet and stir to coat them in the oil. Mince a clove of fresh garlic if you have it. I first smash the garlic with the side of a butcher knife, peel it, then dice it finely. Slice about 1/4 of an onion and add these two items to the skillet. Your kitchen will immediately smell delicious. This is when the kids start to arrive and ask if lunch is ready. I also pulled a couple of chunks of bell pepper from the freezer, sliced them, and added them at this point. You could leave these out if you don’t like them. It’s your meal. Make yourself happy. 😉
Your water should be boiling by now, so add a tablespoon of salt to it and add in about a pound of pasta. I used thin spaghetti noodles today. Stir them and get back to your skillet. Your shrimp should be thawed, so shake off the excess water to avoid oil splatter and add them to the skillet. Season them with the Cajun seasoning of your choice and a little Old Bay if you have any. Stir them occasionally until they are cooked through. You’ll know that they are done when they are pink. Throw in a tablespoon of butter for good measure.
It looked like it needed a little more liquid, so I added about a half cup of chicken broth, but you could use chicken bouillon and water or just a bit of the pasta-cooking water if you don’t have any. To finish it off, I added the juice of half a lemon and a little fresh Italian parsley, but both of these are optional. Drain the pasta and add it tintype skillet. Give it a stir to coat it well, then serve it to your husband and kids, your neighbor, your boss, or if you’re home alone…serve it to yourself. This was delicious, pretty, and most importantly…fast!
20 Minute Simple Shrimp Pasta
- 16 oz. thin spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
- 1 lb. package frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp (raw)
- 3 slices bacon
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 onion, sliced
- 1/4 bell pepper, sliced
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
- Juice from 1/2 small lemon
- 1/2 cup chicken broth (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the diced bacon. Once it starts to brown, add the onions, garlic, and peppers. Stir until the vegetables start to soften. Add the shrimp and Cajun seasoning. Stir until the shrimp turn pink. Once the water boils, add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Give the pasta a stir to prevent it from sticking together. Once the shrimp are done, add the chicken broth (or a bit of the pasta water), the butter, and the lemon juice. Drain the pasta when it is done and add it to the skillet. Stir quickly to coat. Add the parsley, if using, and serve.