When The Cupboard Is Bare: Fast and Spicy Pasta Sauce

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Hot, hearty, spicy, fast, easy, and delicious! What more could you want?

This is another of my “cupboard is bare” improvisations. There are a few things I’d recommend having on hand to keep from having absolutely no options when you need a fast flavorful hearty meal. Find a spice blend that’s not part of your usual flavor palette. In this case I’m using saté, a flavor combination which is Indonesian in origin. Having some blend that’s not your usual Italian, Mexican, Whatever, is a nice change of pace and can make those hasty “cupboard is bare” meals into something special. For this reason I keep not only saté, but also a Turkish seasoning blend from Penzys on hand.

I don’t generally recommend spice blends because over-reliance on them will result in everything tasting the same. Also, some spice blends include salt, which is not good if you need to restrict salt intake, but also in general it’s not good to have pre-added salt because it can potentially throw things off depending on what you’re making. But…it’s good to have one or two blends that you don’t use excessively — and which you can tweak by adding other seasonings. (If you need to restrict salt intake, look for blends with no salt; these days lots of companies — including Penzys — formulate no-salt options for at least some blends.)

Another thing I recommend keeping on hand is a lot of different flavors of pasta. Pasta cooks quickly and it’s filling. Flavored pastas are often colorful, too. What to put on it? Please, please, stock tomato paste in your pantry in addition to tomato sauce. Tomato paste is basically concentrated tomato sauce. Stocking it means that you can control the thickness of the sauce, so for fast meals when you want a thick sauce it doesn’t take as long to cook down to desired consistency. But stocking it in addition to tomato sauce means that you can still make sauce, even when you’re out of sauce! It’s also handy for thickening up a pasta sauce that’s too thin. When I use canned diced tomatoes for sauce I add tomato paste to give me a better thickness and texture to the sauce. So stock some small cans of tomato paste! They’re unbelievably handy!

For this recipe I used Penzys saté (which does have salt), paired with some complementary seasonings. For pasta I used a half bag of Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini. (I had more pasta than sauce.) It is not, to my palate, very spicy…though their red chili fettuccine is. So, you might want to omit the pinch of red pepper if using a spicier pasta than the Sesame. Or omit the red pepper if you’re leery of spicy-hot food. The saté seasoning has spiciness built in to it, so additional red pepper is optional and really a matter of whether you want this spicy or hot. The seasonings I used will still give you a very flavorful somewhat spicy sauce, with no additional red pepper added.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) you can make a better version of this if using fresh mushrooms sautéd in a small amount of oil prior to throwing the sauce together. And adding more water and simmering this longer will allow the flavors to meld even more. But this is the fast version for those nights before the grocery shopping trip, or when for whatever reason (getting home late) you realize that you just don’t have the time or energy to do some more elaborate thing you’d planned. There’s no reason you can’t have a great tasty meal even if you have little time and few ingredients. Don’t settle for a can of something! Keep a special seasoning blend, tomato paste, and an assortment of pastas in your pantry. Don’t ever let those basics run out!

This makes enough for two generous servings. Increase sauce ingredients to make more.

1/2 tsp saté
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp tumeric
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 4oz can mushrooms, sliced or pieces
12 pieces Simple Truth Meatless Griller strips
Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini or other quickly cooking pasta.

Mix all the sauce ingredients, including the griller strips, in a saucepan. Add at least one can of water to the paste. You may need to add more. (I did.) Cook until the sauce is to the desired consistency and the griller strips are done. The griller strips package has a recommended temperature for cooking. Since the strips are frozen, make sure you simmer them long enough to cook them!

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. What will take the most time is getting the water to a boil, especially if you use a large pot, which I recommend to help avoid boil overs.

Serve sauce over pasta. Leftover vegetables can be served as a side dish. Or you can steam some in the microwave while waiting for the pasta water to boil.

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