Lately, life’s been busy. So I’ve been reaching into my stack of homemade meals in the freezer or into the pantry for ingredients for a quick pasta. We all have those days, weeks, even months, when you don’t have the time for a big grocery store trip, or you want to pinch a few extra pennies at the end of the month.
This month has been a whirlwind so far—I was in DC with Jarrett one weekend, then in Delaware to visit my sister, then hosting Jarrett’s mom in Providence (so fun!), and now this weekend Jarrett and I are off to visit friends in New York City. I feel like one of those road-weary traveling salesmen who never fully unpacks and personally knows all the TSA agents at the airport.
So I’ve been more grateful than ever to have a well-stocked pantry to fall back on for weeknight meals. It’s amazing how far a few jarred items, a simple dressing, and a smattering of leftover veggies will get you.
I especially think it’s so helpful to have things like olives, roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms, and all those other yummy olive-bar type things on hand, since they pack a ton of flavor and last forever. But don’t get ripped off at the olive bar—look in the aisles for jars of these things. The jarred versions are way more affordable and will last longer in the fridge. They are the best shortcuts to fancify your meal with almost no extra effort or cost!
Healthy Pantry Pasta Salad
This is the perfect recipe for using up whatever you have on hand, which makes it the definition of endlessly adaptable. Use any vegetables you have on hand and add lots of flavor by tossing in some cured, salty ingredients. If you’re gluten-free and on a budget, this recipe will also help you stretch your pricey pasta package into a whole bunch of servings. And you really don’t have to measure everything exactly for the salad portion of the recipe—just toss in as much as you like of each thing. Because who really wants to reach for the measuring cups on a busy weeknight?
½ package (1/2 lb) short pasta, such as elbows or bowties (gluten-free or whole wheat, if you’d like)
8-10 kalamata olives
½ cup marinated artichoke hearts
½ cup roasted red peppers
1 green onion
½ pepper, any color
½ English cucumber
½ cup fresh spinach (or about a handful)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon basil
Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat. While it heats, begin chopping the salad ingredients and dropping them into a large serving bowl. Roughly chop the olives, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers and add to your serving bowl. Slice your green onions (and grow your own with this tip), then slice your pepper and cut each slice in half. Peel and chop your cucumber into bite-sized pieces. Add to bowl.
Once your pot of water comes to a boil, add the pasta and stir. Cook according to package directions, strain, coat with olive oil, and place in the fridge (or freezer, if you’re impatient like me) to cool. While that cools, add all dressing ingredients to a blender and blend until combined. Or, if you don’t have a blender, you can always just whisk vigorously until it comes together.
Once pasta is cool, pour it into the large serving bowl, over the other ingredients. Drizzle in the dressing, add your handful of spinach, and toss everything until it’s evenly mixed and looking delicious!