Here’s what happens on a typical night after I finish my workday: if I don’t work out at the gym or outside, I try to walk home to get some much-needed fresh air after a day inside the lab. I walk for 2+ miles to my apartment and collapse inside the door. At this point, I’m usually starving and exhausted. I need food, good food. And I need it fast. If I actually make something more than a salad, the preparation needs to be easy and minimal. After working all day, I don’t want to spend an hour washing dishes after dinner. But I do like to cook something substantial for dinner at least a few nights a week. The rest of the week, I feast on leftovers and salads.
Now that I’m in the thick of my graduate work, it has become necessary for me to develop my own cooking strategies to ensure that I eat well throughout the week, even during my busiest times. When we have the least amount of time to prepare good, nutritious meals, eating well becomes even more critical: we need good food to stay healthy and energetic if we are to succeed in such stressful times. The meals that I eat during these times are nothing fancy, but they please and sustain me. One such dish is my Penne Pasta with Ricotta-Pesto Sauce. Yes, pasta is a classic go-to dish for busy working people, and for good reason: it’s fast, delicious, and satisfying. And now, with all the new whole-grain, multigrain, and “blended” pastas, I think pasta has more to offer nutritionally. (By the way, “blended” pasta is not pasta that has been pureed in a blender. Rather it’s pasta that is made from a combination of ingredients such as multiple grains and legumes.)
So even if you are seriously busy Monday to Friday, you might still have time for decent food. This pasta dish is so quick and easy, I’ll often pick up the ingredients on my way home from work and make it that night. And I thank my lucky stars that it makes leftovers so I don’t have to cook dinner the next night unless I want to!
Penne Pasta with Ricotta-Pesto Sauce
Makes ~3 generous servings
2 c. dried penne pasta, preferably a brand with some fiber and protein (I recently discovered delicious Barilla Plus Penne, a multigrain pasta with 4g of fiber and 10g of protein in a 56g serving…now if only I had a kitchen scale so I could figure out the volume equivalent of 56g of dried pasta…)
¼ c. ricotta cheese
¼ c. best quality fresh basil pesto (I like Cibo Naturals Classic Basil Pesto)
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces*
1) Cook penne pasta according to package directions.
2) While pasta is cooking, combine ricotta cheese and pesto in a large mixing bowl.
3) After pasta is done cooking, drain the hot pasta and add it to the ricotta-pesto sauce. Toss vigorously to coat pasta with sauce.
4) Add salt and pepper to taste to pasta. I find that this dish usually needs a lot of salt and pepper.
5) Place pasta in individual serving bowls and top with chopped tomatoes. If you are feeling ambitious, eat this pasta with a side salad.
*If I am cooking this pasta just for myself, I chop just one tomato and top my pasta bowl with it. I save the other tomatoes for the leftover pasta so that way the tomato is always really fresh and tasty. This pasta keeps well for several days in the refrigerator.