I’ve enjoyed cooking for as long as I’ve known how, and one of the things I pride myself on in the kitchen is inventiveness. Often, necessity is the mother of invention. Recently, I found myself about 3 days away from my next paycheck with, basically, about $10 left in checking and a box of spiral pasta, half a bag of frozen spinach and a big can of garlic and herb marinara.
It occurred to me that these items could be combined to form an easy stovetop pasta dish – with maybe a can of navy or cannellini beans or something. Later, it occurred to me that if I bought a block of tofu instead of a can of beans, I could whip that around in the food processor along with the Happy Herbivore’s basic ingredients for a vegan quiche, thus boosting the protein content and extending the dish. So that’s what I did!
The nice thing about recipes like this oven-baked pasta dish is how simply they can be thrown together and then left in the oven while you do other things (like draft a blog post about the experience). I’ve even set the temperature low, like 325 or 350, on purpose so that I would have time to go out for an 8-mile evening run and come home just as it’s ready to come out of the oven and cool a bit.
This all happened on a day off from running, so I just hung out while it was in the oven.
Here’s the story of how I got to the finish line photo above and how I managed to magic dinner up from so few ingredients!
I started with, literally, these five things.
The first thing I did was boil a pot of water and drop in the pasta along with some salt and oil.
While the pasta did its thing, all this other stuff happened.
First, I crumbled the block of tofu into my food processor and then dumped a bunch of stuff in behind it as shown here.
After a minute of blending the contents of the photo with some soy milk that I streamed in from the top, I had this basic vegan quiche filling ready to be used as a key ingredient in my creamy marinara.
I didn’t have any vegan cheese on hand and didn’t particularly miss it, since I used just the right amount of all the seasonings to impart a mild cheese flavor that I knew would be awesome with the spinach and the marinara sauce!
Next, I thawed the spinach in the microwave and then stirred in some salt, lemon pepper and nutmeg. Word to the wise: if you ever go overboard with the nutmeg in any recipe, try countering it with lemon and, if it’s a savory dish, salt. I dropped more than a couple of pinches of nutmeg in here, which could have ruined the dish had the lemon pepper not also been a planned ingredient. As it turns out, they play off each other rather nicely!
Next, I combined the cream sauce with the spinach, strained the cooked pasta…
Stirred everything together in the pot that the pasta had cooked in…
…poured it into a pre-greased glass baking dish, slapped it in the oven with a loose covering of foil at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes…
…and out came this!
Not to blow my own horn, but – holy crap, was it good!
And the leftovers got me through to my next payday! Hooray for figuring out how to eat well when you’re broke!
The next time you’re wondering what on Earth you can possibly make with just a few ingredients and you happen to have these or similar ingredients sitting around not doing anything, give this culinary exercise a try. Pasta dishes like this literally come together in the time it takes to cook the pasta and then put it in the oven!
What do you do to stay healthy and plant-based? Have you ever had any unexpectedly nice dinners result from nearly-bare cupboards and fridge? Let me know in the comments!