I'm not typically a fan of Italian food per se and pasta isn't anywhere near the top of my "must have foods" list (mac and cheese being the only exception). But last night I came home wanting something out of the ordinary of my usual dinner routine- usually salad or a can of soup (exciting, I know). I was feeling too lazy to venture to the grocery store, and I didn't want to spend more than half of my weekly grocery bill on take out. I also feel guilty sometimes for not cooking at home more often after spending forty grand on culinary school. I'm not giving excuses, but it's hard to be self motivated to make culinary masterpieces every other night when you're: A. living by yourself in a small studio apartment, and B. a recent college grad who can't afford a huge grocery bill for one stinkin' meal. This is when I decide to just make due and find inspiration in the cupboard and fridge.
Here are the main ingredients I scrounged up to feature in my improvised dinner: whole wheat penne (that's been in there for who knows how long), dry Spanish chorizo, gorgonzola cheese, fresh spinach, and a tomato. I also throw in a few other things I always keep on hand: garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, and herbs. Alright, pasta it is.
This is when being a Food Network junkie pays off: I go through my mental files of pasta recipes and techniques I picked up while watching Everyday Italian with Giada DiLaurentiis. What can I say? She has changed my opinion on Italian food and helped to inspire this dish. Plus, I wouldn't mind being in her shoes when I grow up- just not cooking mainly Italian food. Anyway, back to dinner.
I remembered a technique Giada used when making a quick sauce for pasta that used cheese but didn't include heavy cream. She reserved the starchy cooking liquid from the pasta and added some of it to the sauce in the pan. It helped to to melt the cheese and create a light sauce without adding a ton of heavy cream and extra calories. Eureka! That's what I would do.
So here it is, my impromptu pasta. It's hearty and somewhat creamy, a little spicy from the chorizo and red pepper flakes, and the woodsy flavor from the fresh rosemary goes nicely with the tangy gorgonzola. I'm fortunate enough to have a garden in my backyard, thus giving me access to the fresh herbs and arugula, but feel free to use dry herbs if you have them- just halve the amount and add them when you throw in the red pepper flakes. And if you don't have chorizo, bacon will do just fine, or leave it out altogether for a vegetarian dish.
Easy Spinach and Gorgonzola Penne (4 main dish servings*)
- 4 cups penne pasta (I used whole wheat blend)
- 4 oz. dry chorizo or bacon, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 white or yellow onion, julienned (sliced)
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 med. tomato, diced
- 1 cup arugula lettuce, chopped (replace with 1 c. spinach if you don't have this)
- 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 6 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
- 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2-3/4 c. reserved pasta cooking water
- Salt and pepper, to taste (I prefer kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper)
- Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente (about 7 min.); drain, rinse, and set aside; reserve cooking liquid.
- In a large pan, saute chorizo over medium-high heat until just crispy (about 2 min.); remove and set aside.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes to the same pan, sweating in the chorizo drippings until soft and translucent.
- Add spinach and arugula to the pan and stir until just wlted.
- Add the cooked pasta, gorgonzola and herbs, stirring until the cheese is beginning to melt.
- Add the reserved pasta water, 1/2 cup at first, and stir to melt the cheese and incorporate into the sauce; let it simmer for about a minute until it thickens a bit and sticks to the noodles (add more pasta water if it's still too dry); season to taste and serve.
*Note: I made the recipe for one serving but multiplied it for four servings. So if you're cooking for just one or two, divide the amounts accordingly (though this would make great leftovers).