When you select the right ingredients, it doesn't take many of them to create a fantastic dinner. Nor much time.
The trick is to pick ingredients with tons of flavor, then let them do the heavy lifting for you. I usually start with a main ingredient that is basically agreeable to any flavor. Chicken, pasta, pork tenderloin, potatoes — all great choices.
Next, pick a few pantry staples that pack gobs of flavor. Cheeses, cured meats, hot peppers, and just about any sauce or seasoning you care to pick up in your grocer's international aisle.
This recipe for spicy sausage and arugula penne is a great example of this approach. I boil up some pasta, then toss it with browned peppery sausage, deliciously bitter baby arugula, some savory sun-dried tomatoes and grated Parmesan. The result is amazing.
And of course, the recipe is incredibly versatile. No sausage? Used ground beef, pork or turkey. Don't care for sun-dried tomatoes? Use roasted red peppers. Parmesan not your style? An aged gouda or crumbled feta would be delicious, too. And baby spinach or broccoli would easily stand in for the arugula.
Have it your way. Just be sure to have it with lots of flavor.
SPICY SAUSAGE AND ARUGULA PENNE
Start to finish: 20 minutes
12 ounces penne pasta
1 pound spicy Italian sausage meat
1 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
5-ounce package arugula
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water, then drain and set aside.
In a large saute pan over medium-high, brown the sausage meat and onion until cooked through, about 10 minutes. As it cooks, use a wooden spoon to break up the meat into bite-size chunks. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and arugula, then toss well. Add the pasta and toss until heated through and the arugula just begins to wilt.
Add half of the cheese and a splash of the reserved pasta cooking water. Toss well, adding more water if desired to create a sauce. Serve topped with the remaining cheese.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 490 calories; 190 calories from fat (39 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 70 mg cholesterol; 47 g carbohydrate; 28 g protein; 3 g fiber; 750 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.