Back Pocket Pasta Recipes: A template + 4 Favorites

Pasta Recipes for Busy Nights

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Back Pocket Pasta Recipes: A template + 4 Favorites 1

Back Pocket Pasta Recipes (the backstory)

Every year, our family takes a road trip to the Oregon Coast.  I always look forward to this annual ritual of ours, and one of my favorite parts of the ritual is getting and reading a new cookbook for the drive.

Some years if I’m feeling super inspired, I might even make a dish or 2 out of it while we are on our trip. One year I read “The Pie and Pastry Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum and needless to say, I didn’t make anything that week out of this book.

Back Pocket Pasta Recipes: A template + 4 Favorites 2

Well, this particular road trip was in 2012, and my cookbook of choice was the brand new cookbook called “Dinner: A Love Story.”   I adored this book- reading it front to back nearly in 1 sitting.

It was clever and fun, and resonated with me- at the time I had younger children and something that I was really was focused on was balancing being a working mother and trying to have family dinner 5 nights a week.

On the drive I actually made a menu & grocery list for our week at the beach, and planned to try several recipes.

Besides this book being entertaining + delicious, (we loved the recipes we tried) I came away from reading this book with not 1, but 3 life-changing things.

#1 Even though I’m 99% sure I’m older than Jenny, I really want to be her when I grew up. 😉

#2 The Dark + Stormy.

#3 The idea of having “back-pocket recipes”.

You’ll have to trust me on the first two, but let me explain about the back pocket recipe. I had never thought of cooking in this way before reading Jenny’s book. She describes the incredible value of having several back-pocket recipes in your repertoire, to pull out on busy nights, or when inspiration is low- (which honestly is nearly every night that I am working.)

“Back pocket recipes” are more about the technique/idea than an actual recipe. Once you have the technique down, then you can put your own finishing touches on the dish depending on what’s in season, what’s in your pantry and how much time you have.

So, inspired by Jenny’s back pocket meals- here are some favorites of ours, almost all can be thrown together with pantry or fridge staples.

Several of these are perfect for post-vacation dinners when everyone is starving but you cannot stomach the thought of fast food…

Back pocket meals to the rescue!

Back Pocket Meals | amerryfeast.com

The Template:

  • 1 lb dried pasta
  • 1 small onion and/or 2 cloves garlic
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 lb – 1 lb chopped vegetables, choose 1 (tomatoes, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc)
  • Fresh Herbs, choose 1 (1 large handful, chopped basil, oregano, or Italian Parsley)
  • Wedge of Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Salt/Pepper
  • White wine (optional)

The Tips:

  1. I prefer short pasta for these dishes, (mezzi rigatoni is my favorite) but choose your favorite & have a stash in your pantry.
  2. Cook your vegetables in olive oil while the pasta cooks, then add the very al dente pasta directly to the pan with the vegetables, saving the pasta water. (I LOVE this tool for scooping short pasta out of the water into the pan)
  3. Add a bit of white wine, scraping up any brown bits and letting the wine cook down.
  4. Ladle some of the pasta water into the pasta/veggies, a little at a time to create a sauce.
  5. Add fresh herbs right before serving, and pass the cheese at the table for each person to freshly grate their own onto the hot pasta.

Our family’s favorite back pocket pasta combinations:

1 | Pan Roasted Tomato & Basil (Recipe below)

2 | Cacio e Pepe (Rachel Eats Recipe)

3 | Marcella’s Simple tomato sauce with onion + butter

4 | Broccoli or Brussels sprouts, garlic + chili oil (Recipe below)

5 | Broccoli + Lemon Basil Ricotta (Recipe below)

6 | PCPB pasta (pancetta, cavolo nero, pomodorini + basil) which is *almost* an Italian BLT, in delicious pasta form. (Recipe below)

Do you have back pocket recipes? I’d love to hear about them!

Mezze Rigatoni with Pan-Roasted Tomatoes + Basil
 
Recipe Type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Heather Carlson 
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
 
So simple + easy to make your own. I prefer short pasta (my favorites are mezzi rigatoni + orecchiette) but this would also work with long pasta as well.
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. mezze rigatoni, dried
  • 1 lb grape tomatoes
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh basil
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
Instructions
  1. Start a large stock pot of water to boil, cover tightly with a lid.
  2. In a separate pan, (ideally a 12 inch sauté pan) heat olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Add onions and let cook 3 minutes, then add grape tomatoes, a pinch of sea salt + stir occasionally.
  4. As tomatoes start to cook down and pop, mash them a bit with the back of a wooden spoon so they make a chunky sauce. Continue cooking while waiting for water to boil.
  5. Once water is boiling, add a handful of salt to the water (it should taste like the sea) and add pasta.
  6. Cook until very al dente (2 + minutes less than bag suggests)
  7. Without draining the pasta pot, move the pasta into the pan of tomato sauce. (I like to use a large slotted spoon for this)
  8. Stir the pasta + tomato sauce together, turning heat down a tad and adding 1 ladle full of pasta water.
  9. Let it cook together for 3-4 minutes and add more water if necessary.
  10. Turn off heat, add salt/pepper to taste and throw on the slivered fresh basil.
  11. Serve in pasta bowls and pass a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table to be grated over the top of the hot pasta.
 
Pasta with Green Veggies, Garlic + Chili Oil
 
Recipe Type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Heather Carlson
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
Delicious with broccoli, broccoli rabe, kale or Brussels sprouts
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. mezzi rigatoni, dried (or other short pasta shape)
  • 1 lb chopped broccoli or Brussels sprouts
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chili-Oil
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
Instructions
  1. Start a large stock pot of water to boil, cover tightly with a lid.
  2. In a separate pan, (ideally a 12 inch sauté pan) heat olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Add onions and let cook 3 minutes, then add garlic + vegetables.
  4. Cook + stir occasionally while waiting for water to boil.
  5. Once water is boiling, add a handful of salt to the water (it should taste like the sea) and add pasta.
  6. Cook until very al dente (2 + minutes less than bag suggests)
  7. Without draining the pasta pot, move the pasta into the vegetable pan. (I like to use a large slotted spoon for this)
  8. Stir the pasta + vegetables together, turning the heat down a tad and adding 1 ladle full of pasta water.
  9. Let it cook together for 3-4 minutes and add more water if necessary.
  10. Turn off heat, add salt/pepper to taste.
  11. Drizzle with chili oil.
  12. Serve in pasta bowls and pass a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table to be grated over the top of the hot pasta, and additional chili oil.
 
Rigatoni with Broccoli or Peas + Lemon Basil Ricotta
 
Recipe Type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Heather Carlson 
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. mezzi rigatoni, dried
  • 1 lb broccoli (or peas)
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh basil
  • 8 oz. whole milk ricotta
  • Lemon Zest
  • Pecorino Cheese
Instructions
  1. Start a large stock pot of water to boil, cover tightly with a lid.
  2. In a separate pan, (ideally a 12 inch sauté pan) heat olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Add onions and let cook 3 minutes, then add broccoli and continue cooking while waiting for water to boil.
  4. Once water is boiling, add a handful of salt to the water (it should taste like the sea) and add pasta.
  5. Cook until very al dente (2 + minutes less than bag suggests)
  6. Without draining the pasta pot, move the pasta into the pan of broccoli. (I like to use a large slotted spoon for this)
  7. Stir the pasta + broccoli together, adding 1 ladle full of pasta water.
  8. Let it cook together for 3-4 minutes.
  9. Turn off heat, and stir in the lemon basil ricotta. Add additional pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed.
  10. Taste, adding salt/pepper if needed.
  11. Serve in pasta bowls and top with additional fresh basil.
  12. Pass a wedge of Pecorino at the table to be grated over the top of the hot pasta.
  13. To Make the Lemon Basil Ricotta: Roughly chop 1 large handful of fresh basil leaves, add to 8 oz. ricotta and stir in lemon zest to taste.
 
Pancetta, Kale & Tomato Basil Pasta
 
Recipe Type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Heather Carlson 
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. mezzi rigatoni, dried
  • 1/2 c. chopped pancetta
  • 1/2 small sweet onion, diced
  • 1 bunch Tuscan Kale, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 c. GrapeTomatoes, cut in half
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh basil
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
Instructions
  1. Start a large stock pot of water to boil, cover tightly with a lid.
  2. In a separate pan, (ideally a 12 inch sauté pan) heat olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Add onions and pancetta, cooking until pancetta is crisp.
  4. Add tomatoes and kale, and continue cooking while waiting for water to boil.
  5. Once water is boiling, add a handful of salt to the water (it should taste like the sea) and add pasta.
  6. Cook until very al dente (2 + minutes less than bag suggests)
  7. Without draining the pasta pot, move the pasta into the pan of vegetables (I like to use a large slotted spoon for this)
  8. Stir the pasta vegetables together, then add a small amount of pasta water.
  9. Let it cook together for 3-4 minutes, adding additional pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed.
  10. Taste, adding salt/pepper if needed.
  11. Serve in pasta bowls and top with additional fresh basil.
  12. Pass a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table to be grated over the top of the hot pasta.

Anyone else hungry now? Which one sounds good to you?

You might also like: Favorite Italian Cookbooks, Building an Italian Pantry and our Italian Summer Recipe Guide

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Pasta Recipes for Busy Nights

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