The way this is done is by arming oneself with skills, but you also need ideas. Here's a great idea for making pasta: bake it. Baked pasta doesn't need to conjure up memories of school cafeteria baked ziti. Bright seasonal greens paired with fresh ricotta and some tasty meat can make for a beautiful and easy meal for a crowd.
Some friends had us over for dinner last weekend and made Orecchiette al Forno from A Platter of Figs by David Tanis. As the dish came to the table and I snapped this photo, I decided I should share it with you as an idea for cooking by feel with pasta.
A baked pasta like this orechhiette can be made with this simple formula:
Bring a large pot to boil with salted water. Add your green matter - it could be chopped broccoli or broccoli raab, spinach, kale, chard, etc. The more delicate the vegetable (like spinach,) the shorter the cooking time. Could range from 30 seconds for spinach to 3 minutes for tough broccoli stalks. You want a good amount, maybe a total of 5 cups cooked.
In the same water, cook a pound of pasta (shaped pastas like orechhiette, penne, cavatelli, fusilli, etc.) to very al dente, about two-thirds of the way (so for a suggested cooking time of 12 minutes, cook for 8). Drain it and toss it with a little olive oil and set aside.
If you want meat in the dish, cook about a half pound of sausage or other ground meat in a hot oiled skillet. Set aside. You might cook the meat with some chopped onion or garlic.
Combine all these ingredients, plus a few cups of ricotta cheese, or a mixture of ricotta, goat, or other soft cheese. Sprinkle the top with some grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.
Grease a roasting dish (like one you'd use for lasagna or brownies) and fill it with the pasta mixture. Bake the pasta, covered, for about 15 minutes in a 400° F oven. Then uncover and bake for another 5 minutes or so, just to get a nice brown cheesy crust on top.
How many versions of this formula can you come up with? That's cooking by feel.