The idea for this quick-and-easy skillet dish came to me after a chat with my grocery's cheesemonger — proof that inspiration truly is all around us. Not only does it get dinner on the table in minutes using a couple of pantry ingredients, but leftovers reheat like a dream.
I have the luxury of working from home a few days a week, but just because I develop recipes all day doesn't mean I always have delicious — or even complete — meals at my disposal. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sometimes a day of calories includes a milk chocolate mocha (or two), a few handfuls of cashews, and lots of nibbles on cookies, cake, breakfast casserole, or whatever crazy thing I'm testing that day. If I teach a cooking class in the evening, the aftermath is dinner. If not, a smoothie or salad will have to do.
Lately I have been craving a bit of dinner "normalcy." (And I'm sure my patient husband also feels the same.) You know, a whole meal that doesn't involve me taking obsessive testing notes, or styling and shooting a dish for its Internet debut. I have hundreds upon hundreds of recipes in the form of magazine tear sheets, Pins, and bookmarked cookbook pages, all just waiting to be made. Culinary inspiration is everywhere these days!
Speaking of inspiration, I didn't have to look very far for this weeknight rescue recipe, and I am thankful that it found me. As I was strolling through the cheese section of my local grocery store, picking out toppings for an Oscar night pizza party, I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman restocking the shelf. What started out as an innocent little chat turned into a full-blown discussion, and one of the things he mentioned was his family's latest favorite dish. He said, "I just brown some andouille sausage in a wok, toss in a bag of vegetables from the freezer, add tomato sauce and pasta, and call it a day." Sounded easy enough.
I nodded, we said our goodbyes, and I went on my way. Normally this conversation would have evaporated within minutes of leaving the store (not because I am rude, but because I have the memory of a very tiny gold fish), but for some reason, it stuck with me. The next following Wednesday when I desperately needed something to eat, I decided to give it a try. Andouille? Check. (Extra from Fat Tuesday, but an ingredient I always like to have on hand.) Frozen vegetables? Check. Whole-wheat penne? Check. I took a few extra liberties, adding Cajun mustard and a splash of cream, and it worked out quite well, I must say.
Just like that, an easy dinner was on the table in the blink of an eye. As my husband gobbled down his bowl, I realized, it doesn't always have to be such a production to make us a proper meal. (Hand slaps forehead.) Is this easy skillet recipe going to change any lives? Probably not. But it surely won't get you any backlash when you respond to "What's for dinner?" and I think I'm okay with that.
Spicy Sausage & Mixed Vegetable Skillet Pasta
Makes 2 servings
4 ounces regular or whole-wheat penne
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces smoked pork sausage, such as andouille, sliced into coins
12 ounces frozen vegetables, such as onion-bell pepper mix (see Recipe Notes)
1 heaping teaspoon whole-ground or Creole mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream, or more to taste
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook the penne until al dente. Scoop out 1/4 cup of cooking water and then drain the noodles. Return the noodles to the pot and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook until some fat begins to render and the sausage begins to turn golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the pot of noodles. Give the fat in the skillet a minute or so to get smoking-hot again, then add the vegetable mix and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Sauté the vegetables until tender.
Pour the noodles and sausage into the hot skillet with the vegetables, followed by the mustard and heavy cream. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook until the cream has thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings.
For leftovers, stir in the reserved cooking water and reheat in a skillet or microwave until warmed through.
- A mix of fresh vegetables can easily be substituted.
(Image credits: Nealey Dozier)