Here’s a secret weapon to tuck into your back pocket and save for a day when you just don’t have the time (or desire) to cook, but need to feed people anyway: Pick up a ripe (it should be ever so slightly squishy) avocado or three on the way home, and you can have dinner ready 20 minutes from the moment you walk in the door. The only other things you need are some pasta, citrus juice (either lemon or lime will work), garlic and olive oil. If you want, you can also use chopped basil, cilantro or onion.

Figure out how many servings you need and measure out enough pasta. Cook it according to the package directions. I usually use something like whole-wheat spaghetti or soba (buckwheat) noodles, but just about anything you have on hand will probably work. I’ve tried this with black bean spaghetti and it came out great. Macaroni or other pasta shapes would work well, too.

While the pasta is cooking, liberate your avocados. You’ll get about two servings of the topping per avocado. Peel however many you will need and put the halves into a mixing bowl. For each avocado, add the juice of half a lemon or lime, 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and one or two garlic cloves. If you’d like to add flavor with fresh basil, cilantro, mint or other herbs, you can mix them in at this point or save them to garnish at the end.

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Mix this all well, either in a blender, food processor or with a stick mixer, and it will become nice and creamy and thick. Or simply mash it all up with a fork if you don’t mind it possibly being a little on the chunky side. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

You could be finished at this point, or you might add veggies for a chunkier, more substantial meal. Stir in minced onion, halved cherry tomatoes, corn, mushrooms, snap peas or anything else you have on hand that might add some nice flavor.

By this time, your pasta should be just about ready. Drain and, while the pasta is still warm, serve portions on a plate or in a bowl tossed with the avocado mixture. Garnish with citrus zest, chopped basil, cilantro, feta or goat cheese and serve right away. It stirs up into a delicious, gooey, creamy treat. Some pastas can be quite high in protein and the avocado topping is filling, so this dish can easily stand on its own as a meal. It could also be served with a salad, veggies or bread on the side.

If you have any leftovers, keep the avocado mixture separate from the pasta. It will keep fine in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a day or two (the citrus juice will keep the avocado from browning), but it can become bitter if cooked. Reheat the pasta on its own, and then let it warm the avocado topping when they’re tossed together.

And if you have leftover avocado mixture without any remaining pasta, get creative with it! Spread it on toast in the morning or for a snack; use it as a dip for bread, chips or veggie sticks; or use a dollop as a garnish for a creamy soup. You could whisk in some extra oil, shake it up and dress a salad; or mix it with yolks to create some unusual deviled eggs.

This is a go-to dish that I return to again and again. The health benefits of avocados include being a good source of fiber, nutrients and the good kind of saturated fat-and it is easy enough to accommodate various dietary needs by serving with gluten-free pasta or skipping the cheese for an easy vegan meal.

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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