When most people think about making dinner, they typically follow a cookbook or a specific recipe, make a shopping list, shop for that specific recipe and then come home to make that dinner. In contrast to that method, one of my favorite ways of making a dinner and creating new recipes is to look in my own kitchen to see what I have to work with and come up with a recipe on the fly, like this Italian Sausage and Squash Pasta Toss.
This sometimes works in my favor, other times it does not, whoops! However, by stocking your kitchen appropriately, its a sure fire way to have a yummy dinner on the table in no time!
The way I perform my weekly shopping at home may be different from others. I have a list of fresh staples that I always have on hand for my weeknight meals. When I am out of one, it goes on the list for next time I’m at the store so I am never without:
- Lemons and limes
- Fresh fruit (whatever’s in season)
- Fresh produce (mostly seasonal, what’s on sale, or what looks good)
- Shallots, garlic, and yellow onions
- Cheese: Feta, goat cheese (freezes well), a wedge of whole parmesan
- Herbs: cilantro, parsley, basil (grown in my garden in the summer)
- Spinach and/or arugula
I then stock my freezer with proteins when they are on sale and then defrost them when needed (this also works for some cheeses like goat cheese and parmesan). This way I am always buying on sale and have a cache for whatever I may want that day. Win-win!
- Chicken: breast, thighs, leg quarters (always cheap but require with a little extra prep work)
- Pork tenderloin or thick cut pork chops
- Sausages: sweet and hot
- Seafood: scallops, salmon, white fish, shrimp
- You can also use a chicken roaster if you are short on time. They are great for salads, pastas, casseroles, and more
Pantry items are always a “must have stocked” for me. They provide the extra ingredients to pull the other fresh staples and proteins together into a meal:
- Artichoke hearts
- Hearts of palm
- Black beans
- Brown rice
- Pasta variety
- Nuts: pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, slivered almonds (best toasted)
- Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil (best used in dressings, on bread, or to top soups)
- Vinegars: balsamic, red wine, rice wine
Putting Together a Meal
To put this all together, I look in my crisper drawer first and see what needs to be used or is available for use. I then look at my freezer to pair a protein with the meal (or go meatless) and finally finish the meal with pantry items and garnish with fresh herbs and cheese (when applicable)
This method has done me proud for years and I almost never have to throw away food that wasn’t used or eaten before it went bad! I am a stickler for not wasting food, so it works very well for me!
This recipe was born the same way. I had a zucchini, a squash, and a tomato on hand. I added some frozen Italian sausage as a protein and I knew I had come cavatelli pasta in the pantry. I always keep parmesan in the fridge (place it in a baggy and it will last you a LONG time) and decided to add in a shallot and fresh basil as garnish. Just like that, a meal was in the works!
Note: If you do not have a shallot, you can substitute 3 cloves of garlic. I love shallots because they are a cross breed between red onion and garlic and they add a great depth of flavor to your dish with only one ingredient!
Italian Sausage & Squash Pasta Toss
A fresh, light, Italian-inspired pasta recipe perfect for a weeknight meal anytime of the year.
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 lb. Italian Sausage (3-4 sausage links)
- 1 large shallot halved and sliced
- 1 large zucchini sliced
- 1 large yellow squash sliced
- 2 plum tomatoes (optional), halved and sliced
- 1 box cavatelli pasta
- 1 cup reserved pasta water (after cooking pasta)
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn (for garnish)
- Parmesan cheese grated (for garnish)
- Salt and pepper
- Place 1 tsp olive oil in a large shallow sauté pan
- Take sausage out of the casing and brown in pan until cooked though. Remove from pan and set aside for later.
- Place remaining 1 tsp oil in the same pan and cook the zucchini, squash, and shallots over medium high heat until soft, about 5-8 minutes.
- Toss in the tomatoes towards the end of cooking to warm thorough.
- In a separate pot, boil water for pasta and add salt to the water.
- Cook pasta according to box directions and reserve 1 cup pasta cooking liquid (for use in pan sauce if needed)
- In large bowl, toss the sausage and squash mixture with the pasta. Add in a little but at a time the pasta cooking liquid to add some give to the sauce and allow it to coat the pasta.
- Top with torn basil and parmesan cheese as garnish