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Everything-but-the-Jar Pasta

I like to think of pasta as a blank canvas for whatever I have left in my fridge, a binder for all the random ingredients I’ve collected but don’t quite know what to do with yet. The best part is that the sauce rarely has to come from a jar. A little olive oil, lemon juice, pasta water, or even Parmesan cheese stirred right into the noodles can provide the creamy, cohesive texture we look for without masking the flavor of the other leftovers (er, I mean ingredients). 

The “kitchen-sink” pasta method is hardly a new invention. Pasta alla Puttanesca, a northern Italian dish consisting of olives, capers, anchovies, tomatoes, and peppers, supposedly originated in Italian brothels where women had to make do with store room leftovers as it was unseemly for them to go to market.

I didn’t quite share their dilemma, but I did have a few farmer’s market remainders in danger of becoming overripe. Feel free to substitute anything and everything in this recipe—the canvas is yours.

1/2 pound spaghetti

1/4 red onion, sliced

2 summer squash (I used 1 zucchini and 1 yellow) sliced into thin ribbons


1 tablespoon pine nuts


Dash of salt

1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes

Juice from half a lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved

Cook pasta according to package instructions. In a medium saucepan, saute red onion in a little olive oil until softened, about 2 minutes. Add sliced squash, pine nuts, and salt, cook 4 to 5 minutes until soft. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add halved cherry tomatoes and chile flakes to squash, heat through 1 to 2 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water to add to pasta as needed. Toss pasta with zucchini mixture, lemon-olive oil mixture, and top with shaved Pecorino cheese.

Try this recipe for pasta with zucchini and roasted almonds (above) for another delicious variation or these Superfast Pasta Recipes for even more not-from-a-jar ideas.