Poor Man’s Pasta is a hearty, yet simple pasta dish made with a few inexpensive ingredients. It’s cheesy, garlicky, creamy, and deliciously rich in flavour! This pasta has complete disregard for things like fat and carbs!
The name of this recipe may ring true in respect to the ingredients needed to prepare it. However, the same statement cannot be applied to the taste of this pasta dish. Poor Man’s Pasta is what I’ve heard it referred to in the past. Recently though, one of my friends called it Coin Pasta. (A play on the cheap ingredients.)
This dinner is filling and satisfying, and truth be told, any additional food items, such as bread or a salad, is not needed at all! It is worth noting that this pasta appeals to the most ravenous meat-eater as well as the most delicate palate. The leftover pasta was thoroughly enjoyed by my mother, who cannot fathom why someone would choose to be a vegetarian. And by my daughter, who is a very fussy eater.
(The photos you see in this post were updated in early 2018. That was almost 5 years from the original date this recipe was published. Since then, I have made this dish many times. Two years ago, my daughter became a vegetarian. So with two vegetarians in my life – both her and John.e, this pasta is a go-to.)
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FEEDING A FAMILY ON A BUDGET
I imagine that Poor Man’s Pasta might have been quite a familiar and welcoming dish in poor economic times. Pasta has always been an ingredient that most people could afford. Being able to cook it using only water and salt, must have been a huge blessing for some families.
When I think of dishes like this, I think of simpler times – when money was scarce, but the family dinner table was important. Everyone works to pull their weight, and dinners are filling, satisfying, and carb heavy. I picture moms toiling all day at home and pulling together a tasty dinner with the bare essentials.
In fact, Dear Reader, there were times in my childhood where money was tight and my mom would use cheap ingredients to help put a meal on the table.
She would often prepare a pasta dish with inexpensive ground beef and canned sauce. Even though dried pasta and canned sauce is unappealing to some, mom could make a meal taste like a million bucks with just a few pantry basics.
INGREDIENTS NEEDED TO PREPARE THIS RECIPE
The following is a list of the ingredients needed to prepare this recipe. For exact amounts and measurements, refer to the printable recipe card located near the bottom of this post.
- Olive Oil – I always use extra virgin light olive oil so that the flavour is muted. Olive oil has a high heat tolerance, so it’s perfect for sautéing.
- Pasta – Any shape pasta will do quite nicely, however, I find that tossing shell-type pasta with the sauce is easier than tossing longer pasta shapes like spaghetti or linguine.
- Whipping Cream – Sometimes called heavy cream. Please see the next section on whipping cream.
- Green Peas – Use frozen green peas in this recipe. Other frozen veggies will work well too. Read the variations section further down this page.
- Parmesan Cheese – Use a really good parmesan, preferably one that you grate yourself. If you are really sticking to a budget, the stuff in a shaker can is perfectly fine too.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic will result in the best flavour every single time.
- Onion – I use yellow, white, and sweet onions interchangeably. Either of them will do just fine.
- Salt and Ground Black Pepper
- Dried Red Chili Flakes – Optional.
- Parsley – For garnish.
HEAVY CREAM VS WHIPPING CREAM
Confession time – I use them both interchangeably, depending on what is available at the store, or whatever is on sale! Both of these can be quite costly. If memory serves me correctly, a 250mL carton, or one cup, here in Canada, will run just short of $5! There is a difference in the two, but not enough to concern yourself with when it comes to this Poor Man’s Pasta.
Just in case you’re interested, the most basic difference is the amount of fat contained in both. Whipping cream has 35% fat. It can be whipped into peaks and it’s also rich enough that it won’t curdle when heated in soups and sauces. It’s nearly identical to heavy cream so if a recipe calls for heavy cream and you can only find whipping cream, feel free to use that instead. In contrast, heavy cream, which is sometimes called heavy whipping cream, contains about 38% fat. Either of those would work well in this recipe. I used 35% whipping cream.
BUDGET COOKING DOES NOT MEAN LACK OF FLAVOUR
Pantry cooking is one of my favourite ways to cook. I guess in some way, I learned that from my mom. (Even though I wasn’t ever in the kitchen with her!) My love of baking and cooking didn’t blossom until I had moved out on my own.
But, to this day, I love assembling a meal using one or two fresh ingredients and my pantry staples. To me, it’s what comfort food cooking is all about – cooking with what you have on hand.
So, you see, Poor Man’s Pasta is a dish that can be prepared with whatever you have on hand. Pasta, milk or cream, salt, pepper, and butter or oil, are pretty much a staple in any home. Adding in the cheese and whatever veggies you have on hand makes a wonderful, simple, rustic dinner.
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Let me talk to you a bit about how to get the pasta just right without overcooking it. Someone once told me that I prepare pasta like an old Italian grandma. That has stuck we me for so many years. You see, Dear Reader, I’m far from perfect, but cooking pasta is one thing I can certainly do perfectly. I don’t care what the back of the pasta package says, cook your pasta according to taste and texture. Ignore everything else. Here are my 4 steadfast rules:
Rule #1: Say no to oil!
Do you add oil to your pasta water before adding the pasta? Stop that right now! I don’t know who’s responsible for that, but I have seen some TV chefs do it! If you add oil to your pasta water, do you know what happens when you put the sauce on it? The sauce won’t stick as well as it should. It will slide off, because the oil prevents it from sticking.
Rule #2: Add extra salt!
Salt the water. I used to be so afraid of salting pasta water, because I thought it would be too salty to eat. Salting the water, before you add the pasta, is the only chance you get to season that pasta. Let the water come to full boil before adding your salt. The water should taste like the ocean. Don’t dump the salt in; stir it in. Preventing the salt from settling at the bottom of your pot will keep your pot looking shiny and new. If you have pots with what looks like a tarnished or unpolished interior bottom, it’s because salt sat at the bottom of your pot.
Rule #3: Get that pasta moving about immediately!
Stir the pasta for a good minute when you first add it to the water. This helps to wash off some of the starch and prevents the pasta from sticking to the pot and to itself. I always pull out a piece of pasta 4 minutes before the package says it will be ready. Taste it. Chew it. It shouldn’t be completely soft. If it has a bit of bite left in the center, get it out of the water and drain it immediately. You can thank me later!
Rule #4: Do not rinse!
So many of us are tempting to rinse pasta under running water after it’s been drained. I think it comes from the notion that it gets rid of starch. Well, it does in a way. But, when pasta begins to cool off and dry, it becomes a little sticky. That stickiness soaks up pasta sauce, so don’t flush it out! A quick drain is all you need. Get the pasta into a bowl or onto a plate. Get the sauce on it and serve it up.
Try it with broccoli, red peppers, lima beans, or even leave out the veggies completely if you have none available. The onions and garlic alone make this a very flavourful pasta. I know people who enjoy pasta tossed with just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper – that simple.
Any frozen veggie would work well in this dish. Also, you could add some grilled chicken if you prefer a non-vegetarian version. And, there’s no need to make it fancy. A garnish is not needed!
Truth be told, I will make this dish with parmesan cheese from a shaker can – that’s right; I admit it! You don’t need to spend $20 on a wedge of good parmesan for this dish. And, unless Gordon Ramsay is dining with you, no one will ever know the difference!
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Poor Man’s Pasta
- 450 grams penne pasta, cooked and drained
- 2 cups 35 % whipping cream
- 2 cups green peas, frozen
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried red chili flakes, optional
- Fresh parsley, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)
- When cooking your pasta, do not overcook. The pasta will be tossed in the sauce at the end and will cook a little further. Also, save one cup of the pasta water.
- In a large skillet, over medium heat, saute the chopped onions in the olive oil until lightly browned – about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the pepper, salt, and dried red chili flakes, if using. Stir to combine.
- Next, lower heat to medium-low and add the whipping cream and the parmesan cheese. Stir until the parmesan cheese has melted into the heavy cream and onion mixture.
- Once the sauce begins to thicken, add the frozen peas. Stir the peas through the mixture and cook for 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, add the cooked pasta and toss to coat. Add a lid to the skillet and let the pasta sit for 2 minutes. If the sauce has become too thick, add a tablespoon or two of the pasta water and toss. Add as much pasta water as you would like to thin the sauce if you think it is necessary.
- Garnish with fresh parsley and more parmesan if you desire. Enjoy!
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