Tag Archives: penne

Chickpeas and Pasta

19 Oct

Chickpeas and Pasta

“Just go away.”  I have uttered this often to my teenage students, in a variety of contexts, over the last twelve years since I started teaching high school English. I’ll say it as I attempt to take roll and a student asks me for the fortieth time if they need to skip lines when writing an essay, even though I have a large poster at the front of the room that clearly asserts, “Yes! Skip lines!” I’ll say it as I am but three words away from totally explaining the most impassioned and profound concept, which will alter their lives invariably thereafter, when one kiddo raises his hand and asks if he can go to the bathroom. I’ll say it when everyone is taking a final exam and the antsy, gregarious, loquacious student who finishes first asks me what I’m cooking for dinner that night. Loudly.

But truly, the context in which I most often say “just go away” relates to what they do after high school. I tell them to travel, to get away from their familiar environs, and just go away. You want to see South America? Good! Just go. Castles where knights rose and fell? Go. You want ninjas? Go. Where Napoleon died? Why? Never been to San Francisco? Go. You want to see hot Spanish chicks and dudes? Go. Make it happen and don’t wait.

Usually this is precipitated by me sharing about my backpacking trip around Europe when I was 23, fresh out of college. For two months, my best friend Pat and I went from Ireland, to Spain, to Germany, to Austria, to Czech Republic, to Netherlands, back to Spain, to France, and then home. We partied every night, slept on the floors of trains, saw Europe before it was the EU and before the internet localized the world, partied more, ate stuff that I still can’t identify, and basically changed our lives for good.

Physically, mentally, economically, or realistically, I cannot and will not ever be able to do this type of trip again. It was once in a lifetime, and I try to instill this in my students. “Do it now, kids, because you won’t be able to later. Trust me.” No money? I didn’t have much either. It took me until I was thirty to pay it off, but it was interest well bought. Just get out of town. Just go away.

As usual, I tangentially bring this up because, until that trip to Europe, chickpeas were something I refilled in the salad bar at Straw Hat pizza in my teens, not something I ate knowingly. Amsterdam changed that. Without going into details, I will posit that Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are intentionally and strategically located next to shwarma and falafel stands (and KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, for that matter), so patrons succumbing to the munchies have no choice but to belly up to some serious grub on every side of them. They’ve got you by the balls convincingly. Before this time, I had never even heard of falafel, which is ground chickpeas and spices rolled into balls, deep fried, and then served in a pita with veggies and sauces. But after leaving a coffee shop and letting the holy grail of street food create new universes in my expanded mind, I ate them every day for a week. Sublime.

As the Food Network Empire and Darth Rachel came to power, chickpeas (garbanzos, or if you’re a pretentious prick, ceci, pronounced che’-chee) started getting some coverage in a variety of contexts. Unbeknownst to me, “chickpeas and pasta” are an Italian staple all over the boot. Although I personally had never had the dish, Darth Rachel’s scratchy voice assured me that it is “yum-o,” which of course comforts me in the recesses of my mind, Sand People pursuing or not.

In any case, this is a Weight Watcher’s recipe and I took only a few liberties with it. A good-size portion is a mere 7 on the old system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off frenetically). It’s vegetarian, filling, and good for you. It’s easy as hell to make, too, so it’s a perfect weekday dinner. And you will see that, as you eat this, you will tell people to just go away.

Chickpeas and Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups serving is an old Weight Watchers 7


4 tsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or a teaspoon dried, I’m guessing)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, divided

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed well

1/4 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 zucchini or yellow squash, peeled and made into ribbons (I used the peeler to make thick ribbons, but only shave the meaty parts rather than the seedy parts)

2 cups cooked pasta, like rotini, penne, or ditalini

1/4 cup parmesan

Makin’ It:

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the carrots, rosemary, red pepper, and 1 tablespoon o’ the parsley. Saute this for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the tomatoes and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Start cooking the pasta about halfway through this.

Then, add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, and squash.  Simmer this for another 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Add in the pasta, parmesan, and the other tablespoon of parsley. Divide into four bowls and serve. Bob’s your uncle.

Chickpeas and Pasta 7

Now just go away.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013


Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Ricotta

26 Dec

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

‘Tis the day after Christmas, and all through my home,

I felt bloated while cursing

My gut, quite the dome.

(and English teachers, yes, I know it’s a forced rhyme, so piss off)

The first time I went on Weight Watchers, it was right after the holidays.  That year, I relieved myself of the guilt of overindulging in the festivities by promising myself that, indeed, once the holidays were over, I would seriously commit to losing some weight.  I followed through with it and, as I have mentioned many times, it totally changed my lifestyle.  But most importantly, it changed how I cooked and the range of dishes to which I became exposed.

The above dish is straight from Weight Watchers (  This is definitely in my top 5 WW recipes of all time.  It’s vegetarian (not vegan, though), but it still has some substance to it.  It’s filling, tasty, and the leftovers make excellent lunches.  I will admit, this recipe takes a bit of work (fun for me!), and your timing has to be on.  For whatever reason, too, you will use a lot of dishes making it, but whatever.  It’s worth it.

One change I make with any Weight Watchers pasta dish is that I use low-carb pasta instead of the whole-wheat stuff they always suggest.  The wheat pasta sucks, in my opinion, and the low-carb pasta at least is semblable to regular pasta.

A few years ago, some colleagues and I met at my house to work on a project, and I happened to be making butternut squash as a side dish for dinner that night.  While everyone was chatting, I figured I’d get some of the prep work done for dinner.  One of my colleagues, Brooke, wanted to watch me specifically butcher this butternut squash.  She said that it was one of her favorite vegetables, but she only used the already-cubed kind (found at Trader Joe’s or Costco).  She had no idea how to actually cube it herself.  I have had other people mention this to me a few times since then, so I figure I’ll explain the easy way here for posterity.  It takes 5 minutes, your squash will always be fresher than the pre-cut kind, and it’s cheaper.

How to Peel and Cube a Butternut Squash:

1.  With a big knife, cut the ends off of the squash.

2.  Lay the squash on its side, and slice it into 1″ to 1 1/2″ thick disks.

3.  With a soup spoon, scoop out the ganglia and seeds from the disks that have them.

4.  With a paring knife, peel each disk.

5.  Cut each disk into 1″ cubes.  Easy as a two-bit hooker.

Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash and Ricotta


Cooking spray

1 butternut squash cut into cubes (the recipe says 20 oz., but I use as much as I have)

1 lb. low-carb penne or something similar

1 1/4 cup low fat or fat free milk

2 tbsp. flour

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper or to taste (I like a lot)

2 tsp. dried thyme, or 1 tbsp. fresh thyme, if you’ve got it

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and put the squash on it in one layer. Spray the squash with more spray and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 1

Cook this for 30 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be mashed easily.  When they are done, put them in a bowl and mash them like potatoes.  Keep the oven on, wise guy.

Get a pot of salted water boiling before you get the squash in the oven so it’s ready when you need it.  Penne usually takes 10 minutes to cook, and you want the penne and the creamy squash sauce all done at roughly the same time, so keep that in mind. When you’re ready, cook the pasta according to the box, drain it, and return it to the pot.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, flour, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Get this to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking regularly so it doesn’t burn.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer a few minutes until it’s thickened, about 2 minutes.  Stir in half of the thyme.  Add this sauce to the mashed squash and stir it together well.  It will look like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 2

Then, add this mixture to the pasta and mix that well.  Take a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and spray it with cooking spray.  Transfer the pasta to this dish and make it all level, like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 3

Now for the fun part.  Spoon dollops of the ricotta over this (if you can’t tell, I use a bit more ricotta than the recipe, like a cup total, because that’s how I roll).  Then, sprinkle the parmesan, walnuts, and the other half of the thyme over it.  It will look like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 5

Bake this for about 20 minutes, until the top is browned and glistening and jovial as the day is long.  A serving is supposed to be 1 cup, which would make it a 5 on the old Weight Watchers system, but I divide this into eight.  I am guessing this is more like a 7 or 8 the way I make it and serve it.

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

Add a side salad or a veggie and you’ve got yourself a very healthy and tasty meal.

Note:  You might think to add chicken to this to give it some protein.  I have done it and, meh.  The chicken takes away from it a bit, in my opinion, but it’s still good.  The points would have to be adjusted accordingly.

So, as you contemplate your resolutions for the coming year, remember that good food can be had without adding on the pounds.  This dish is an example of it.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

© Jon Marino, 2012