Greg and Jon suggest a flow chart for improvising your next pasta dish. Pick ingredients from each of the following categories, matching complementary flavors, working quickly as everything cooks. "You can have dinner in half an hour," promises Greg.
1. The base: Heat a saucepan. Add olive oil and heat. Add some crushed red pepper flakes and a couple of cloves of garlic. Stir around briefly. Add one small minced onion. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add a dried herb: oregano, whole thyme, or herbs de Provence.
2. The vegetables: Mix and match bell peppers (of different colors, diced or cut into thin strips), or asparagus tips, or carrots (chopped, julienned, or grated), or chard, spinach, or kale (for kale, use only the leaves).
3. The protein: Cut-up shrimp, or cubes of chicken, or ground beef, or strips of beef tenderloin, or strips of pork, or bacon, or Canadian bacon, or tofu.
4. The sauce (optional): Add heavy cream or crème fraîche, and/or home-made beef or chicken stock, and/or wine, and/or canned tomatoes. Cook it down.
5. The fresh herbs: add fresh tarragon or parsley or rosemary.
6. The pasta: choose whole wheat, or not, of various shapes and sizes. Consider using Chinese egg noodles. Decide which pasta shape best shows off the sauce. Cook and drain.
7. The cheese: toss with the hot pasta at end, to melt it. Parmesan, Asiago, Italian Fontina, crumbled feta.
(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 5/10/15 and 5/14/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays and again at 4:54 p.m. Thursdays, or via podcast.)