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Catherine Smart, a personal chef, food stylist, writer and busy mom of two kids, understands how hard it is to cook during the weeknights. "I'm not a big meal prepper because I'm not a big planner," she says. "Plus, the kids never want to eat what I had planned anyway! And when I get home from work, there's a short window for the kids between hungry and 'hangry.'"
So, she developed a few formulas for getting a meal on the table with no planning or special shopping trips required, and this is one of her favorites: combine cooked pasta + canned beans + fresh or frozen vegetables in a hot pan with some garlic and cheese (all of which are basic pantry/fridge items), and that's dinner! You can also throw in any ham you have in the house for some protein, if you like. It's quick and easy and delicious! Here are some other reasons why she loves it:
—You can truly mix and match whatever you have on hand as long as you've got SOMETHING from each category.
—It's the perfect opportunity to use up those frozen vegetables sitting in your freezer.
—Pasta is such a great way to use what you have on hand and turn it into dinner.
—It's a crowd-pleaser.
—The kids love it!
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of the starchy water before draining and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and add the ham. If you're using raw bacon or pancetta, cook about 5 minutes, letting the fat render and the meat crisp. If you're using a fully cooked meat, such as prosciutto or deli ham, cook about 2 minutes until the ham begins to brown.
Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute more, being careful to not let the garlic burn. Stir in the green vegetable, drained beans and pasta water, increase the heat and bring just to a simmer. Cook until the greens are wilted or the blanched beans are cooked through.
Stir in the cooked pasta and toss to combine, then mix in the cheese and remove from the heat. Serve immediately, passing more grated cheese and pepper flakes (if using) at the table.