Clean Out the Fridge Pasta


I was not going to post this, because it seemed so obvious, maybe a bit too everyday…plus I ended up using the Pecan-Sundried Tomato Pesto that I’d made for the Cornmeal Crêpes a few days before. Then I realized that this is exactly why I do need to post this recipe, because it illustrates how to use what you have in different ways…and it drives home the point to simply use what you have.

I spent lots of time in Florence in the mid-90s, and on one trip, I stayed with the owners of the Centro Liguistico Italiano Dante Alighieri, because I was there for an intensive few weeks to learn Italian. Gabriella and Alberto Materassi lived in the middle of town, in a three-story house, which they filled up with students and a passion for all things Tuscan, including the simple, rustic cuisine.

It was the smallest kitchen I’d ever seen…about half the size of my kitchen in Paris, even. But every night, Gabriella turned out the most incredible three-course meals (pasta, a main dish, and dessert), and she did it quickly, when she’d come home from the school. And effortlessly. I remember she once laughed as she held a stick blender in each hand and called them her two arms.

But these stick blenders were also her magic wands. If one night we had broccoli, the next night, the leftovers would appear as a purée, tossed with pasta, or perhaps as a soup. It was like this with everything. Nothing was wasted. Watching her do this night after night (she tried to shoo me out of the tiny kitchen at first, but when I refused, she gave in and let me stay and help) changed the way I see food.

Everything can be one thing, but making the leftovers into something equally interesting is something else. That’s when the fun begins.

So the other day, after I’d finished baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I decided to roast the asparagus that I’d bought a few days before (finally, and for just 3.50 euros!), and figure out what to do with it later. I was low on ideas. I had a half of an avocado and some bread and thought about a tartine…which I may do next time…but when I saw the Pecan Sundried Tomato Pesto staring back at me, I knew I had my solution. Which took me right back to Florence. Pasta. I’d just toss the asparagus with the pesto, and use up the last of the crumbs from the croutons that I’d made from the stale baguette from the week before, and some of the basil chevre that I’d bought from my friend Sandy the cheese man.

Roasted asparagus, homemade pesto, crunchy breadcrumbs, and creamy, fresh chèvre. Leftovers! This is my kind of thrifty.

Clean Out the Fridge Pasta

Makes 2 servings

  • 1 pound/500 grams of asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 cup of Pecan and Sundried Tomato Pesto
  • 6 ounces/170 grams of whole wheat penne pasta
  • about 2 tablespoons of fresh chèvre
  • about 3 tablespoons of Crunchy Herby Breadcrumbs


1. Preheat your oven to Broil and line a cookie sheet with foil.

2. Put your asparagus pieces on the cookie sheet. Add a drizzle olive oil, sea salt and pepper, and toss. Cook until the asparagus’ tips begin to brown, about 15 minutes. (Note: You may do this ahead of time and just keep this in the fridge till you’re ready to make the pasta.)

3. Put your pasta water onto boil.

4. Cook your pasta and when it’s ready, be sure to save about 2 cups of the pasta water as you pour the pasta into a colander to drain — you’ll need it to mix the pesto and asparagus with the pasta.

5. Put another tablespoon of olive oil in your big skillet and toss in the asparagus and the Pecan-Sundried Tomato Pesto. Let this warm through, add the pasta, toss, and at the last moment, add the bits of chèvre. Serve in two bowls and top with the crunchy breadcrumbs.