Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pasta "No-Brainer"

Can you tell that a teenager had a hand in naming this dish? My son came to the rescue when I didn't know what to call this 1-pot pasta. He called it "No-brainer" because it's so easy, you'll never need to refer to the recipe again after making it the first time. It doesn't require a kitchen that's well-stocked with either ingredients or equipment, nor does it require much time. Great for a new cook or someone who's trying to feed a hungry family, fast.
The original recipe is based on using the can from the tomato sauce to measure the other ingredients so in addition to 454g/1 pound of ground meat, all that's needed is 1 can tomato/pasta sauce, 1 can of water, 1 can of smallish pasta and 1 can of cooked vegetables.

I prefer to start the dish with some sautéed vegetables and skip the ones added at the end though if you have leftover cooked broccoli, cauliflower, peas etc, this is a great vehicle to help use them up, mixing them in just before serving to heat through. This is my version:

Pasta No-Brainer
preparation & cooking time: 45 minutes 
serves 4
adapted from Kraft


1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, cut into 6mm/1/4" dice
1 medium carrot, cut into 6mm/1/4" dice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
454g/1 pound extra lean ground beef (12-15% fat)*
1 tsp kosher salt plus more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
1 tsp dried basil
680ml/23 fluid ounces tomato sauce
680ml/23 fluid ounces water
680ml/2 7/8 cups or a 375g box whole wheat macaroni**
2 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
4 tbsp grated Parmesan for serving (optional)


Heat the olive oil in a large pot (4.7 - 5.6 litre) with a fitted lid on medium-low heat. Add the the onion, stir to coat and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots and garlic. Cook an additional 3 minutes.

Raise the heat to high. Add the meat and brown, breaking up the clumps as it cooks. When the meat is no longer pink, add the salt, pepper and basil. Mix to combine.

Stir in the tomato sauce and water, using the can to measure the quantity of water. Cover the pot and bring the contents to a boil (this may take about 5 minutes). 

Add 1 can/1 box of macaroni to the boiling mixture. Allow it to return to a boil, mixing occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once boiling, cover the pot with the lid and reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring once at the halfway point. Test the pasta for doneness - you want it al dente - and adjust the seasonings to taste. Add the parsley if you're using it and serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, also optional.

Additional notes:

*I prefer to use extra lean meat as there's no opportunity to pour off excess fat. The meat can be cooked in a separate pan and drained before adding to the pot with the vegetables if higher fat meat is used.

** The 375g box of macaroni is a little too much for the can but I use the entire box anyway; the dish ends up a little less saucy this way. Macaroni is the perfect size; if using a smaller shape, use a little less than 1 can, if it's a slightly larger shape, use a little more than 1 can. Whole wheat pasta works best since it retains its shape and texture even sitting in the sauce for a day.


  1. Hi Zosia,
    Yes, trust a teenager to come up with a name like that, but it sounds fun! And he's right, there's no need to refer to the recipe each time you cook this. What a perfect name for a dish! Haha!
    Your pasta looks delicious. This would be perfect for any meal of the day!

    1. Thanks, Joyce. It's a very family-friendly dish.

  2. Hi Zosia, I think your boy is really creative coming up with this name, the pasta looks delicious!

    1. Thank you Jasline. I can always count on him to come up with something interesting!


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