How to Cook Without a Recipe: The Pasta


It is more than okay to rely on lots of vegan recipes as you eat more and more vegan meals. Recipes are great sources of training and inspiration. They can help you convert non-vegan meals to their vegan equivalent and they can teach you how to use new, odd ingredients.

But… when you don’t feel like dealing with a recipe, trust in yourself to make up a dish! With simple “non-recipes” you can learn how to whip up a dinner without cracking a cookbook. This is a perfect option to save time, food waste and your energy.

Here’s how it goes: open up the fridge, pull out everything that you have that needs to be used up and see what you can do with it.

This tactic can be used to create a bowl (as previously discussed in How to Cook Without a Recipe: The Bowl) and it is also a good approach to a pasta dish.

Oh, pasta. How much joy you bring us. So many different noodle shapes and sizes, so much garlic, and lots of crushed red pepper. 😍

A go-to at Plenty Vegan is a pasta dish of sautéed mushrooms, garlic and greens in olive oil, tossed with pasta. Mushrooms are life blood around here but if you’re not a fan there are so many other options.

This particular pasta dish shows just one of those options.

NOTE: Let it be known — this is a more stocked version of a “thrown together” pasta than is normally made here in the Plenty Vegan kitchen. First of all, because of a spaghetti squash recipe recently made, there were capers and fresh rosemary on hand (bonus!). Plus, some homemade vegan sausages were recently made and begging to be added to a pasta dish.

5 Steps to Create an Easy Pasta Meal:

  1. Know your top veggie combos.
  2. Keep a favorite pasta on hand.
  3. Have some favorite spices.
  4. Add in a protein.
  5. Clean out your fridge.

These 5 steps are the building blocks of your pasta. The steps are an attempt to have a balanced meal, full of nutrition from veggies and protein. But, in a pinch, some vegans are known to survive on a dish of: pasta, almond milk, Earth Balance, salt and nutritional yeast alone for meals on end. Who can say who those vegans may be…

Let’s break it down:


1. Know your top veggie combos.

When you can, get greens in your meals. Packaged, washed baby spinach, kale, broccoli — these are all fairly simple add-ins to a pasta dish. Some veggies, including these greens, that you might want to keep in mind are:

  • mushrooms
  • squash
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • bell pepper
  • spinach
  • kale
  • broccoli

… so many possibilities.

Having some veggie combos that you know and love is important for the ‘not thinking’ part of making an easy pasta dish. This particular dish had baby spinach as the main (only?) veggie but also used capers and garlic for flavor. Those are more of a spice, but we’ll count it!


2. Keep a favorite pasta on hand.

Pasta is one of the easiest things to keep in stock in your pantry. And, even if you’re out, you can mindlessly walk to the pasta aisle of your grocery store and restock without batting an eye.

There are so many fun pastas out there and some are even made of corn or quinoa, which is a great way to minimize your gluten intake, if you’re so inclined.

If you are getting bored of the penne that is always in your kitchen, mix it up with a new shape or size! This spiral pasta is fusilli — fun, right?

3. Have some favorite spices.

And by spices this means anything that will add flavor to your dish. This particular combo relied on capers for saltiness, lemon juice for acidity, fresh rosemary for that Italian punch and garlic for… life?! This is a lot of fresh flavor but you can always use dried rosemary, oregano, thyme, and garlic powder. And, if you like a kick, top with some red pepper flakes — sooooo delicious!

To summarize, some options are:

  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • garlic powder
  • fresh garlic
  • red pepper flakes
  • capers
  • olives
  • lemon juice
  • nutritional yeast
  • salt, to taste

If you can, just keep garlic in stock all the time. Garlic and olive oil are a great starting point for so many meals (if you are ok with added oil in your diet). However, even if you’re out of garlic, cut up and cook up the veggies you have in a frying pan and season them with garlic powder or nutritional yeast (and red pepper flakes?), then toss with pasta.

Plain and simple.


4. Add in a protein.

If you happen to have a hearty protein on hand, add it in. Now, remember, veggies have protein too, but it can not only be more filling but also yummier to add in something more substantial to your pasta. Some examples might be:

  • vegan sausage (homemade or store bought)
  • tempeh
  • chickpeas
  • cannellini beans (or other beans you like)

The dish pictured has both homemade vegan sausages (which contain pinto beans) and tempeh. These things are not always in stock but since they were — bonus!

Let’s talk about tempeh for a second.

It’s become a new favorite thing in the Plenty Vegan kitchen to add crumbled up tempeh to dishes. It adds this incredible, nutty taste to a meal and fills you up with protein. Just crumble the tempeh in with your veggies as you sauté them and make the pieces as big or as small as you like, then cook until browned.


5. Clean out your fridge.

The final step in any simple dish is to use what is already in your kitchen. This makes it so you might not have to go to the grocery store and, bonus, you won’t end up throwing out perfectly good food that has gone bad because you haven’t used it up.

Go through the first 4 steps with the fridge/freezer/pantry open to see what you can check off the list from the ingredients you already have. Do you have a tablespoon of olives left? Throw them in! Some fancy pine nuts from a pesto you made? Toast them and add them to your meal! Of course, if you have any fresh herbs or veggies, consider making them the main part of your dish.

Do you make pasta on the regular? What are your favorite combinations? Busy times call for simple meals. Share your pasta dishes with the rest of us so we can get some inspiration! Comment below or tag your meal with #plentyvegan on Instagram.

Remember the 5 steps to make an easy pasta meal:

  1. Veggies
  2. Pasta
  3. Spices
  4. Protein
  5. Leftovers

Originally published on Plenty Vegan.