Weeknight Shorts: Cajun Al Dente

Maybe it's just all of the seasonal changes going on in March, but it seems like I'm just busier these days and time in the kitchen is scarce. But that doesn't mean my family is seeking frozen pizzas, takeout, or an endless stream of leftovers. No, we just tend to look for simple meals that are quick to prepare and anything but boring:

That's my pasta twist take on jambalaya. I happened to have a package of wonderful chipotle-cheese chicken sausages and I thought they'd make some nice jambalaya, especially since I had a bit of leftover ham on hand that wasn't really enough for a meal on its own. But instead of going with rice — which would be lovely instead of the pasta, too — I opted to use penne pasta and let it soak up all the lovely flavor released by the meat and veggies as I browned them in a skillet. Just a splash or two of the pasta water allowed the pan drippings to become a luxurious sauce that coated everything beautifully. I seasoned the whole dish with my favorite cajun seasoning from Penzeys, but you could add extra heat with some ground chipotle, cayenne, or even your favorite hot sauce. I just put out some hot sauces on the table and let my hungry diners apply that as desired.

If you're wondering about what to serve with a dish like this, you could opt to keep it simple and slice some oranges to enjoy alongside it. Or, you could bake a batch of cornbread muffins, which would pair beautifully with this dish. A simple side salad could be quite refreshing as well. if you wanted, you could even serve all three of those items and pour a pint of your favorite beer or iced tea to wash it all down with. You'll want something to offset any lingering heat the dish provides.

Jambalaya Pasta

  • 16 oz. penne pasta, prepared according to the package directions (reserve pasta water)
  • 2 tsp. cooking fat (I used bacon fat)
  • 10 oz. spicy sausage (I used chipotle-cheese chicken sausage), sliced into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 c. cubed ham
  • 1 c. chopped mixed sweet peppers
  • 1/4 c. diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. cajun seasonings (I use Penzeys)

While the pasta is being prepared, heat the cooking fat in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the fat is hot, add the sausage, ham, peppers, onion, and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes and then add the cajun seasoning. Continue cooking for 5-8 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and the meat is slightly browned along the edges.

Drain the pasta, reserving the pasta water. Carefully add the hot pasta to the skillet and toss well to combine. If the pasta seems a bit sticky, add the reserved pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time, to help the dish reach your desired consistency. Serve hot.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 25 minutes

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