Introduction: Spinach and Tomato Pasta: Explained

If you are frustrated with recipes that gloss over seemingly critical terms, this Instructable is for you! Not only will you learn a cheap and easy recipe, but you will take the first step toward becoming an amateur chef. In this guide, you will be presented with a simple recipe for Spinach Tomato Penne, then learn how to complete each step. The goal is for you to learn basic kitchen terms and tasks, and create a meal as a byproduct.

Step 1: Get Familiar With the Terms

Let's begin with a few terms and measurements you'll encounter throughout this guide.

  • Tbsp (tablespoon) - A tablespoon is a common kitchen measurement, larger than a teaspoon (tsp). It is used for dry goods, such as herbs, spices, flour, and processed grains.
  • oz (ounce) - Most foods/ingredients are packaged by weight. This may seem obvious for a large bag of rice or flour, but soups and other canned goods like the diced tomatoes used in this recipe have an associated weight too.
  • Diced/Dicing - Cutting the vegetable (or meat) into uniform chunks, around the size of a die. Consistency in the size and shape of an ingredient allows for even distribution of flavor throughout the dish.
  • Minced/Mincing - As above, mincing is cutting an ingredient into very small pieces. The inclusion of a minced ingredient allows for the flavor to permeate the dish without the presence of large chunks.
  • Al dente - Refers to pasta that is cooked until firm, not soft. The cooking time given on a box of pasta is generally for al dente, is considered to be the "correct" firmness.
  • Reduction - Allowing a sauce or soup to thicken using evaporation. This process changes the consistency of the mixture and intensifies the flavors.

Step 2: Gather Your Ingredients

Credit to BudgetBytes for the recipe this guide is based on (with a few alterations).

  • 1/2 lb box of penne pasta
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes, or dice your own
  • 1/2 Tbsp oregano
  • 1/2 Tbsp basil
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Step 3: Gather Your Tools

  • Deep pot - for cooking the pasta
  • Skillet or medium-sized saucepan - for cooking the sauce
  • Sharp knife - for food processing
  • Plastic spoon - for stirring

Laying out all your tools before starting is a good habit, and will ensure you didn't forget that the spoon is sitting dirty in the dishwasher. Now, before you start, here are a few things worth knowing:

  • Some cookware, particularly when it has a non-stick coating, does not react well to being heated with nothing in it. For this reason, do not leave anything (that isn't durable like cast iron) empty over high heat for long periods of time.
  • In a similar vein, do not submerge very hot cookware in cold dishwater, the metal can warp easily.
  • A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife. Using a dull knife requires you to apply more force, which can lead to mistakes. A sharp knife cuts effortlessly.
  • Do not use metal utensils on most non-stick coatings. They will scratch away at the coating, which may end up in your food.
  • Wash your hands before cooking, and after touching any raw meat or poultry.
  • Expect to make a mess, but clean as you go. This saves a lot of time overall.
  • Freshly ground pepper provides significantly better flavor.

Step 4: The Prep

    Begin by mincing two cloves of garlic. Here's how you do that (or watch this video):

    1. Begin by breaking up the garlic bulb, and taking two of the cloves (small wedges)
    2. Cut off the stem and remove the outer layers of the clove, until you reach a layer that is not dry.
    3. Now take that sharp knife, and cut as thin slices as possible
    4. Finally, use a rocking motion with the knife to cut these slices into as small pieces as possible, alternating directions often.

    If the spinach you purchased did not come in a bag, take time to wash it and cut off the end of each leaf's stem. In general vegetables should always be washed prior to cooking with them to ensure there is no residual dirt or germs from the harvesting and transportation process.

    Step 5: The Noodles

    1. Take the large pot, and fill it with enough water to cover the box of noodles, which you will add later.
    2. Place the pot on the stove with the burner on medium-high. This ensures the water will not boil too rapidly and bubble over. (Proceed to step five while waiting).
    3. When the water reaches a boil, add the 1/2 box of pasta, and a generous pinch of salt.
    4. Let the pasta cook for eight to ten minutes. Take a noodle out and taste it. It should be slightly firm as described by al dente in the glossary. If the noodle is still too hard, allow the pasta to cook for another minute or two.

    Step 6: The Sauce

    1. Add the olive oil to your skillet or pan, then turn on to medium-low heat.
    2. Add the minced garlic right away, and allow it to cook until transparent.
    3. Once the garlic is transparent, add in the can of diced tomatoes and 2 Tbsp tomato paste. Stir this mixture to combine the tomato paste into the sauce.
    4. Add the cream cheese, and turn heat down slightly. Stir until the cream cheese is completely mixed in.
    5. Leave everything on and continue to stir until the sauce thickens, and the spinach has fully cooked. Note: This step is called "reduction," or allowing a sauce to thicken by leaving it on low heat. For this recipe I aim for a consistency slightly thicker than tomato soup.
    6. Once the sauce has reduced, add the herbs (basil and oregano) and spinach. Stir to coat the spinach thoroughly with the sauce. Note that adding spices prior to reduction can cause the flavors to become too intense.
    7. Here is where the most important step occurs, you taste the sauce.
      • Now add the amount of salt and pepper you feel it needs, and taste again.
      • Add in some Parmesan if you want a more cheesy sauce.
      • If you like spicy foods, add some ground cayenne or red pepper flakes.
    8. Once everything is to your liking, you should be ready to serve.

    Step 7: The Serve

      Once your noodles and sauce are done, drain the noodles in a colander. Pour the sauce over-top and you are done! This recipe makes too much for one sitting, unless you are very motivated. Store some for later if you like food prep, or share with friends.