That said, I’m also well aware of just how hectic life can be, and sometimes stuff happens that prevents us from putting the planned meal on the table. We all have those days where we arrive home at 5:45pm, everyone’s starving, there's basketball practice at 7pm, and there’s just no time to cook a meal.
Many families would be inclined to reach for the take-out menu in such instances. But that’s an option that’s tough on the budget and the waistline. So I recommend having “emergency rations” on hand for just such occurrences.
That can include leftovers from the freezer that you stored after a meal you cooked, or something such as frozen ravioli or tortellini that you bought on sale and saved for just such an occasion.
That’s the only way I buy them, of course, and I’ll usually stock up on some extras bags or boxes to put in the freezer for “emergencies”. They have the added advantage of being quite quick to cook, and can be ready to eat in minutes when you use store-bought or leftover homemade sauce.
Given that it’s so easy to add seasonings to a can or jar of plain tomato product to make your own sauce on the fly, I prefer that option. It’s healthier and tastier, in my opinion. Just throw a bit of oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper to taste into some tomato puree, or crushed or diced tomatoes, or two cans of paste mixed with 2 cups of water, and you pretty much have a sauce that’s tasty and ready to go.
This dish is not as quick as plain tortellini with jarred or leftover sauce, of course, and requires a bit more prep, but it’s still a fast meal to put together. It can be served warm, chilled, or room temperature.
And, of course, you can substitute any combination of vegetables that fit your budget or taste. It calls for red pepper, for example, but that can be quite pricey, so skipping it, and using double the amount of green pepper, or carrots, or even salad greens, instead, is a perfectly okay alternative. It will be just as tasty with those ingredients.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes 6-8 servings
Prep time – approximately 30 minutes
Start to finish time – 30 minutes-6 hours
Total recipe cost – approximately $8.00
Total per person meal cost (with fresh bread and a tossed salad) – approximately $1.75
1 pound bag cheese tortellini or pasta of your
choice (ziti, bow ties, etc.)
1 medium-large onion
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 large carrot
1 15-ounce can black olives of your choice (Kalamata, California, etc.)
½ cup feta cheese (optional)
½ cup balsamic or red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried parsley
3 tablespoons lemon juice OR
1 fresh juice lemon
1 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon hot sauce (to taste)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Put on a large, covered pot of water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the tortellini and stir to make sure it is separated. Cover the pot and bring it back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium or low and allow them to cook for 9-12 minutes, or until done to taste. When the tortellini are done to taste, drain them in a colander and set them aside. If you wish to eat the salad cold, you can rinse them under cool water.
- Meanwhile, cut the stems off the onion and peel it. Slice the onion in half through the removed stem portions. Lay the onion halves, flat side down and slice them into narrow strips about 1/6- to 1/8-inch in width. Cut across the strips to dice the onion fine. Put them in a large bowl.
- Wash the red and green pepper, Cut off the top stem portion (lid) and then remove the inner membrane and seeds. Cut the peppers into strips and then across the strips to dice them. Dice the lid, as well. Add the diced peppers to the onions in the bowl.
- Wash and peel or scrape the carrot. Cut off the ends and slice the carrot in half and then in quarters lengthwise. If it’s a particularly fat carrot, you may want to cut it into 6ths or 8ths. Cut across the strips to make pieces about ¼-inch in size. Add them to the bowl.
- Open the can or jar of olives and drain them. Slice them into quarters or whatever size or configuration you’d like. Add them to the bowl.
- If it is not already crumbled, crumble the feta now. Add it to the other ingredients.
- Add the tortellini to the other ingredients and gently mix everything together.
- If you are going to eat the salad chilled, cover it and store it, undressed, in the refrigerator. Otherwise go on to dress the salad and serve it.
Make the dressing:
- If you are using a fresh lemon, wash it and cut it in half crosswise. Squeeze it or use a juicer to press out tablespoons of lemon juice.
- Put the lemon juice, along with the ½ cup of vinegar into a mixing bowl or jar or bottle, with a lid. Add the 1 teaspoon each of dried mint, dried basil, black pepper and salt, as well as the 2 teaspoons of dried parsley, the ½ teaspoon each of garlic powder and hot sauce, and the ½ cup of parmesan cheese. Shake or whisk everything to mix well. Add the ½ cup of olive oil and shake or whisk again.
- Dress only the portion of the salad you intend to eat immediately and mix it very thoroughly.
- Serve the tortellini with a tossed, green salad and an optional side of fresh, whole grain bread for a delicious meal.