Sometimes you just need to get food into your face as quickly as possible. I find that a big pan of pasta is an excellent default solution.
The problem is that most pasta with red sauce isn't particularly great for you. OK. So let's add a bunch of vegetables and a whack of cheese to cram in some extra variety. The time and effort involved are minimal, but the end result is huge.
I especially like the cheat of adding soft cheese to the sauce of your choice. This will work with goat cheese, sour cream, thick plain yogurt, or my choice--cream cheese. This means you don't have to bother with making a roux to get a creamy protein element in your pasta sauce. WIN.
Penne with cream cheese marinara
penne or other pasta
red pepper, artichoke hearts, and other veg of your choice
dry vermouth (optional but nice)
salt, pepper, red pepper flake, oregano, basil, paprika
fresh parsley or basil to finish
First, put on a pan of salted pasta water. Cook your penne at an appropriate point in the sauce proceedings. I usually put mine on when I add the tomato.
For your sauce, dice and sauté some yellow onion and garlic in a slug of olive oil. While they're softening, chop up a red pepper and some artichoke hearts--jarred, marinated, frozen, or what have you. If you want to use other vegetables, feel free--this combination is just what I happened to have hanging around.
When the onion is translucent, add your other vegetables and a pinch of salt, stir everything up, and let cook for about five minutes. Deglaze the pan with some dry vermouth, and then add your tomato. I used canned tomato puree, but whatever form of saucy or fresh chopped tomato you have on hand should work fine. Season with a little more salt, freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, and paprika. Let simmer for five to ten minutes, or until the sauce has reached your ideal consistency. Taste and correct any seasonings.
When both pasta and sauce are cooked, drain your pasta and add it to the sauce. Take the pan off the heat and mix in a few chunks of cream cheese. Then let the whole business sit for a minute while you wash the pasta pot. When you come back, the cream cheese will have started to melt. Give the pan another stir or two to distribute the melted cheese.
Sprinkle with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand--I had parsley--and then plate and eat. Voila! Dinner!