Do you ever have those nights where you get home and can barely even think about making dinner?  Work was stressful, the commute had you white-knuckling the steering wheel, the kids are crazed, there’s homework to be supervised and pets to be fed and…and…and…!

Of course you’ve had those days.  We all have.  On those nights, the very idea of having to also deal with making dinner feels like adding insult to injury.  Those are the times when it’s extra-tempting to turn to take-out (or to tell your family to make themselves peanut butter sandwiches).  Of course, there’s nothing WRONG with doing those things…occasionally.  The problem is, there are more of those crazy weeknights than any of us probably like to admit, so if we gave into our impulses to throw up our hands and succumb each time, it would end up adding up to a whole lot of less-great dinner choices.

Enter the easy dinner — the one that comes together in no more time than it takes to boil a pot of pasta.  The one that can be made with just a handful of ingredients that you’re actually somewhat likely to have on hand.  If you’ve got an onion, some bacon, and some tomatoes in the pantry, you’re halfway to dinner.

This dish sounds super fancy, but it’s really very humble.  I’ve dressed it up with a little splash of wine and some fresh parsley, but you don’t necessarily have to; you could just go bare bones with no frills, and still end up with a pretty decent plate of food.  You could also use fresh basil if that’s what you’ve got on hand, or throw in a pinch of dried oregano if you haven’t got fresh herbs in the refrigerator.  You could add a little garlic, but you don’t have to.  At the height of summer, if you’ve got an abundance of fresh tomatoes, you could chop up a whole mess of those and use them to make the sauce instead of using canned or jarred tomato products.  There are lots of ways to make this dish and to make it your own, so you never really have to worry about whether or not you have exactly the right ingredients on hand.

As an extra bonus, this is one of those cheap and easy meals that could (and probably should) be taught to kids and young adults who are just learning to cook.  Everybody ought to have a couple of pasta dishes like this one in their repertoire, especially when they’re striking out on their own for the first time or just beginning to take regular responsibility for helping with dinner at home.  Most college kids will throw together spaghetti with some sort of sauce out of a jar; for not much more effort, and a lot more taste, yours could whip up a pot of Pasta all’Amatriciana for friends.  Versatile, budget-friendly, and perfect for every member of the family – that’s what a meal for a stressful weeknight ought to be.

Pasta all'Amatriciana