Keep lunch simple

Associated Press

Work-week lunch is the one that wrestles me to the ground: Everything closest to my office is either loaded with fat and calories or costs at least 10 bucks. Or both. But if you don’t take something, you end up so hungry, good sense flies right out of the office-tower window.

My game plan lately: A big batch of pasta salad. I can throw it together in advance, using lots of vegetables. My go-to pasta for salad is farfelle (butterflies), but penne would work just as well. To avoid mayonnaise, I use prepared pesto (or homemade, depending on how well-stocked my freezer is) loosened up with a little more olive oil. I always use roasted red pepper from a jar, chopped olives, diced onion and/or celery, and a nice handful of frozen peas.

Then, I keep around a few handy sources of protein that I can add every morning when I’m packing it up to go. Adding those at the last minute has a couple of advantages: The pasta salad part keeps longer without having to worry about cheese getting too soft or meats getting too old too quickly. And I can change it up every morning so it doesn’t taste like the same lunch every day.

One day, it gets little fresh mozzarella balls cut into pieces. Another day, it gets a pouch of tuna stirred in at lunch. Or a handful of chopped salami, or a half cup of shredded deli ham, or cold cooked chicken. If I’ve got tomatoes, I usually add those that morning, too, so they don’t get too soggy.

Make a batch on Sunday night and I’ve got a lunch that will get me through until Wednesday or Thursday. That saves enough time and money that I can splurge a little Friday.

Big-Batch Packable Pasta Salad

8 ounces sturdy pasta, such as farfelle

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 cup prepared pesto, homemade or refrigerated

About 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed

1/4 cup roasted red pepper from a jar, drained and sliced

1/4 cup diced red or yellow onion, or several green onions, sliced

About 2 tablespoons diced pitted olives, black or green

1/2 cup frozen peas

Salt and pepper to taste

Add-ins: Diced fresh

mozzarella or your favorite firm cheese; diced salami, cooked chicken or ham; drained tuna

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add about 1 tablespoon salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions (about 11 minutes for farfelle).

While the pasta cooks, whisk the pesto and olive oil in a large salad bowl. Add the red pepper, onion, olives and peas.

Drain the pasta, then add to the bowl with the pesto and vegetables and stir until well-mixed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pack in a single-serve container with whichever add-ins you like. Add a little more olive oil if it gets dry through the week. Refrigerate until lunch, or pack with freezer packs.

Yield: About 4 servings.