As Food52 Resident Pasta Maker Meryl Feinstein once wrote, "A box of pasta is a beautiful thing. It has your back when there's nothing left in the kitchen but an old tube of tomato paste and a few cloves of garlic. It's perfect for when you're short on time, but it's also best friends with the Sunday sauce that's been simmering on the stove for hours. And nothing beats that al dente bite."
Salon Food recipe developer Linda Young agrees. "Boxed pasta is a budget- and time-friendly meal, but it's so much more than that. There are an infinite number of meals you can make with a box of pasta. No other food is as diverse: In addition to being a main course, pasta also breathes new life into soup and is a star supporting player to meat and seafood dishes."
But all too often we find ourselves trapped by the same pasta staples. Beef lasagna, chicken alfredo or spaghetti and meatballs may be on repeat in your household. If your at-home pasta dishes need an upgrade, look no further for the culinary inspiration you need. These 10 recipes on Salon Food are easy to put together on a weeknight for a family meal or to add to your meal prep rotation.
But first, here are three tips and tricks for achieving pasta greatness at home:
- Five foolproof tricks for cooking even better pasta
- Use this tool to pulse vegetables into creamy pasta sauces
- Seven tomato paste substitutes for pantry pasta emergencies (and more!)
Literally translating to "cheese and pepper," the cheesy pasta dish Cacio e Pepe is a storied staple of Roman cuisine. Cacio e Pepe combines two hard cheeses — parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano — with grated black pepper. Beautiful for its simplicity, it's one truly sophisticated meal. This recipe comes from the kitchen of Casa Tua, which is a Northern Italian restaurant with locations in Miami, Aspen and Paris. Miky and Leticia Grendene lead Casa Tua, which literally means "your home," with the ethos that "we put our heart first."
From cookbook author Kelli Ferrell, this crab mac and cheese recipe is a lively, decadent twist on a classic dish. As Salon Food's Hanh Nguyen writes, "Ferrell's take on macaroni and cheese is a more accessible version of the much vaunted lobster mac and cheese. Lobster is delicious, but not really the most economical of shellfishes unless you're in a fishing community or have a fishmonger friend. It's why most people only indulge in the crustacean when dining out. But at home, one can still feel fancy without sacrificing that seafood-y goodness with Ferrell's crab macaroni and cheese."
This baked pasta dish from chef Giada De Laurentiis requires only 15 minutes of prep time. From there, your oven takes care of all of the hard work. "This is a wonderful dish to make for entertaining, because it can be entirely assembled ahead of time," De Laurentiis says on her website. "Once you fold in the pasta, just set it in the fridge covered for up to two days."
One recipe that has been a part of Felidia since its inception is chef Lidia Bastianich's pasta primavera, which she calls "a great restaurant dish." The kid-friendly recipe won the hearts of her two children. As Bastianich writes in her new book, "It's a favorite of Tanya and Joe, who grew up at Felidia and spent many hours there doing homework and having meals with family and friends while I was busy working in the kitchen or greeting clients."
What makes this pasta a crowd-pleaser? A little bit of garlic and oil, butter and grated grana padano cheese. "It's one way of getting the kids to eat some vegetables, because if you sauté the vegetables enough — and with onions — they become sweet," Chef Lidia previously told Salon Food. "And then, of course, the pasta is the carrier of it all. And you can make it in small pieces so that children will eat it."
This dish doesn't use pasta, so it's a nice way to think outside of the box. When recreating his mom's lasagna for "Fix It With Food," Michael Symon replaced the noodles with potatoes. Here, the vegetable acts in a similar matter to the pasta. "When you put it in there and the potatoes start to cook, as opposed to releasing moisture like zucchini, they absorb sauce and moisture," Symon previously told Salon Food. "So it works a lot better as a noodle, in my opinion."
Pasta but make it soup! Hope Comerford's easy to make minestrone soup has just two instructions to follow. Comerford recommends adding elbow noodles or vermicelli to this slow cooker meal, but you can shake things up depending on what kind of pasta you have on hand in your pantry. Top individual servings with grated Parmesean cheese, and enjoy clean up being a breeze.
This one-pan lasagna from Salon Food's Ashlie Stevens cuts corners on cook time and clean up but not flavor. It teaches you how to dress up jarred alfredo sauce with a supporting cast of snappy ingredients: spiced pork sausage, meaty mushrooms, a bright pop of lemon zest, fresh greens and fatty cheeses. But you can easily adapt the recipe based on what you have on hand in your own kitchen. "Spinach and arugula swap well for kale; chicken sausage, spiced chickpeas or a ground vegan sausage is a nice substitute for pork," Stevens writes. "Or for a simple vegetarian version, double the mushrooms and ditch the sausage all together."
Also from Stevens, this oxtail ragù with buttery orzo is her hat-trick for winter dinner parties. "It's a 'set it and forget it' kind of dish that has all the hallmarks of a good meal: cheese, carbs, wine-stewed meat," she writes. "I've been making it for the last few years and found that it's hearty enough that – when paired with a simple salad and crusty bread – it makes for a full meal. It's comfort food for the people around whom you are most comfortable."
This is the garlickiest, butteriest, simplest pasta sauce — ever. All you need to make this sauce is three ingredients: a head of garlic, unsalted butter and Kosher salt. This pasta is one of our favorite recipes of all time from our partner Food 52's "Big Little Recipe Series." What's even better than the 10-minute cook time? This sauce can be paired with the pasta shape of your choice. Whatever you have lying around the pantry works — all you need is half a pound.
This is the best mac and cheese recipe ever — that doesn't actually have cheese. It's a reimagined version of the mac and cheese with roasted chicken from Symon's first restaurant Lola, which had a fresh rosemary local goat cheese and cream that you would kind of simmer all together and then toss. "Even hardcore mac and cheese lovers are very satisfied with the richness and the creaminess," Symon said of the new take on the classic. "And it still has decadence to it, even though you've eliminated all the dairy."