Oodles of Noodles: 25 Ways to Prepare Pasta
Pasta is one of the most versatile ingredients in your pantry. It can be whipped up in a couple of minutes for a quick weeknight meal, or it can be elegantly prepared for a dinner party. It's perfect for potlucks, can be prepared ahead of time and frozen, and tastes great microwaved the next day. I've divided this collection of pasta recipes into different sections — Quick and Easy, International, Classic Pasta Dishes, Impressive Dinners, and Up for a Challenge? — for easy reference.
Quick and Easy
A friend of mine who is a mother of four takes this easy shortcut to making dinner — at the beginning of the week, she boils up a big pot of pasta, drains it, and stores it in a large container in the fridge. During the week, whenever she needs a quick meal (emergencies happen when you’ve got four kids), she whips up a sauce to serve with the pasta, stirs in some frozen spinach, and calls it a meal. Pasta dishes are the easiest main dishes to cook in a flash, especially if the pasta’s already done. Most of the below recipes serve two to three, so double if cooking for a family.
1. Spinach, Ham, and Artichoke Pasta
In a little olive oil, sauté 2 handfuls of baby spinach and 3 slices of ham until warmed through and spinach is beginning to wilt. Add a few spoonfuls of artichoke antipasto (or tapenade, or prepared pesto) and 2-3 cups cooked penne, and stir until heated through. Add a couple tablespoons of water if sauce is too thick. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
2. Stovetop Tuna Casserole
In a large pan, heat a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken soup, stirring until smooth and creamy. Add a drained can of tuna and 1 cup of frozen vegetables (carrots, peas, and corn). Cook until veggies are thawed and heated through. Add 3 cups of cooked ziti, penne, or other large pasta, and stir into sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve topped with grated Parmesan.
3. Pasta Primavera
In a tablespoon of olive oil, sauté 1 thinly sliced zucchini, 1 bell pepper, and ½ cup frozen peas with a clove of minced garlic until cooked through. Add 2 handfuls of baby spinach and cook until they begin to wilt. Add a jar of marinara sauce and season with salt and pepper. Cook until sauce is heated through. Toss with cooked pasta and serve.
4. Black Pepper Chicken Pasta
This Asian-inspired pasta is easy and quick to make. Sauté ½ chopped onion until softened, then add 1 diced chicken breast and 1 sliced zucchini. Cook until chicken is cooked through and zucchini is softened. Add 2 heaping tablespoons Lee Kum Kee Black Pepper Sauce (available in the Asian grocery aisle) and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Mix well until sauce coats chicken and vegetables. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over cooked spaghetti.
5. Quick and Easy Couscous Tabbouleh
Couscous is one of the easiest pastas in the world to make — no cooking required! And it truly is a pasta, made of semolina flour, NOT a grain. For this quick salad, dice up 1 English cucumber and 2 tomatoes and place in a large bowl. In a separate, heat-proof bowl, mix together ½ cup whole-wheat couscous and ½ cup boiling water. Let couscous sit for five minutes, and then fluff with a fork. Let couscous cool while whisking together a vinaigrette of 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon dried basil or parsley. Toss together cooked couscous, vegetables, and some of vinaigrette to taste; adjust seasonings. Serve with a grilled chicken breast or other protein.
6. Cheater’s Chicken Pho
Pho, the quintessential Vietnamese rice noodle soup, typically takes hours to make when you’re simmering the stock. This quick version of chicken pho takes all of 15 minutes. Simply soften the rice noodles in hot water, and then add them to pre-bought chicken stock doctored up with five-spice powder, lime juice, fish sauce, and shredded rotisserie chicken.
7. Lemon-Basil Ricotta Pasta
Cook ½ pound penne in a large pot of water. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. In a skillet over low heat, melt 2 tbsp of butter. Add 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese, salt and pepper, and the zest and juice of 1 large lemon (or 2 small). Mix together until sauce is bubbling — add a little pasta water if sauce is too thick. Add ½ cup of chopped fresh basil and the penne, and toss together until ricotta sauce coats pasta. Serve!
Pasta and noodle dishes from around the world can add variety to your repertoire.
8. Mango-Shrimp Summer Rolls
Pasta goes light with these Vietnamese summer rolls: vegetables, rice noodles, shrimp, and mango wrapped up in rice-paper rounds.
9. Egg-Topped Soba Noodles With Asparagus and Prosciutto
Soba, Japanese buckwheat noodles, are the delicious and healthy base for this egg-topped noodle dish, which combines crisp asparagus and savory prosciutto with the creaminess of a fried egg. A delicious easy lunch or weeknight dinner recipe!
10. Chinese Fried Noodles
My mom used to make this fried noodle dish for a quick Saturday lunch. In a small bowl, stir together 2 tbsp ketchup, 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, ½ cup chicken broth, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over med-high heat. Stir-fry 1 sliced bell pepper, a cup of thinly sliced broccoli or cauliflower, and 2 cloves garlic until cooked through. Add 1 tomato, sliced into wedges, and cook until beginning to soften. Push vegetables to side of pan and add 2 beaten eggs. Scramble until cooked through. Add ½ package cooked, drained spaghetti and toss with vegetables and eggs. Add the sauce you mixed earlier and stir the whole thing together until hot and coated with sauce. Taste for seasonings and serve.
11. Singapore Curry Noodles
Classic Singapore rice noodles are fried with yellow curry and various vegetables. The rice noodles are easily cooked by soaking in warm water, and then all you have to do is stir-fry the rest of the ingredients for an easy curry dish.
Classic Pasta Dishes
Sometimes you just crave those comforting classics.
12. Prize-Winning Noodle Kugel
Sweet pudding and pasta in one? Yes, please! This honey-sweetened noodle kugel recipe reportedly won first prize at the Yiddishkayt Festival in Los Angeles, so it must be delicious as well as authentic.
13. Spaghetti Bolognese
My sister’s fabulous mother-in-law shares this recipe for spaghetti Bolognese, with a delicious, slightly sweet sauce simmered with olives and bay leaves for a hearty, stew-like texture.
14. Eggplant Lasagne With Parsley Pesto
This white lasagna is made with vegetables and a béchamel sauce instead of a traditional meat sauce, but it’s just as tasty and provides a nice alternative for vegetarians. You can substitute a prepared basil pesto instead of the parsley pesto to make this recipe a little faster to put together.
15. Cherry Tomato Orzo Salad
A good orzo salad is an essential dish for parties and potlucks. This one includes sweet cherry tomatoes, feta, and a light vinaigrette. Simple and sweet.
16. Beef Stroganoff
A good friend of mine makes this excellent Beef Stroganoff. The finishing touch is plenty of fresh dill. Brown 2 pounds of stew beef in a hot skillet in a little olive oil. Remove meat from pan. Add 2 onions in chunks and cook over medium heat until beginning to soften. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and add the meat back into the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons ketchup and 2 tablespoons sweet barbecue sauce. Pour in enough beef broth or water to just cover the chunks of meat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 1½ hours. Add 1 pound sliced mushrooms and simmer another half-hour. Add chopped fresh dill to taste, and serve over egg noodles.
17. Baked Ziti
Sausage baked with tomato sauce, cheese, and pasta in this comforting baked ziti casserole is perfect for a filling meal or for bringing to a potluck. You can even make this ahead of time and freeze it for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking.
Pasta can be an impressive main course, even at a formal dinner, when paired with the right ingredients.
18. Linguine With Clams
This easy clam pasta with a tomato-parsley sauce is surprisingly easy to make. Just steam the clams open with tomatoes and herbs, and toss the liquid with the pasta. You’ll impress your dinner guests, but you’ll still have time to sit down with them and enjoy the company.
19. Lobster Mac and Cheese
If this lobster mac and cheese is good enough for the Barefoot Contessa’s guests, it’s sure to be elegant for your dinner party. Bring up the luxe factor of classic macaroni and cheese by adding silky lobster meat and then baking the pasta in individual gratin dishes topped with breadcrumbs and cheese.
20. Chianti-Braised Chicken Thighs on Egg Noodles
When in doubt, add wine. These stuffed chicken thighs are a classy company meal, served on top of egg noodles and accompanied with a good bottle of Chianti. This recipe isn’t difficult, but it does take time, so you might want to save it for impressing the in-laws.
21. Baked Manicotti With Sausage and Peas
More elegant than lasagna but simple to put together, this baked manicotti can be prepared and then left to cook in the oven while you entertain your guests.
Up for a Challenge?
Yes, dried pasta from a package is easy and delicious, but making your own pasta from scratch really kicks things up a notch. The following recipes are for those who like to experiment in the kitchen, but the recipes really aren’t that difficult to master. You’ll feel an immense sense of accomplishment when you taste your own gnocchi, spaetzle, and other pasta.
22. Basic Gnocchi
This basic gnocchi recipe from Smitten Kitchen is an easy place to start if you’re not experienced making pasta. Gnocchi are dumplings that are basically composed of mashed potatoes mixed with flour, so they’re pretty simple to make.
23. Sweet Potato Gnocchi With Fried Sage and Shaved Chestnuts
When this recipe for sweet potato gnocchi appeared in Gourmet magazine in 2009, it spawned a plethora of inspired blog posts around the Internet as home cooks tried — and loved — the flavorful, pillowy gnocchi. This recipe is a bit of a process, but the results are rewarding in the end.
24. Homemade Trofie al Pesto
Trofie is a rustic handmade pasta from the Ligurian coast of Italy, and it doesn’t need to be rolled out with a pasta machine. All you need are your hands, some flour, salt, and water, and you can make this pasta. And if your pasta turns out looking like little worms rather than rustic corkscrews, it’ll still taste delicious.
25. Homemade Ravioli
Learn how to make your own ravioli with this ravioli tutorial from AllRecipes. Or you could take a short-cut and use pre-made wonton wrappers to wrap up mixtures of ricotta and spinach, butternut squash, mashed green peas, and other easy ravioli fillings.
What's your favorite pasta recipe?