When you've got a box of pasta, you've always got a meal on hand. Here are 11 ways to spruce up this pantry staple for quick and delicious dinners all week long.

Casey Barber
March 30, 2020
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It's a running joke in my Italian-American family that if we had a desert island meal, it would be pasta. I might be biased, then, to say that pasta is one of the most versatile dishes out there, but I'll stand by that statement.

With a cabinet full of dried pasta shapes, you can make a week's worth of dinners that are all excitingly varied—and not just Italian! And you don't need much more than a few other long-lasting ingredients from the pantry or freezer to do it.

Here are 10 ideas to get you going, all with no more than 3 ingredients to accompany the pasta.

Use 8 ounces (1/2 pound) of pasta per recipe to serve 4 people. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and feel free to add in the optional extra ingredients or use suggested substitutions based on what you have on hand.

Remember, when you've got pasta, you've always got a meal at your fingertips.

3-Ingredient Pantry Pasta Dinners

Carbonara

Cook any long pasta, like spaghetti or linguini, and reserve 1 cup cooking water. In a separate pan, sauté 3-4 chopped bacon strips. Whisk the cooked bacon with 4 egg yolks and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, then toss with the pasta to make a sauce, adding reserved cooking water as needed. Optional: Sauté 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms in place of bacon for a vegetarian option.

Sesame Noodles

Cook spaghetti , and reserve 1 cup cooking water. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter with the juice of 1 lime and 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and toss with the pasta until coated. Add reserved cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce. Optional: if you don't have limes, use rice vinegar or cider vinegar. For more flavor, whisk in sesame oil or sliced scallions.

This take on Italian wedding soup can be made with frozen greens and store-bought meatballs.
Casey Barber

Wedding Soup Pasta

Cook any small pasta, like ditalini or small shells, in your favorite broth instead of water. Add frozen greens like spinach or kale 2 minutes before the pasta is al dente to cook through. Cook frozen meatballs of any kind in a separate pan according to package directions, and add to the pasta before serving. Optional: top with grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese just before serving.

Puttanesca

Cook any shape of pasta and drain. In a separate pan, heat tomato sauce, sliced black or green olives, and rinsed capers (and if you don't have olives or capers, you can simply use one or the other). Toss the pasta in the sauce and serve. Optional: Add canned tuna or other canned fish to the tomato sauce.

Bruschetta Pasta with Spinach

Cook and long pasta, like spaghetti or linguini, and reserve 1/2 cup cooking water. In a separate pan, heat 2 tsp. olive oil and sauté the spinach. Once wilted, add bruschetta sauce and cook until heated through. Add the cooked pasta and reserved pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, until a creamy sauce forms. Optional: Top with crushed red pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.

Add some frozen veggies to 3-ingredient pasta Alfredo for a super easy and comforting dinner.
Casey Barber

Alfredo

Cook any long pasta, like spaghetti or linguini, and reserve 1 cup cooking water. In a separate pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter per serving. Add the pasta and toss with a few tablespoons cooking water and a handful of grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese per serving, adding more water as needed until a creamy sauce forms. Optional: Sauté garlic in the butter before adding the pasta, and/or boil frozen vegetables along with the pasta.

Pesto and Peas

Cook any shape pasta, adding frozen peas 1 minute before the pasta is al dente to cook them through. Toss with jarred pesto and serve. Optional: Use gnocchi or tortellini, either frozen or dried.

Pasta al Limone

Cook any shape pasta and reserve 1 cup cooking water. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil with enough grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and fresh lemon zest and juice to make a thick paste. Toss the cooked pasta in the bowl until blended, adding reserved cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce.

Add another pantry staple—beans!—to pasta to make an easy chili mac.
Casey Barber

Chili Mac

Cook any tubular or corkscrew pasta, such as rotini, penne or elbows, and drain. In a separate pan, simmer a drained can of black, pinto or kidney beans with a can of diced tomatoes or a can of diced tomatoes and chilies such as Ro-Tel. Toss the cooked pasta with the beans and tomatoes and serve. Optional: Top with shredded cheese such as Colby Jack, Monterey Jack or Cheddar.

Ribollita Pasta

Cook any shape pasta and drain. In a separate pan, heat tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes with frozen green beans and a drained can of cannellini or Great Northern beans. Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce and vegetables. Optional: Add any other vegetables or greens you have, such as kale or chard, or substitute chickpeas for the beans.

Quick Ramen

Cook any long pasta, like spaghetti or capellini, in your favorite broth instead of water. Add frozen vegetables, such as a stir-fry blend or other mixed vegetables, halfway through the pasta cooking time. In a separate pot, boil eggs for 6 minutes and shock in cold water for medium-boiled eggs. Slice in half and add to ramen.