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12 easy pasta recipes for stress-free weeknight dinners

Go beyond spaghetti and tomato sauce with these simple pasta recipes from no-boil mac and cheese to bacon-loaded spaghetti carbonara.
by Alessandra Bulow / / Source: TODAY
Easy pasta recipes: One-Pan No-Boil Baked Macaroni and Cheese
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Opening up a jar of store-bought tomato sauce, throwing it over some cooked spaghetti and calling it dinner is sometimes as much cooking as one can handle on a weeknight.

But there are loads of other ways to make a pasta dinner that's way more flavorful, uses only a handful of ingredients and is just about as easy. Here are 12 easy pasta recipes to try in that almost-too-busy-to-boil-water spirit:

Forget about boiling noodles for baked macaroni and cheese! Instead, make a super quick cheese sauce with milk, cream, cheese and flour, stir in dry elbow macaroni and bake until the noodles are tender.

Cacio e pepe, the predecessor of mac and cheese, is a Roman dish made with pasta, cheese and pepper. The secret is using the starchy pasta's cooking water to create a creamy sauce that coats each strand. The result is perhaps the ultimate three-ingredient pasta ever.

Lemon Pasta

Lemon Pasta

Katie Lee

"The beauty of [my lemon pasta] dish is its simplicity," Katie Lee told TODAY Food. "It's a totally elegant and delicious dish that comes together in minutes and with minimal effort."

This lightened up meat sauce cuts down on cook time and calories, but doesn't lose any of the rib-sticking, slow-simmered comfort of classic Bolognese sauce. It's a win-win.

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

Michael White

"I've long considered [puttanesca] one of the essential pasta sauces," chef Michael White told TODAY Food. "There are few other pastas that feature as many of what I think are the 'impact' flavors of Italian cuisine: olive oil, garlic, tomato sauce, anchovies, olives and oregano. They're all here, along with basil, an ingredient that isn't part of the traditional recipe, but I add it to freshen up the dish.

Katherine Heigl's Brie Tomato Pasta

Brie with pasta? The creamy cheese is actress Katherine Heigl's secret weapon when it comes to making her signature pasta dish. Toss warm spaghetti with creamy brie cheese, juicy fresh chopped tomatoes, chopped garlic and fresh basil for a decadent and super simple summer dinner.

Put the slow-cooker to work to make super juicy meatballs and delicious homemade tomato sauce. A dish of classic spaghetti and meatballs somehow tastes way more satisfying when it's this easy to make.

Lidia Bastianich's Spaghetti Carbonara

Perhaps a perfect dish, star chef Lidia Bastianich's spaghetti carbonara is simply made with pasta, bacon, eggs and grated cheese. Since there are so few ingredients, be sure to choose the best possible version of each for the most satisfying result.

This easy, five-ingredient penne dish is packed with flavor thanks to crumbled hot and sweet sausages, bitter broccolini and the spicy flavor of garlic. Best of all, it's ready in only 15 minutes.

"I love this [spaghetti aglio e olio] recipe because it is both delicious and the essence of Italian cooking: simple and fresh," chef Scott Conant told TODAY Food. "Finishing the pasta in the pan with the garlic and oil ensures every noodle is perfectly cooked and evenly coated with the delectable sauce."

Since this dish has so few ingredients, twin Italian chefs Tony and John Alberti recommended using high-quality store-bought imported Italian tomato sauce called tomato passata. They pair their tasty sauce with long strands of tagliatelle that cling to the sauce perfectly. Crispy fried sage leaves add an extra layer of texture to this easy, five-ingredient dinner that takes less than 30 minutes to prep.

When the idea of doing anything beyond boiling water is way too much, turn to this easy uncooked pasta sauce. Simply toss hot cooked penne with high-quality fresh mozzarella cheese, diced tomatoes, garlic and herbs. A pinch of red pepper flakes is the perfect finishing touch.

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