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39 healthy-ish pasta recipes to help you eat more veggies

From plant-based Bolognese to light-yet-luscious Alfredo, these healthier pastas make it easy to try something new.
/ Source: TODAY

One of the greatest things about these better-for-you pasta recipes — aside from them being downright irresistible — is that they’re so easy to make, especially for a crowd. On any given day of the week, all that’s required to achieve the bliss of twirling tender noodles around your fork is to boil a box of pasta, strain it and toss it in a silky sauce. This welcome ease, however, also lends itself to falling into the same routine, especially if you rely on the same store-bought sauces and pasta shapes. And suddenly, we find ourselves in a continuum of making the same pasta recipe week after week.

It’s time to think outside the box — literally!

For many pasta lovers and chefs alike, this age-old carbohydrate is a standout staple because of its versatility. The flour-based (and sometimes rice or bean-based) is a vehicle for endless flavors and textures. It works with fruit (tomato may be, after all, pasta’s number one fan) and citrus (hello, lemon zest); creamy cheeses like ricotta, soft cheeses like mozzarella or ooey-gooey burrata and, of course, hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and its close cousin Parmesan; plus, pretty much any vegetable, ground meat, poultry or shellfish under the sun. Play around with what’s in season to maximize the most flavor out of peak produce.

Some pasta dishes can be a rich, decadent dinnertime treat reserved for special occasions and others can actually be a host of nourishing ingredients that accommodate different diets, from vegan to low-carb to gluten-free. Instead of the usual beef-based Bolognese sauce, you’ll find a meaty recipe that’s totally vegetarian, thanks to the use of assorted mushrooms. If you’re bored of basil pesto, swap in other greens and herbs like spinach, mint or kale, along with different kinds of nuts.To help you discover new and interesting recipes from the latter category, we rounded up our favorite good-for-you pasta recipes that are delicious and easy to add to your weeknight dinner routine.

If you’re not fully charmed by zoodles just yet, give this easy green pasta dish a try. Roasted zucchini is used in two ways here: half is folded into cooked pasta, while the other half is blended with olive oil, onion and garlic to create a fragrant sauce.

This bright pasta dish is the epitome of fresh spring fare. The earthy asparagus, cool ricotta and zesty lemon make the tender cavatelli come alive. It's also quick enough for a weeknight dinner, but also impressive enough to serve guests.

This recipe gives one of our favorite pasta dishes, penne alla vodka, a new life — a new vegan life! Without losing any of the original, rich flavor or creamy consistency, this recipe is the perfect twist on a savory, comforting classic.

One-Pot Pasta Fagioli

Our recipe for this pasta and bean soup highlights a classic combination of cannellini beans, ditalini pasta, mirepoix (celery, carrots and onion), fresh herbs and tomato purée with ease.

We know it’s not traditional, but hear us out: Adding fresh asparagus, chives and basil to a classic creamy carbonara makes it feel just a touch lighter and brighter.

We love this recipe because it makes use of a few ingredients that you definitely already have on hand such as frozen peas, dried pasta and olive oil with a few specialty ingredients like Paris mushrooms and Fresno chiles.

Cheesy baked penne is always good for the soul, but it’s not exactly a dish that’s loaded with good-for-you ingredients. That is, until now. Giada introduces a bevy of fresh vegetables including cremini mushrooms, summer squash, bell peppers, zucchini and peas for a summer-ready meal.

If you’re up for a cooking project, try this: homemade ricotta gnocchi tossed with an extra green pesto featuring two kinds of broccoli, basil and raw pistachios.

Gemelli alla Norma

Our take on the traditional Sicilian pasta dish calls for homemade tomato sauce, roasted eggplant, torn fresh basil and grated ricotta salata.

Mushroom Bolognese

This is a hearty vegetarian alternative to a classic beef Bolognese. The mushrooms mimic the same rich, meaty feel of the traditional recipe but with a plant-based twist. Fresh herbs round out the flavors to make this a satisfying and comforting pasta dish.

This quick and hearty pasta uses sweet cherry tomatoes to add a burst of flavor to the savory ragu, which is made with lean ground beef. Instead of the usual red wine, this recipe calls for white wine, which lightens the sauce for summer.

Everything you know and love about a rib-sticking, slow-simmered Bolognese can be found in this recipe — but it’s lighter and brighter than the traditional meat-based sauce. How could this be? By using a duo of ground turkey and ground beef as the base. Balanced with just a little bit of tomato paste, dry white wine, milk for a touch of creaminess and, of course, garlic, it's the perfect pasta dish to serve when you want a good-for-you meal.

Tracy's Spinach Pesto

"Confession: After a long day of cooking on set, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner for myself," says Anthony Contrino. "I often head to my cousin Tracy's house. One of my favorite things she makes is this creamy spinach pesto — it's so easy to whip up!"

Joy Bauer's Kale Pesto Pasta

Make this tasty spin on traditional pesto, stat! Each bright bite contains a blend of bitter kale, toasted walnuts, basil, and matcha. The end result is an upgraded pesto that's bursting with vitamin C, beta-carotene and omega-3s — three nutrients that play a key role in enriching your skin's overall appearance.

This good-for-you Alfredo sauce swaps out the usual heavy cream for something even creamier — puréed cauliflower.

One-Pot Pasta with Spinach and Ricotta

Two simple vegetarian additions — chopped baby spinach and creamy ricotta cheese — turn this easy one-pot pasta into a vibrant main dish. Use your favorite kind of pasta (we recommend orecchiette or farfalle) or switch up the greens with chopped kale, escarole or chard.

Gluten-free pasta is generally hit or miss, but this avocado-based cream sauce guarantees that every bite is silky and satisfying. The addition of fresh basil and lemon juice lend brightness, while roasted cherry tomatoes burst with their signature summery juiciness in every bite.

Herby Lemon Spaghetti with Snap Peas

Wake up your weeknight dinner routine with this light and zesty pasta dish. It's quick and easy to throw together and bursting with fresh flavors like crunchy snap peas, the juice and zest of a whole lemon and a trio of fresh herbs.

Pasta alla Norma

This rustic Sicilian pasta dish is a favorite in Anthony Contrino’s family. Sweet tomatoes, bitter eggplant and punch red pepper flakes share the spotlight in this vegetarian winner. Traditionally topped with ricotta salata, this version introduces a whipped ricotta for an even creamier texture.

Mac and Greens

Love a bowl of ooey-gooey macaroni and cheese but also want to get your greens? This dairy-free dish has got you covered. Easy, creamy and craveable, it's 100% plant-based; rather than a cream- and cheese-based sauce, it’s made with soaked cashews.

Springtime Pasta Bake

This dish serves that wonderful need for comfort food without being too rich. It features fresh asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes and sweet onion. Plus, it all comes together in the oven, which makes it a cinch for any weeknight meal.

Lentil Bolognese

Use lentils in a Bolognese in the same way that you would meat, while keeping traditional elements like carrots and onions along for the ride. The result is a plant-based twist on a traditional pasta dish.

Roasted red peppers and garlic add a special sweetness to this plant-based, veggie-packed dish.

Samah Dada balances earthy sesame butter with fresh lemon juice to create a zingy pasta dish.

Harissa-spiced chicken introduces the flavors found in North African cuisine. The meat is shredded and tossed with pasta shells, green beans and fresh mint.

Sunny's Peppery Herbed Pasta

Coarsely ground black pepper and red pepper flakes bring a serious kick to this six-ingredient pasta recipe.

This fall pasta dish is our go-to as soon as the temperature starts to drop. The maple syrup brings some much needed sweetness alongside the Brussels sprouts and the toasted breadcrumbs on top are satisfyingly crunchy.

Giada's Paccheri with Mushroom and Pistachios

Mushrooms with Marsala wine and roasted pistachios is a fantastic combination of flavors, which is why this pasta is currently one of Giada's favorites. Use a combination of royal trumpet mushrooms, morels, cremini, shiitakes or oyster mushrooms — all bring different flavors and textures for an all-around more interesting bite!

 Creamy Vegan Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e pepe is one of those dishes that people love because of its simplicity, but it's not easy to replicate the totally smooth sauce — especially when substituted with vegan-friendly ingredients. Dada's take on the Italian staple uses nutritional yeast and cashews to create a luscious, umami-packed sauce.

Eating vegan food doesn't mean you have to miss out on some of your favorite dishes. This dairy-free mac and cheese is just as satisfying as the childhood classic, thanks to a creamy sauce made with cashews and puréed cauliflower.

Classic Italian pesto gets a better-for-you makeover by removing the Parmesan and introducing fresh spinach.

Instead of the usual egg yolks and Parmesan cheese, this creamy, totally vegan sauce is made with high-protein soft Top it with shiitake “bacon” (simply thinly sliced roasted shiitake mushrooms with olive oil and sea salt) and it’s the perfect bait for your long-term mate!

The combination of broccoli, mushrooms and garlic with the bright lemony flavor and kick of heat is divine. Baking the pasta gives the pieces along the rim an extra crunchy texture that's deeply satisfying.

Spinach-Mushroom Lasagna

An ideal dish that often provides leftovers for later, this hearty, veggie-packed lasagna hits all the right flavor notes. Even for those used to its meaty counterpart, this dish will be a winner.

Baked Broken Lasagna Pasta with Spinach

This recipe is low maintenance, so you can put it in the oven and then finish odd tasks around the house while it cooks. There's something comforting about digging up the thick pieces of lasagna noodles smothered in garlicky red sauce. Plus, the spinach makes it feel like it's a little bit healthy.

Spicy Italian Mackerel Spaghetti

As a member of the tuna family, mackerel is a delectable, yet underrated fish that deserves more attention. A firm, high-fat fleshed fish, it's known for its bold, savory flavor. When mixed with salty olives, sweet, acidic tomatoes and fresh herbs, this seafood-topped pasta is a must-make.

Joy Bauer's Baked Ziti Casserole

Just imagine: whole-grain penne tossed with ground turkey, three different cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta and Parm), frozen spinach and store-bought marinara sauce, then baked until bubbling.

Broccoli Pesto Pasta

What’s old is new again! Classic pesto sauce just got a notable upgrade with roasted broccoli.

Bobby Flay's Eggplant Bolognese

This meatless wonder is begging to be prepared during the dog days of summer. It makes use of an abundance of leftover roasted eggplant and plum tomatoes for a hearty Bolognese sauce — no beef in sight.