Eating pasta — any time of year, really, but particularly as the weather begins to warm — reminds of me of the long lunches I enjoyed when I first lived in Italy. I moved there after college and, among the many adjustments of living in a foreign country, found myself most quickly accustomed to eating bowls of hot, fresh pasta outside on the stone patio in the summer months, served with crisp, cold wine and followed by a nap. It was a brief and sometimes challenging chapter of my 20s, but those pasta lunches were, in short, my version of heaven.
There are countless things to love about pasta: the ease of a package of noodles, whether they're dried or fresh, coming together in mere minutes in a pot of boiling water; the way each pasta shape, from springy fusilli to delicate angel hair, absorbs the flavor of its surroundings; the way one simple yet brilliant flour-based creation shines so brightly, so deeply in more meats, seafoods, vegetables and sauces than can ever be listed in one story. But to me, pasta is most sacred because of the way it makes one feel.
That's what pasta really is, isn't it? A feeling captured by a handful of flour and water. In the summer months when the basil and tomatoes taste extra sweet, when the vegetables are plump and the seafood fresh, pasta feels like warm sun bathing the taste buds. In winter, when the bones are chilled and night comes early, pasta is there to soothe the mind and comfort the senses with slow-cooked meat sauces and stewed tomatoes. Whatever the season, whatever the craving, pasta is there for us.
While we all have our tried-and-true pasta dishes that show up several times a month, this recipe guide is an homage to pasta in a myriad of shapes, forms and flavors. We're talking simple pasta recipes for quick-fixes on weeknights, healthy-ish vegetarian pastas, creamy baked pastas, light pasta dishes, hearty pastas and, of course, the pasta dishes that are just here to give us that comforting feeling at lunch, dinner, heck, even breakfast (yes, we're looking at you, carbonara).
Pasta dishes from land and sea
Even though there is some debate around its origin, there is no debate that today carbonara is a dish of Lazio through and through — Rome to the bone, as one might say. It's also true that there are many different ways to make it: Pancetta or guanciale? Spaghetti or rigatoni? Whole eggs or egg yolks? Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino or both? Regardless of how you answer, there is no arguing that carbonara satisfies in its own, almost mystical way.
This rich baked pasta is made with layers of tender short ribs, creamy basil-flecked cheese and sweet tomato sauce.
Harissa-spiced pasta and chicken with green beans reflects the cooking and flavors of North Africa with the punch of harissa married to Italian influence with the pasta shells.
A dreamy, decadent combination of crowd-pleasing ingredients like bacon, brie and, of course, pasta, this may just be your new showstopper at dinner parties.
Nothing compares to a true lasagna Bolognese like you'd find in Italy. The combination of the rich meat sauce and incredibly creamy bechamel are what dreams are made of. It takes a little extra effort to make the Bolognese sauce (here's the recipe!), but you can do this ahead of time.
When there's not much time for cooking, whip up this 20-minute pasta dish packed with easy to find ingredients like shrimp, chiles and a lemony sauce.
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-try.
Try this nostalgic comfort dish — an ode to Hamburger Helper — with a tomato-based meat sauce, tender noodles and cheddar cheese.
Cheesy, saucy, noodle-y and satisfying, this lightened-up baked ziti will not disappoint. Just imagine: whole-grain penne tossed with ground meat, three different cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta and Parm) and flavorful tomato sauce, then baked to perfection in the oven.
By using a mix of ground turkey and ground beef as the base, plus some beef or chicken broth, the sauce boasts a beautifully earthy, salty flavor. Balanced out with sweet, acidic tomato, dry white wine, a little milk for a touch of creaminess and, of course, garlic, it's really the perfect pasta dish with less cook time and less calories!
These roll-ups are great for shrimp, pasta and cheese lovers! You can make it all the way through if you have the time, or you can refrigerate or freeze the unbaked casserole for less fuss at dinnertime.
When the weather gets chilly, we love coming home to my apartment, lighting the fireplace and warming up some leftover soup. This recipe is one of Anthony Contrino's favorites — he makes it by the vat. If you are going to freeze the leftovers, cook the pasta separately and do not add it to the pot of soup until you're ready to serve.
"I grew up eating pasta pie most weeks. My nonna would make pasta on Sundays and she would use leftovers to make this dish. It's delicious warm but even better cold, straight out of the fridge," says Laura Vitale.
Matt Abdoo combined his two favorite cuisines, Italian and barbecue, into one mind-blowing dish. The tender, smoked brisket adds a meaty richness to the flavorful red wine sauce and fluffy gnocchi.
This baked pasta is the definition of Italian comfort food. It's filled with hearty meat sauce and creamy ricotta cheese then topped with melty mozzarella and flavorful Parmesan cheese. It's perfect for a casual family dinner and impressive enough to serve to guests.
In this soul-satisfying dish, you're truly able to get a bite of a meatball and pasta with sauce in each bite. This is a bit of a play on the traditional Italian-style pasta. The maccheroni is also one of those rustic, homestyle shapes that just feels good.
The result of utilizing the ingredients of a sandwich classic into a splendidly tender pasta is a dish with a lightly acidic tomato-wine sauce that goes perfectly with the smoky bacon, peppery arugula and sweet basil.
"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," says Michael White. "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."
Lasagna usually involves lots of pots and pans but this one is incredibly easy because it all comes together in one skillet. Need we say more?
This pasta is smothered in a creamy, bacon-y sauce, packed with chicken and the sweetness of carrots. It comes together so easily but tastes and looks like you spent half the day in the kitchen. The ultimate hack? Rotisserie chicken! It saves a load of time to get dinner on the table quicker.
The genius of amatriciana lies in the combination of tomato, Pecorino and guanciale and chile flakes, always. A delicate and simple balance that creates so much flavor.
This is the definition of a stick-to-your-ribs dish. The toothsome cavatelli with the robust, tender meat sauce is filling, flavorful and so comforting. A kick of heat from spicy chiles, the crunch of pine nuts and touch of sweetness from raisins adds complexity and cuts through the richness.
"I love this recipe because it tastes like alfredo sauce but it doesn't leave me feeling bloated," says Kevin Curry. "There's a 'secret' serving of a vegetable in every bite. Plus, I can use gluten-free pasta alternatives such as garbanzo pasta or zoodles so it's easily customizable whenever I want something different."
Vegetarian pasta dishes
"Cacio e pepe is a staple from Rome and it's a recipe I grew up with that never fails to amaze me with its simplicity and richness of flavor," says "The Pasta Queen" Nadia Caterina Munno. "All with only three ingredients!"
If you're a big fan of spinach artichoke dip, this dish is for you. It's basically the same recipe as the classic dip but with pasta. What could be better?!
This is our version of lasagna in under 30 minutes: Thanks to a little help from a package of frozen ravioli, you can pull a skillet of toasty, bubbly lasagna from the oven in a little more than half an hour. In this ingenious one-pan supper (shoutout to Grace Parisi, the brains behind the recipe!), you make a tomato sauce right in the same skillet you use to bake the whole thing, and the ravioli — layered with mozzarella and Parm — cooks and soaks up the tomato flavor at the same time the starch from the pasta thickens the sauce.
There are as many versions of mac and cheese as there are "Housewives" franchises — all of which have their place in our homes. Antoni Porowski's skillet version is crispy along the edges and has a wonderful, crunchy breadcrumb topping — his favorite part. Broccoli and cheese make a great pair, especially in a baked pasta.
This sauce is creamy and addicting and incredibly easy to make, making it perfect for a last-minute date night or dinner party with friends. With a whole can of pumpkin and tons of herbs and spices, this dish screams cozy. Why make pumpkin pie when you could make pumpkin pasta?
Make a tasty and super easy pesto pasta for spring. For a slightly thicker sauce, you can puree a small amount of peas with the pesto.
Replacing pasta water with canned diced tomatoes and adding a sharp Pecorino Romano makes a perfect and slightly creamy tomato sauce. Add a fist full of fresh basil and you're set.
"This meatless marvel is both a cinch and a revelation: soft and tender gnocchi pillows roasted on a sheet pan with the best variety of veggies and topped with Parmesan and basil," says Ree Drummond. "Give me this, a clear to-do list, a glass of wine … and I'm just fine."
The sauce in this earthy, luscious recipe sticks inside the space between the pasta's ruffles (the "sauce trough," as Dan Pashman calls it), and the mushrooms and extra thick pasta together make this dish as satisfying as a steak.
This dish manages to be outstandingly simple (made almost entirely of pantry staples) but also a winner in flavor and gorgeousness. It's a go-to weeknight dish because it's quick and easy, as well as a dinner party standby for its show-stopping beauty and knockout taste.
The creamy, bright sauce in this wonderful pasta dish isn't just delicious, it's incredibly quick and easy to throw together and doesn't even need to be cooked.
This Bolognese, a meaty meatless wonder, is sure to thrill the vegetarians among your friends and family, and it’s just as satisfying to those who check the carnivore box.
This pesto balances the bright flavors of basil and lemon with the savory flavor of roasted broccoli. It's a really easy way to get greens in through our favorite vehicle: carbs and cheese.
"Confession: After a long day of cooking on set, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner for myself," says 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 and so delish!"
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.
This vegetarian lasagna, which is bubbling with gooey cheese, is a delicious way to sneak lots of vegetable servings into dinner.
Cacio e pepe is one of those dishes that many people love because of its simplicity, but it's not easy to replicate the complex flavor of traditional Italian cheeses. Dada's take on the Italian staple uses nutritional yeast and cashews to create a luscious, umami-packed sauce.
Eating dairy-free or vegan food doesn't mean you have to miss out on your favorite flavors and textures. This recipe has all the rich and creamy goodness of traditional macaroni and cheese without all the heaviness.
Classic Italian pesto gets a healthy makeover with a big serving of spinach. This recipe is totally customizable with any toppings you choose! Add blistered tomatoes, almond milk ricotta, more olive oil and something crunchy. A gluten-free chickpea pasta is great for added protein.
The creamy, indulgent sauce is made from healthy, high-protein tofu, but it tastes like it has all sorts of dairy products in it. 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!
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.
Coarsely ground black pepper and red pepper flakes bring a unique spice to this simple pasta dish. It only has five ingredients, but it is absolutely bursting with flavor.
Full of flavor and so easy to prepare, this pasta dish is a go-to. The maple syrup balances out any bitterness from the Brussels sprouts so all you taste is the freshness of the veggies.
The beauty of this dish is its simplicity. It's a totally elegant and delicious dish that comes together in minutes and with minimal effort.
Love a bowl of comforting mac but also want to get your greens? This dish has got you covered. Easy, creamy and craveable, it's 100% plant-based so it's good for you and the earth.
This dish serves that wonderful need for comfort food without being overly rich or heavy. 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.
It's fun to 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 adds a plant-based twist to a traditional and iconic pasta dish.
This pasta is flavorful, light and balanced while remaining a plant-based, veggie-packed dinner or lunch that everyone will love. The roasted red peppers and garlic add a sweetness to the sauce that is undercut by the acidic tomatoes, lemon juice and spices.
This recipe is a fun change of pace to traditional pasta recipes. It is the perfect combination of herby, nutty, sweet and salty and it is sure to be on rotation in your household. I love that the sauce comes together in a food processor and the addition of dates creates a really fun contrast in every bite.
In this pasta, Samah Dada balances earthy sesame butter with some fresh lemon juice to make it creamy, bright and tangy. It's the perfect pasta for when you want something flavorful and rich with a little bit of zing, too.
Whip up this tasty spin on traditional pesto, stat! Each bright and vibrant bite contains a blend of earthy kale, toasty walnuts, aromatic basil, EVOO, garlic and Parmesan. The end result is a flavorful sauce 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 lightened-up version of Alfredo sauce is perfect when it's a little chilly outside. The sauce is downright healthy compared to that of a traditional Alfredo and no one would even know the difference, it's so delicious.
Two simple vegetarian additions turn this easy one-pot pasta into a vibrant main dish. You can customize the ingredients to suit your taste. You can use any kind of noodle you prefer or switch up the greens with chopped kale, escarole or chard instead of spinach.
The avocado cream sauce is both light and refreshing — qualities rarely found in creamy sauces. This sauce also maintains an amazing brightness with the addition of fresh basil and lemon and is extremely versatile.
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 spring flavors.
This simple, rustic Sicilian pasta dish is a Contrino family favorite. Sweet tomatoes, earthy eggplant and a little red pepper for spice make it a hearty dish for any night. Normally topped with ricotta salata, this version uses a whipped ricotta to balance the tomato-based sauce with a creamier texture.
This is a great vegetarian alternative to a classic beef Bolognese. The mushrooms mimic the same rich, hearty feel of the original but, obviously, without the meat. The aromatics and fresh herbs round out the flavors to make this an exciting and satisfying pasta dish.
Cacio is an Italian word for sheep's-milk cheese, and this is a variation on pasta cacio e pepe (literally "pasta with cheese and pepper"), which was one of the inexpensive but extremely satisfying dinners Carla Lalli Music made a lot when she was in college. The toasted nuts add some crunch, which will make you appreciate the creaminess of the sauce that much more.
In this somewhat healthy recipe, the texture should mirror the same rich, silky quality you get from Genovese pesto, but it has a sweetness, both from the pistachios and the broccoli; a slight spiciness, thanks to the inclusion of broccoli rabe leaves; and a vegetal quality that, paired with pillowy ricotta gnocchi, we find both unexpected and downright irresistible.
This recipe really gives one of Priyanka Naik's 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.
Southern-style mac and cheese is cheesy and hearty, yet sturdy. It's basically a custard-style baked macaroni and cheese with eggs, heavy cream and sharp cheddar cheese. There's no denying this mac and cheese is irresistible!
Pesto is a pretty common sauce, but this version will knock your socks off! Nutty almonds, bright lemon and zesty mustard give this simple sauce serious depth of flavor and palate-pleasing texture.