Whether it’s a lazy weeknight meal or Sunday supper with friends, pasta is the sort of dish that everyone can get behind. Versatile at its core, from the toppings and sauces to the types of noodles, pasta has a seemingly limitless combination of flavors and garnishes.
So when you find yourself with a sad, lonely box of dry pasta and not much else, a little creativity is in order. Luckily, we tapped our trusted network of chefs and foodies to get the lowdown on how they like to elevate this pantry staple. Here’s the scoop.
Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking is all about keeping things light and easy. Her go-to pasta recipe incorporates an olive oil/garlic sauce with fresh peas “because ’tis the season,” and burrata, which she admits is “constantly stocked in my fridge for special occasions—like days that end in y.”
Food writer and cookbook author Sarah Tuck recognizes the importance of minimizing waste when cooking, especially if it’s just for one. Her late-night pasta recipe makes ample use of the ingredients you probably already have in your pantry: Parmesan cheese, pepper flakes, and garlic. Here’s to simplicity.
When Half Baked Harvest’s Tieghan Gerard only has a box of pasta in the pantry, she turns to this fresh and springy take on the classic. The best part? You can whip it up in 30 minutes with a few staples: jarred artichokes, buttery walnuts, herbs, and lemons.“These are items that are in my pantry or fridge at all times,” says Gerard. “And it’s especially delicious with a ball… or two of fresh burrata cheese.”
“I almost always have heavy cream in the fridge and canned tomatoes in my cupboard,” says Holly of The Modern Proper. The foodie turns a basic box of pasta into a bowl of creamy tomato goodness, finished off with fresh Parmesan and arugula.
Consider this the ultimate comfort food. Aimee Mars’s ultra-creamy linguine alfredo is an ingenious way to make use of ingredients you probably have in the crisper. “I tend to always have some sort of frozen vegetables on hand, and butternut squash is one of them. Add some oil, butter, garlic, cream, and Parmesan and you’ve got one fancy pasta dish without having to exert much effort.” Yep, it’s as easy as that.
Pasta with Toasted Nuts
Tasty’s senior test kitchen manager, Alexis deBoschnek’s weeknight favorite is what she refers to as a ridiculously simple dish: “Toast some nuts in a skillet—I usually use walnuts, but pine nuts, almonds, pecans, or hazelnuts would work too. Remove the toasted nuts, add a few cloves of minced garlic and pepper flakes, and then throw in a box of mixed greens and cook until they’re just wilted. Toss with your pasta of choice and top with an ample amount of grated Parm. Voila. Dinner is served.”
Try: Just a Little Bit of Bacon’s Orecchiette with Cauliflower and Pine Nuts
Laurence Edelman, executive chef and owner of NYC’s Left Bank and Poulet Sans Tete, knows that the best pasta dishes are the most simple ones. “Pasta with sea salt is probably my number one choice along with pasta with garlic,” the chef says. His secret to elevating the standard is using the pasta water to help develop the sauce—that and making sure it’s not overcooked.
Here’s how Edelman makes his favorite pasta with garlic:
While the pasta is boiling, chop a few cloves of garlic and fry them in a little olive oil. Take the cooked pasta and transfer it into the pan with the garlic and oil. Mix it all up. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Throw in a handful of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley to serve.
Try: Salt and Lavender’s 15-minute creamy garlic pasta.
Foodie Sue of The View From the Great Island turns to this quick no-cook sauce, which is the perfect vehicle for fresh tomatoes straight from the garden. The mouthwatering combo of diced tomatoes, basil, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar transforms a basic box of pasta into a noteworthy summer dish.
Chef and cookbook author Jennifer Segal’s go-to is an Italian classic we can’t turn down. “I always have some sort of sausage or ground meat and cheese in the fridge to make this. It’s a family favorite.” Segal’s ziti features sweet and spicy Italian sausage, Pecorino-Romano, and a hearty dash of garlic to boot.