20 Dishes That Celebrate the Many Faces of Pasta

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WAYS TO USE PASTA


Pasta is widely considered the ultimate comfort food. Even gluten-sensitive stomachs previously denied the pleasures of pasta can now enjoy gluten-free rice- and quinoa-based pastas of all shapes and sizes. Aside from being delicious and easy to prepare, pasta is also shelf stable and inexpensive. Boxes of pasta that easily contain four servings can cost as little as $1. These dishes highlight some favorite ways to use pasta that span many cultures and appeal to all ages.

Related: 50 Smart Ways to Slash Your Food Budget

SPAGHETTI MARINARA

Most everyone from young to old celebrates the marriage of long noodles with tangy, sweet tomato sauce rich in garlic, onion, and herbs (there's even a National Spaghetti Day on Jan. 4). Personalize this classic American-Italian dish by perfecting homemade sauce and fortifying it with additions of your choice, such as sausage, meatballs, roasted mushrooms, or baked fennel.

ORZO SALAD

While orzo looks like rice, it is part of the pasta family and lends itself particularly well to salads. A traditional Greek salad can become a satisfying main dish when tossed with orzo according to instructions posted on Allrecipes. Using orzo as a base is also a great way to add bulk to a dish for large parties. It works well served warm, room temperature, or chilled.

KASHA VARNISHKES

This classic Jewish dish combines pasta bowties with tender buckwheat for a hearty and flavorful dish. It can serve as a side dish, a snack, or the focus of a meal when made with egg and topped with onion and mushroom gravy. A recipe on Epicurious is simple, using a few household staples such as salt, pepper, and onion.

MACARONI AND CHEESE

The best versions of this family favorite (such as a recipe from Ina Garten) are rich with a mixture of fine cheeses and bathed in a béchamel sauce, then topped with crispy breadcrumbs before heading into the oven. Whether you opt for a fancy, lobster-infused version or familiar yellow-powdered cheese sauce, the building blocks remain the same: pasta and cheese -- always delicious.

FETTUCCINI WITH GARLIC AND OIL

Pasta may be the star of many dishes, but sauces and dressings tend to steal the show. When a strong pasta craving is for the noodle itself, use garlic and oil to envelope fettuccini without masking the flavor of the pasta. The pungent flavors of garlic and oil make a simple and delicate seasoning.

PAPPARDELLE WITH MUSHROOM RAGÙ


Of all the pasta shapes, pappardelle is the one most commonly paired with ragù. The wide, flat noodles make a good companion to the hearty sauce. With a recipe from Eataly, a wine and mushroom ragù takes on impressive depth of flavor, elevating dinner parties or even a low-key night. Yet this dish is surprisingly easy and incredibly satisfying.

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LASAGNA

One of the best aspects of lasagna is the creativity it allows. This layered casserole can be built with classic meats, as in a traditional recipe from Taste of Home, or just as easily with roasted vegetables. Similarly, you can change the sauce from classic marinara to a creamy béchamel for a white lasagna. Combine with noodles and cheese and bake to hot, bubbly perfection.

FUSILLI WITH CAULIFLOWER AND PINE NUTS

This light, vegetarian pasta dish works beautifully as a side or as the primary plate. Combine 1 pound of cooked fusilli with a quarter cup toasted pine nuts, a small handful of golden raisins, a head of cauliflower cut into florets and roasted with salt and pepper, the zest of half a lemon, and a quarter cup grated Parmesan cheese. Dress with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste and optional chili flakes.

STUFFED MANICOTTI

This simple dish is a favorite during childhood and then tends to fade from the menu. While the humble yet ubiquitous combination of mild cheese, tender noodles, and tangy tomato sauce may not be the height of sophistication, this home-style dish deserves a spot in every home cook's repertoire. Consider a crowd-pleasing version posted on Allrecipes for a family potluck.

PASTA SALAD

Especially good for picky vegetable eaters, pasta salad is a way to incorporate a host of veggies such as tomatoes and bell peppers into dinner. Sliced deli meats and cheeses such as salami and provolone are other possible additions to a basic pasta salad posted on Allrecipes, as are more veggies such as blanched broccoli or asparagus for a more substantial dish.

RAVIOLI

Perhaps the most famous stuffed pasta, ravioli come in many different shapes and flavors. Surprisingly simple to make from scratch with a recipe on Epicurious, ravioli are a fun way to enjoy pasta. The sauce on the outside is usually light, such as olive oil or classic marinara.

ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI RABE

The name of this pasta means "little ear," and the slightly curved shape helps it scoop up sauce. The classic combo for orecchiette is bold and bitter broccoli rabe with tangy Parmesan cheese and a hint of spice from red chili. The rich flavors of a Martha Stewart recipe make this dish filling and satisfying yet incredibly simple.

BAKED ZITI

This kid-approved dish is perfect for birthday parties and picnics. Baked ziti has become so popular that it is now a common pizza topping. Build on a simple version posted on Allrecipes by adding roasted vegetables, different cheeses, or sautéed meats to make it your own.
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COUSCOUS

Commonly mistaken for a grain, couscous is actually a pasta that comes in varieties such as whole wheat, multicolored, and a larger shape commonly called Israeli couscous. It's quick to cook and works with nearly any flavor combination. A recipe for Persian-spiced couscous salad posted on Food.com combines nuts and fruit for a complex layering of flavors in the final dish.
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BUCATINI ALL'AMATRICIANA

Bucatini may be the most indulgent pasta shape, in the form of long, hollow tubes that get filled with sauce for an explosion of flavor in every bite. A simple yet decadent sauce recipe from Mario Batali gets its big flavor punch from cured pork like bacon or pancetta, although mushrooms and capers would make a zesty and savory vegetarian option.
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CACIO E PEPE

Something of a sophisticated macaroni and cheese, this dish is all about the combination of creamy cheese and fragrant black pepper. Typically spaghetti is used for this sauce, as in a recipe from Bon Appétit although other shapes could also be substituted. The main thing is to keep it simple, so the cheese and pepper are the stars.
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CHICKEN ALFREDO PASTA BAKE

This comforting one-dish meal is a crowd-pleaser that's simple to make. A recipe from The Cooking Jar uses a base of tube-shaped pasta, like rigatoni or penne, covered in a creamy Alfredo sauce and studded with chicken to make a balanced meal. Substituting or adding more vegetables is a creative way to sneak some more nutrition into this heartwarming dish.
Photo credit: Aimee M Lee/shutterstock

ANGEL HAIR WITH SHRIMP

Angel hair pasta gets its name from its ultra-thin, almost silky noodles and is commonly paired with seafood. A piquant recipe from Delish uses lemons, garlic, and shrimp to create a light yet powerful sauce to brighten the pasta. The zest of the lemon is where most of the essential oils are, so be sure to include it in the dish for maximum flavor.
Photo credit: AnastasiaKopa/shutterstock

PASTA E FAGIOLI

The oddly shaped pasta ditalini looks like small rings and is most commonly used in soups. A pasta e fagiole (pasta and beans) recipe from the blog Italian Food Forever is a classic combination of ditalini and chickpeas. The small size of the pasta allows plenty in each spoonful.
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RIGATONI WITH SAUSAGE

Rigatoni is one of the most recognized and commonly used pasta shapes, and sausage is a classic accompaniment. A Food & Wine take on the dish coats the tender pasta and savory sausage with a mild tomato cream sauce. This quick meal can be served any night of the week for a casual dinner or easily made in a large batch for a party.