While pasta is always a good option for a quick, easy and filling meal, we’re all guilty of falling into a rut and cooking our old faithfuls over and over. Here are some deliciously quick and easy pasta dishes to liven up your repertoire.
Healthy green pasta
Roast chopped up broccoli and green beans while you grate parmesan and set out a few handfuls of baby spinach and frozen peas. When the vegetables are roasted and nicely charred here and there, boil wholewheat fusilli. Just before your pasta is cooked through, add the frozen peas. Drain and mix in the roasted vegetables, spinach, parmesan and a squeeze of lemon juice, as well as a good few glugs of olive oil. Season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper and toss well.
Butternut ravioli with sage brown butter
Buy ready-made filled butternut or butternut-ricotta ravioli (or any other shape). Put the pasta on to boil and finely chop a small handful of sage leaves. Place a pan over medium heat and add a generous tablespoonful of butter per person, along with the sage leaves. Watch the butter carefully: let it melt, then leave it on the heat and slowly swirl now and then to check the colour. It should suddenly start to get speckles of brown. Let the brown develop until the melted butter is all dark brown, with no bits of black, then remove quickly from the heat. Drain the pasta and top with the browned butter.
Red pepper walnut pesto pasta
Roast a chopped red pepper with some olive oil and salt. While it roasts, grate a handful of parmesan, crush a small clove of garlic and chop a big handful of walnuts. When the red pepper is soft and caramelised, toss it in your food processor along with the parmesan, garlic and walnuts. Add a glug of olive oil and whizz until smooth. Taste and season with salt, black pepper and lemon juice, and toss with hot cooked pasta.
Fry a pack of streaky bacon over medium heat until most of the fat has been cooked out and the bacon is crispy, and remove from the pan. Add some chopped onion to the pan and cook until translucent. Add chopped clove of garlic and cook for another minute. Add a large tin of chopped plum tomatoes, cook down for about fifteen minutes, and then crumble the bacon and add to the mix. Cook for another few minutes and season with lots of black pepper.
Creamy cherry tomato pasta
Roast lots of cherry tomatoes tossed with a little olive oil, salt and sugar in a rimmed roasting tray at a low heat – about 160ºC – for an hour or more, until they have burst and are caramelised around the edges. Remove from the oven, add half a cup of cream and stir well to break the tomatoes up a little. Season and stir through hot pasta such as tagliatelle.
Tomato and sausage pasta
Buy good quality store-bought tomato sauce and your favourite sausages or bangers. A mix of beef bangers and pork bangers works well. Start by sautéing some chopped onion until soft and golden. Squeeze the sausage mixture out of the sausage skins, break it up a little, and add to the pan. Cook the sausage meat until it caramelises, stirring often to break it up. Add the tomato sauce and cook for a further ten minutes or so to thicken and combine the flavours. Taste and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar (optional). If you like, add a small dash of cream at the end to enrich the sauce. Toss with hot short pasta shapes such as penne.
Ham and mushroom pasta
Slice a punnet of brown mushrooms and sauté over high heat until all the water is cooked off and they have caramelised to a nice nutty brown. Add 375ml cream and some thin strips of prosciutto (or similar ham) and simmer for five or ten minutes to thicken. Season with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss with short pasta shapes such as rotini.
Creamy smoked salmon pasta
Buy a tub of mascarpone, a lemon, a packet of smoked salmon and some rocket leaves. While your pasta water heats up, zest and juice the lemon. In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone with the lemon zest and juice. Add the pasta to the boiling water, and as it cooks, cut the salmon into ribbons and add to the mascarpone, and wash the rocket leaves. When the pasta is nearly cooked through, scoop out a few tablespoons of cooking water, add it to the mascarpone mixture and stir. Drain the pasta, toss with the mascarpone mixture, season and top with rocket leaves.
Seared steak pasta in a mustard cream sauce
Sear steak strips in a hot pan until brown and remove from the pan. Lower the heat to medium and pour a cup or more of white wine into the steak juices. Let it bubble and reduce for about five minutes. Add two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of thyme leaves, and whisk. Then add a cup of cream along with the steak strips. Let it all simmer together for a further five minutes, then taste and season with salt, lots of fresh black pepper and lemon juice, if needed. Toss with hot wide flat pasta such as pappardelle.
Sauté a couple of anchovy fillets in olive oil until they start to dissolve. Add a large tin of plum tomatoes, break them up and let the mixture cook down for about fifteen minutes. Add a crushed clove of garlic, a handful of pitted black olives and a tablespoon of rinsed capers. Mix well and simmer for another five minutes. Season with a pinch of chilli flakes, a pinch of sugar and a little salt, and serve tossed with hot spaghetti.
Easy, creamy mac ‘n cheese
While you cook enough macaroni for four people, grate a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella until you have about two cups. Empty a tub of mascarpone into a mixing bowl, add half a cup of milk and one and a half cups of the grated cheese, and stir well. Add a pinch of mustard powder (or teaspoon of mustard), salt and pepper and a dusting of nutmeg, and stir again. When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with the cheese mixture, and scrape into a baking dish. Top with the remaining grated cheese and bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden and crispy.
Caccio e pepe (cheese and pepper)
This is one of the simplest and most delicious ways to eat pasta. Put the spaghetti on to boil and grate a lot of parmesan, squeeze a little lemon juice, and grind a whole lot of black pepper. When the spaghetti is nearly cooked all the way, scoop out a cup of the water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add the parmesan, lemon juice and some of the pasta water, and toss thoroughly so that the cheese melts and coats the pasta. Add more water if it seems dry. Toss in a good amount of pepper and keep tossing to distribute evenly. Add more water if needed. Serve with more grated parmesan and fresh black pepper.
Use the tomato and sausage pasta sauce above for an easy lasagne along with ricotta and grated mozzarella. Simply layer uncooked lasagne sheets with generous helpings of sausage pasta sauce, followed by a good handful of crumbled ricotta, and repeat until the dish is filled about two thirds of the way. Top with a final smear of sauce and the grated mozzarella, and bake at 180ºC for 30 to 45 minutes. Check at 30 minutes with a skewer or knife to see if the pasta is cooked through.
For an easy vegetarian lasagne, use the same method as above, but mix homemade or store-bought tomato sauce with roasted vegetables instead of sausage. Use the roasted vegetable sauce and ricotta to layer up a delicious vegetarian lasagne.
Updated tuna casserole
Chop and sauté an onion, celery stick and a carrot. When the vegetables are soft, add a clove of crushed garlic, sauté for another minute and then remove from the heat. Cook enough short pasta shapes, such as fusilli, for four people. While the pasta cooks, mix a tin of drained tuna with a tub of mascarpone, half a cup of milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, a tablespoon of chopped capers and a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley. Add the sautéed vegetables to the tuna mixture and stir well. Drain the cooked pasta and add to the tuna mixture. Toss to combine thoroughly and scrape into a baking dish. Top with a mixture of grated parmesan, grated mozzarella and fresh breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes at 180ºC, until the cheese is melted and golden.
Tip: Whizz some stale bread in a processor, toss in olive oil, lemon zest, and a little crushed garlic. (Alternatively, use flavoured olive oil.) Toast in a warm oven until crispy and golden. Sprinkle on top of a dish of dry (not saucy) pasta, such as pasta with roast vegetables, to add flavour and texture, or on top of a baked pasta dish before it goes into the oven.