Weeknight Pasta Dinners

Pastas are the cornerstone of much Italian cuisine.  The pastas themselves come in a myriad of shapes and sizes with an even more plentiful array of sauces. We’ve talked about pasta before here, with our Red Sauce recipe, Linguini con vongole, pasta carbonara, but here are three dishes made with minimal ingredients that you probably have in your pantry right now. I’ll do one for thin noodles, one for thick or hollow noodles, and one for regular spaghetti.  The three dishes that follow are examples of the simplest pasta sauces you can imagine that speak to the Italian food ethos – use good ingredients and let them be themselves.

Each recipe is for 8oz, or half a pound of dried pasta which is approximately 3 good servings in my house.  All the recipes easily scale up to a full pound of pasta and larger families or gatherings.Each recipe should take about 30 minutes depending on your stove’s ability to bring the pasta water to a boil. The pomodoro takes the longest just to make sure you reduce the water content enough for a good sauce.

Spaghettini aglio e olio

Pasta with garlic and oil.  Its that simple. Okay, you can add a little pepper flake and chopped parsley so you get the Italian flag, but this is pretty much as easy as it gets. Spaghettini means “little spaghetti” and this recipe works well with any thin noodle like vermicelli, capellini, or angel hair pastas.


  • 8oz. Spaghettini
  • 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • Optional Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Optional chopped parsley for garnish


  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta
  2. Put the olive oil over medium low heat in a large saucier or skillet.  Because the goal here is to use really good ingredients, the extra virgin olive oil is important.  Because of the low smoke point for EVOO, keep the heat on medium low – that’s all you’ll need.
  3. Finely chop the garlic.  I don’t like to mince the garlic because it can burn too easily and I like a little bit of texture with the garlic. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the olive oil and stir briefly at the same time you add the pasta to the water.
  4.  Cook the pasta a few minutes short of “al dente” – for thin pasta it may be only 2-4 minutes in the boiling water.
  5.  Add to the olive oil and toss to coat the pasta with the garlicky oil.  Let cook over medium-low with the oil for another 2-3 minutes.
  6.  Serve with the optional parsley to garnish

Aglio e olio

Fettuccine a cacio e pepe

This is a Roman dish that exudes the same richness and simplicity you’ll find in pasta carbonara.  This time we are using fettuccine, a medium width long noodle that that better captures the sauce.  I prefer bucatini, but didn’t have any handy.


  • 8oz. Fettuccine
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Butter.  Preferably good high butter fat or you can substitute some Olive oil.
  • 1 Teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper.  Or more to taste
  • 3/4 Cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • ¼ Cup Grated other cheese, like parmigiano reggiano or grana padano.


  1.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large saucier or skillet.
  3.  Add the freshly cracked black pepper so the butter gets the flavor of the pepper into it.
  4. Cook the pasta a few minutes short of “al dente” – probably around 6-8 minutes depending on your specific pasta’s instructions.
  5. Add the pasta to the melted, peppery butter and toss to coat.  Cook another 2-3 minutes.
  6.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the pecorino and toss to melt and combine until nice and glorious. If the cheese isn’t melting or combining properly, add some reserved pasta cooking water, a tablespoon at a time, while you toss.
  7.  Plate and garnish with the remaining cheese and some more freshly grated black pepper.

cacio e pepeSpaghetti al sugo Pomodoro

The third in our trio of simple pastas is one you already know.  Pasta with tomato sauce.  This time, we will use spaghetti, the medium thickness noodle that is the default across the United States.  This is not the complex marinara we’ve talked about before, but a quick and simple tomato sauce that tastes like, well, tomatoes.  If tomatoes are in season, please use fresh and local tomatoes.  They are delicious.  If they are not, there are good quality canned tomatoes out there.  The most important thing is to look for a canned tomato that has no or almost no added sodium! First, it means less salt, but it also means that it will taste like tomatoes in the can.  I’ll admit it – I use the cans of imported Italian tomatoes and San Marzano tomatoes a lot.


  • 8oz Spaghetti
  • 14oz Canned tomatoes (see note above)
  •  If all you can find are 28oz cans, just make twice the sauce and divide it before the pasta is ready)
  • -OR-
  • 14oz Fresh tomatoes, concasse (peeled, deseeded, and diced)
  • Olive Oil
  • Optional Tablespoon of tomato paste/conserva
  • Optional pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Optional Basil


  1. Put a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
  2.  In a heavy bottomed pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
  3.  Add the tomatoes and stir briefly.  Take a taste and see if it needs a pinch of salt. If the tomato chunks are bigger than you like, use a potato masher to break them down since this will be a quick cooking process.
  4. Stir the sauce occasionally while the water boils and the pasta cooks. Halfway through the pasta cooking, add any of the optional flavorings like the tomato paste, red pepper flakes, or fresh basil.
  5. Drain the pasta and toss into the pot to cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  6.  If the sauce isn’t sticking enough or it reduced too far, add a quarter cup of reserved pasta water.
  7. Plate and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.


Three easy and fast pasta dinners.  If you put the water on to boil before you get all of your ingredients together, these are 30 minute dinners or lunches.

Pasta Trio