By Alison Ladman, Associated Press
On crazy weeknights, sometimes the only thing standing between you and yet another order of takeout… Is a box of pasta.
Because a box of pasta is like that been-through-it-all-with-you friend, that dinnertime Swiss Army knife that can be counted on in your time of need no matter what the day has tossed your way. When there’s nothing in the house and your energy and time are at their lowest, a box of pasta is your ultimate ally. It’s fast. It’s easy. It’s versatile. And everybody loves it.
All you need is a box of pasta and a little inspiration. You provide the pasta. We got you covered on the inspiration. Here are 10 easy pasta meals to solve your weeknight dinner woes.
HEALTHY TIP: For a healthier version of the pasta recipes below, use whole wheat pasta. Even better and less carbs, make vegetables like yellow squash and zucchini into noodles with a veggie spiralizer.
Look out for words in GREEN below because they offer healthy alternatives for the recipes.
10 WAYS TO EASY PASTA DINNERS
Start with 12 ounces of any shape pasta, cooked and drained according to package instructions.
— SHRIMP: In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil, then add 4 cloves thinly sliced garlic and cook until just starting to brown. Add 2 diced large tomatoes and 1 finely chopped small red onion. Cook for 2 minutes, then add 1 pound peeled and deveined cooked shrimp. Cook just until heated through. Stir in the pasta and add 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves. Serve topped with additional olive oil and shaved Parmesan cheese.
— THAI CHICKEN: In a skillet, cook 1 chopped large yellow onion in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add 1 cup grape tomatoes and 2 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat. Stir in a 14 1/2-ounce can light coconut milk and 1 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste. Bring to a simmer, then add the pasta. Stir in 1 tablespoon fish sauce, if desired. Serve with lime wedges and chopped fresh cilantro.
— BROTHY BEEF AND MUSHROOM: Cook 8 ounces button mushrooms (whole or sliced) in a skillet with a little olive oil. Transfer to a plate, then cook 1 pound thinly sliced flank steak in a bit more oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Add 1 cup low-sodium beef broth and 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth. Stir in the pasta and mushrooms. Serve topped with chopped fresh chives or scallions.
— PEANUT AND ROASTED RED PEPPER: In a blender, combine 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Adjust the consistency with water, if needed. In a large skillet, gently warm the pasta and a 12-ounce jar of drained, sliced roasted red peppers. Add the peanut sauce and heat until warm. Serve topped with sliced scallions and ground black pepper.
— ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CHICKPEAS: On a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, combine a 15-ounce can of chickpeas (drained, rinsed and patted dry) with 2 cups cubed butternut squash. Toss with olive oil, salt, black pepper and 1 tablespoon coriander seeds. Roast at 400 F until golden brown and tender. Toss with pasta, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and additional olive oil.
— QUICK VEGGIE: In a large bowl, toss together a grated medium zucchini, 1 pint halved grape tomatoes, 2 cloves minced garlic, the pasta and a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper, then top with grated Romano cheese or crumbled feta.
— KALE AND SAUSAGE: In a large skillet, brown 1 pound loose sausage meat, crumbled chorizo or chicken sausage. Add 1 sliced large onion and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook until tender. Add 5 ounces baby kale and wilt. Stir in the pasta and serve.
— CREAMY HAM AND PEA: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add 1 diced medium yellow onion and cook until tender. Stir in 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour and stir to coat. Add 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth and whisk together. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream or fat-free half-and-half and whisk again. Bring to a simmer, then add 2 cups diced ham and 2 cups frozen peas. Cook for 3 minutes, then stir in the pasta.
— COTTAGE PIE: Boil 2 diced medium Yukon gold potatoes until tender. Meanwhile, in a large skillet with a splash of vegetable oil, brown 1 pound (lean) ground beef with 1 diced medium yellow onion. Stir in 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese until melted. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir in 1 cup frozen corn kernels and warm gently. Add the pasta and potatoes.
— BACON, LEEK AND SWISS: In a large skillet, cook 2 large diced leeks in 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or in olive oil over medium heat until very tender. Stir in 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme. Add 1 cup crumbled cooked (low-sodium turkey) bacon and stir in the pasta. Stir in 1 cup shredded low-fat Swiss cheese.
Alison Ladman is a chef, food writer and recipe developer for The Associated Press. She also owns The Crust and Crumb Baking Company in Concord, New Hampshire.