Pasta is so easy to serve that it seems a shame to dress it with the same old red sauce every time.
For a weekday dinner or a quick campout meal, mix up your favorite shape of pasta with one of these variations. There's a version tossed with ubiquitous (but oh-so-healthy) broccoli and another with anchovies and breadcrumbs.
For a taste of Roma, there's Ada Boni's spaghetti all'amatriciana try it with those tomatoes you've just started harvesting.
We've even included a pasta salad that's portable and can brighten up any picnic or potluck.
Gemelli pasta with anchovies and breadcrumbs
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 13 minutes
The magic of anchovies aside, that is, from not tasting even a little bit fishy is that when added to a hot skillet, they melt away, dissolving into a flavorful sauce reminiscent more of a steak than of the sea. That is why they form the base of so many Italian sauces.
For this recipe from J.M. Hirsch of the Associated Press, the goal was simplicity a few simple, potent ingredients that would meld together in no time into a phenomenal sauce to toss with pasta. Try it. Give anchovies a chance and you won't regret it.
1 pound gemelli pasta (may use any shape)
4 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
One 2-ounce tin oil-packed anchovies
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, diced
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup coarse, unseasoned breadcrumbs (such as panko)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water, then drain and return the pasta to the pot. Drizzle the pasta with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, toss, then cover and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add the anchovies and sauté for 5 minutes, breaking them up with a spatula until they dissolve into a paste.
Add the garlic and sauté for another minute, then add the tomato. Cook, stirring often, until the tomato begins to break down, about 7 minutes. Season with pepper.
For a thinner sauce, stir in a bit of the reserved pasta cooking water.
Uncover the pasta and, while using tongs to toss, sprinkle in the bread crumbs and Parmesan, tossing until evenly coated. Divide the pasta among 4 serving bowls, then spoon some of the sauce into the center of each. Top each serving with additional grated Parmesan.
Per serving: 730 calories (29 percent from fat), 23 g fat (6 g sat.), 25 mg chol., 900 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 100 g carb., 30 g protein.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Recipe from Sara Moulton for the Associated Press. She says, "This dish is so economical it's almost ecological. I use all of the broccoli, not just the florets. For years I used to trash the stems, but the stems are also plenty edible. Just peel off the skin, cut them up, and you're ready."
1 large head broccoli (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 pound whole-wheat capellini pasta
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Position one of the racks in the top third of the oven.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Cut the broccoli, including the stems, into 2-inch pieces. Peel any thick stem pieces to remove the thick skin.
On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange the broccoli in a single layer. Drizzle with the oil, then sprinkle with salt to taste and toss well. Place on the top oven rack and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is crisp tender and slightly brown at the edges.
Transfer the broccoli to a large skillet, add the pepper flakes and the chicken broth, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
When the water in the large pot comes to a boil, add a hefty pinch of salt and the pasta. Stir and cook for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is limp but not quite cooked through. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the broccoli pan. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.
Stir in the Parmigiano- Reggiano and salt to taste. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and serve with crusty bread.
Per serving: 470 calories; 160 calories from fat (34 percent of total calories); 17 g fat (5 g sat.; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg chol.; 54 g carb.; 9 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 25 g protein; 870 mg sodium.
Carbonara pasta salad
Prep time: 15 minutes plus 1 hour chill time
Cook time: 20 minutes
This Associated Press recipe borrows the key ingredients from pasta carbonara right down to the eggy sauce and savory pancetta but remakes them as a picnic-worthy pasta salad. Every bit as delicious as the traditional dish, but far more refreshing on a hot day.
And as with most pasta salads, this one is easily adjusted and added to. Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, roasted red peppers, even blanched asparagus all would make fine additions.
Note: To avoid any chance of salmonella contamination, you may wish to purchase pasteurized eggs for this dish.
16 ounces gemelli or rotini pasta
9 ounces finely chopped pancetta
1 cup fresh peas
3 egg yolks
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup mild olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain well, then spread on a rimmed baking sheet to cool.
Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy, about 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool.
Add the peas to the skillet and cook just until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the pancetta and allow to cool.
While everything cools, make the dressing. In a blender, or in a medium bowl with a whisk, combine the egg yolks, garlic, mustard, vinegar and lemon juice. In a slow stream, add the oil, whisking or blending until thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled pasta, pancetta, peas, dressing, Parmesan and scallions. Toss well. For best flavor, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Per serving: 560 calories, 270 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories), 30 g fat (10 g saturated, 0 g trans fats), 110 mg cholesterol, 48 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 20 g protein, 810 mg sodium.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
In her cookbook "Italian Regional Cooking," Ada Boni writes that the most famous pasta dish of her native Rome is spaghetti all'amatriciana, "the origin of which is said to be Amatrice, a little village in the Sabine country, on the border between Lazio and the Abruzzo." The sauce, she notes, is based on guanciale, cured pork jowl, "diced and mixed with tomatoes, peppers, onions and fat salt pork (purists omit tomatoes)."
Lean bacon is substituted in the English translation of the cookbook. Some cooking sources suggest using pancetta in the place of guanciale. The sauce makes just enough to coat the pasta; this Chicago Tribune adaptation cuts back a bit on the amount of spaghetti from Boni's recipe and doubled the tomatoes, in line with her version in "Talismano."
2 1/2 tablespoons lard or oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
5 ounces lean bacon, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
2 pounds ripe or canned tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound spaghetti
3/4 cup grated pecorino, or mixed Parmesan and pecorino cheese
Heat the lard or oil and sauté the onion over a very low heat until soft. Add the bacon and fry it slowly for a few minutes. Moisten with white wine and continue cooking until it evaporates a little. Peel, chop and seed the tomatoes, then add them to the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook over a brisk heat for not more than 15 minutes.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a fast boil. Lower the spaghetti into the water, stir well and cook until just tender.
Drain and dress the spaghetti immediately with the hot sauce, and sprinkle with the grated cheese.
Per serving: 468 calories, 14 g fat (5 g sat. fat), 22 mg chol., 67 g carb., 19 g protein, 682 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.