7 Pantry Staples That Will Turn Pasta into Dinner

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

I don’t know how things go down in your house, but on nights I don’t really feel like cooking, the solution is usually pasta. It’s quick, simple, and comforting — all the right qualities for a midweek meal.

I also like to keep dinner from getting boring, so I skip the jarred sauce and top my pasta du jour with something from the pantry. It can be a single ingredient, or a combination of a few staples I have handy, but I always have them on hand so I don’t have to run out to the grocery store. I bet that most of these are things you have in your pantry as well, but there might a few that surprise you!

1. Canned Tomatoes

I may skip the marinara, but that doesn’t always mean I skip the tomato sauce. A can of tomatoes (I prefer diced) can take your pasta in so many different directions. Combine them with onion, butter, and salt for a luscious homemade sauce, or mix them with some raisins, pine nuts, and spices for a Mediterranean-inspired meal.

2. Bread Crumbs

Toasted bread crumbs are the amazing pasta topping you’re probably ignoring. While the pasta cooks, heat a small slice of butter in a skillet, then mix in the bread crumbs, and cook until they’re toasty-brown. Sprinkle them on your cooked pasta they to add the perfect crunch.

3. Canned Beans

Canned beans are a nice way to sneak a little protein into your meal. Toss them with sauce or combine with olive oil and herbs for a pasta topping that feels a little meaty, without the meat.

4. Tahini

This luscious sesame paste is good for a lot more than making hummus. Combined with Greek yogurt and sour cream, tahini helps create a rich and nutty sauce that will make your pasta feel decadent.

5. Pesto

I keep a jar of pesto in the pantry for emergency dinners. Fresh is best, but when you’re out and don’t have any tucked away in the freezer, some good-quality jarred pesto makes a fine stand-in.

6. Canned Tuna

No, we’re not talking tuna-noodle casserole (although that’s always a treat) — this is something far more simple. Toss pasta with a can of flaky tuna, and maybe some beans or veggies you have on hand for a quick dinner with a little more substance.

7. Butter and Parmesan

Okay, these two actually come from your fridge rather than the pantry, but they’re staple ingredients that are definitely worth a mention since they have the power to totally transform an ordinary plate of pasta.