The Weeknight Pasta Playbook: Strategies for Winning Dinner in an Hour

The Weeknight Pasta Playbook: Strategies for Winning Dinner in an Hour

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Sheela Fiorenzo
Jun 16, 2018
(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kath Nash | Kitchn)

Pasta has long had a reputation for being an easy choice on a weeknight — but that doesn't always mean it's the fastest choice. Sure, I suppose it's fast to toss cooked noodles with a jar of store-bought sauce, but what if you want something a little more exciting than that? Well, you can definitely have it in the same amount of time or less.

The secret is to embrace a few tricks and tips that speed up the work and still leave you with a dinner that's sure to be a family favorite. Here are the strategies you need to know.

(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kath Nash | Kitchn)

1. Reach for unexpected pantry staples.

Everyone knows a jar of marinara sauce makes for a quick pasta dinner, but your kitchen is chock-full of other ingredients that are equally useful when making a fast meal. You see that tub of hummus? It's great with pita chips, but it's also phenomenal as a pasta sauce — garlicky, creamy, and pretty darn luscious. Add a few other pantry favorites like olives, roasted red peppers, and feta and you've got a Mediterranean-leaning dinner that's a whole lot more exciting than spaghetti marinara but just as easy.

(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kath Nash | Kitchn)

2. Embrace one-pot wonders.

Where you lose time with pasta is waiting for that big pot of water to boil — so skip it. Instead, cook the pasta right in the pot or pan of simmering sauce. Quick-cooking orzo reaches al dente fast when cooked in a big pot of garlicky tomato sauce flecked with nutty chickpeas. Or toss uncooked pasta into a cast iron skillet full of cheeseburger-inspired flavors and simmering chicken broth. Finish it in the oven, and in next to no time you have a casserole the whole family will love.

(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kath Nash | Kitchn)

3. Jazz up store-bought favorites.

Cheese tortellini and ravioli from the grocery store are weeknight heroes — they cook up in just a few minutes and always seems to feel a little more fun than your usual box of ziti. There are countless directions you can go, but don't be afraid to try something different. Since both cook so fast, you'll still have time to spare to roast tomatoes in garlicky butter for the tortellini or make a quick brown butter sauce spiked with lemon and capers for the ravioli — a little fancier, but just as fast.

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