How I Taught My Teenager to Make Pasta into a Meal

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Forrest Clonts)

My kids love pasta. When they found out I was writing this series, one of the things they wanted to know was how to make pasta into a meal. Pasta is a great one-pot meal, and the possibilities for it are endless.

My lucky, lucky children learned how to boil pasta from an Italian, in Italy. We spent a few weeks there one summer. We stayed with a friend, and ate everything in sight. If the kids loved pasta before, they were connoisseurs after.

→ Read more: How to Cook Dried Pasta

But what comes next? A simple pasta dish is so satisfying. Whether or not they remember (I promise to reinforce), I’ve already taught the kids how to make a basic marinara, which always a good start. They can add other vegetables, meatballs, bits of prosciutto, or nothing at all. And my middle son prides himself on being able to make a pretty solid carbonara. Our sons definitely understand the basics of making pasta into a meal.

(Image credit: Forrest Clonts)

10 Tips for Making Pasta into a Meal

  1. Cook your pasta al dente, and don’t forget to reserve a little cooking water to thin your sauce, if necessary.
  2. You can’t go wrong starting with sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil. Unless you let the garlic burn, so don’t do that.
  3. After you sauté the onion and garlic, be prepared to deglaze. I often use white wine or a nice rosé, but that isn’t quite the right choice for the kids. My other favorite way to deglaze is by cutting a hole in the top of a ripe tomato and squeezing the juice into the pan. The tomato will be less messy to chop without the juice, and will go straight into the pan. Leftover stock or, in a pinch, a splash of water works, too.
  4. Learn how to deglaze. It’ll make your food taste better, and your pans easier to clean.
  5. Leftovers make great protein additions to pasta. (See: Teaching kids to roast a chicken.) Don’t have leftovers? Toss in some nuts.
  6. Spinach — fresh or frozen — is an easy addition. (I take every chance I get to try to convince my kids to include vegetables in their diet when I’m no longer in charge.)
  7. Chopsticks are a great way to fold in other ingredients to cooked pasta.
  8. Once you’ve drained the pasta, coat the empty pot with a little olive oil. Now put the drained pasta back in and tossing it with other ingredients.
  9. Keep a decent supply of various shapes of pasta on hand.
  10. Truffles are expensive as hell, so supplement with plenty of mushrooms.

We recently made truffle pasta — a family favorite. As the linguine boiled, we sautéed minced onions and garlic in a little olive oil and butter. We deglazed with a splash of chicken stock. Along the way, we added a little pepper and a dash or three of Seasonello (our favorite seasoning salt for Italian food), and a large handful of chopped wild mushrooms. (For the kids, and their future budgets: any mushrooms will do. It’s all about the butter and the Seasonello.)

(Image credit: Forrest Clonts)

Once the pasta was cooked, we drained it; splashed a little olive oil into the empty pot; and put the pasta back in, tossing it with our mushroom, garlic, and onion blend, and half a jar of the stupid-expensive minced truffles. We blended it with chopsticks and added shredded Parmesan on top. And it was delicious.

What’s your favorite one dish pasta meal?

10 Kitchen Lessons for My Teenage Kid

I’ve decided to be a little more methodical about teaching my sons to cook. So this week and next I’m counting down the ten essentials I think my 14-year-old absolutely has to master before he flies the nest.