If you’ve got 30 minutes and one pot, you’re halfway to having dinner on the table. One-pot pastas are quick, easy and infinitely customizable. The best part is, there is only one dirty pot to clean!
Change up the recipe depending on what you have on hand or what your kids love (or hate) this week.
With so many shapes, colors and flavors to choose from, pasta is easy to love. Plus it’s affordable, which helps you stretch your grocery budget
. In most dishes, you can use whatever pasta you have on hand, whether its white, wheat, tricolored, spaghetti, rotini, bowtie or any other kind of pasta. There are also plenty of new varieties to try, such as pasta made from chickpeas, black beans, quinoa, lentils
, brown rice, edamame and even almonds. These pastas can have up to twice the protein and several times the fiber, which makes it even easier to cook up a fast, well-balanced meal for dinner. Even if you’re on a gluten-free diet, there’s a pasta for you! Look for soba noodles made from gluten-free buckwheat flour (gluten-free pasta made from other grains like rice is also readily available at most grocers).
The only problem with pasta is some recipes take forever. Because c’mon, who has time to simmer Bolognese sauce for three-plus hours? Not me, that’s for sure! That’s why I’m sharing my best tips for making one-pot pasta the whole family will love. It’s noodle night, kids!
One Pot – Seriously
It’s not a trick. It’s that simple. Well, almost that simple. Some recipes for one-pot pasta suggest boiling the pasta in the actual sauce ingredients and reducing the amount of water. Sounds great, but it can leave behind a slimy, unpleasant starchiness from the pasta, instead of the smooth and zesty sauce you were going for.
Instead, boil pasta until it’s one minute away from being al dente, then drain it and return it to the same pot with your sauce ingredients. Cook for an additional minute, so the noodles can soak up all the flavors. It’s still one pot, but it makes a huge flavor difference.
What you put in your sauce is totally up to you! Here are a few ideas to inspire a one-pot pasta that’s perfect for your family.
Traditional pesto can be expensive to make or buy (pine nuts ain’t cheap!). And it seems like there’s never enough of it to feed an entire family, much less leave you with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. So bulk up traditional pesto with some veggies and a little extra olive oil. Try adding grape tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms, or blend a bag of frozen peas (heat up first) right into the pesto.
What You Got
What’s in your fridge? Chances are, you can probably add it to pasta! Use kitchen scissors to cut up Canadian bacon
or lunchmeat and serve it over pasta with peas, carrots and cream sauce. Toss in that spinach you’ve been meaning to use up too, folding it in right before you mix in the sauce.
Dress up cold pasta with a drizzle of light Italian dressing, artichoke hearts, fresh cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls. Just cook the pasta until it’s done, then rinse with cold water and return to the pot before piling on the fixings.
It’s All Greek to Me
Kids love creamy pasta, but cream-based sauces are heavy, rich and fatty … not exactly the best weeknight meal when they still have homework to do after dinner. Try replacing some of the heavy cream with Greek yogurt
in favorites like Alfredo sauce. You can even add Greek yogurt to red sauce for a creamy pink pasta that’s healthy AND fun for kids.
My go-to sauce is a mixture of veal, lean beef and pork cooked with onions and tossed with lots of finely chopped veggies (carrots, peas, zucchini, etc.) and bow-tie pasta. For this one-pot recipe, brown the meat with chopped onions and veggies in a large pasta pot. Remove the mixture when the meat’s cooked through and the veggies are tender but still crisp. No need to clean the pot between steps, just fill it with water, bring to a boil and cook your pasta. When the pasta’s done, drain and bring it all together in the same pot, adding olive oil as desired.
Combinations of your favorite vegetables can be pureed into sauce for a flavor (and nutrition!) boost. Try roasting and pureeing eggplant, tomatoes and garlic for a pasta sauce that goes great with fresh basil and ricotta. Baby spinach, broccolini, roasted peppers and halved cherry tomatoes also taste great in pasta sauce.
For a fun dinner any night of the week, create a mini pasta bar with your kids’ favorite toppings. Put out cooked pasta, along with a few toppers, like heated red sauce, white beans and a few cooked or raw veggies. Have them add the sauce last to heat up the other ingredients and let them name their tasty creations. Make a bowl for yourself too, using Italian seasonings like dried basil, oregano, and garlic powder to add some grown-up flavor. If there are leftovers, layer the pasta, sauce and toppings in a storage container and reheat for an easy lunch tomorrow.
Not Your Nanna’s Casserole
If you know it’s going to be a REALLY jam-packed day tomorrow, turn one-pot pasta into one-pot casserole pasta. Make a pasta bake tonight to have ready to go for dinner tomorrow. I’ll let you in on a little time-saving trick: soak the pasta for 20 minutes before adding it to the casserole so it doesn’t dry out in the oven. Combine your favorite soaked pasta (like ziti or rotini) with your favorite jarred sauce and add fresh or frozen veggies that love the oven (think zucchini, kale and mushrooms). Mix in some cubes of mozzarella, then top with more sauce and cheese. Bake at 350° F until cheese is melted.
Pasta has the power to turn a big salad into a complete meal … and kids like salad a little more when it’s got noodles on top. For classic Italian flavor, top mixed greens and pasta shells with basil, garlic, Roma tomatoes, parmesan or fresh mozzarella, olive oil, salt and pepper. Another savory combination is rotini, avocado, cherry tomatoes, lime juice, garlic powder, green onion, feta and beans. And for a Mediterranean twist, try quinoa pasta, cucumber, yellow and red mini tomatoes, olives, red onion, broccoli, mozzarella balls and Italian dressing.
With so many ways to mix and match ingredients, you’ll never get bored with one-pot pasta, and neither will the kids!