There's a recipe for every mood. Sure, sometimes I want to spend hours lingering over a perfect slow-cooked red sauce or hearty lasagna Napoletana, but there are also days when I get home late and just need to get a filling dinner on the table, fast.
Pasta is a natural solution on those occasions, and luckily, we have lots of pasta recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, from Italian classics like cacio e pepe and spaghetti puttanesca to stovetop baked ziti and a fresh take on tuna noodle casserole. For a delicious pasta dinner that's doable on a weeknight, check out 27 of our favorite quick and easy pasta recipes, below.
Here's a pro tip for those who want to get the job done even sooner: You don't have to heat up a huge pot of water. Using a skillet and just enough water to cover the noodles is a better way to get water boiling fast, while the extra starchiness in a smaller volume of pasta water will help you achieve a more emulsified sauce.
Vegetarian Pasta Recipes
Fast and Easy Pasta With Blistered Cherry Tomato Sauce
Pasta doesn't get much quicker or easier than this—the sauce requires four ingredients and is ready in the same amount of time it takes to cook the noodles. Its bright flavors come from garlic, basil, and cherry tomatoes, which we sauté until they burst. Because cherry tomatoes have lots of pectin, their juice easily emulsifies with olive oil and pasta water to form a light sauce.
Pasta With Butternut Squash and Sage Brown Butter
While it's still chilly outside, make this warming pasta, dressed up with browned butter, fresh sage, and tender chunks of butternut squash. We like to use small cupped pasta shapes, like orecchiette, to capture the rich, nutty sauce. Lemon juice is the secret ingredient that prevents the browned butter from burning. If you struggle with cutting the tough, irregularly shaped squash, we've got a handy video guide to help you out.
3-Ingredient Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Of course, you can always make mac and cheese by turning to the boxed stuff, but honestly, this recipe is just about as easy. It takes only three ingredients (fewer than Kraft's!) and about 10 minutes of your time. All you have to do is cook the pasta in a small amount of water until it's almost al dente, pour in evaporated milk, and melt in the cheese. The sauce stays smooth, thanks to the evaporated milk, which doesn't scorch like regular milk and contains helpful emulsifying proteins called micelles.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
If you're looking for a dead-simple dish for dinner (or a snack), you can't do much better than this Italian classic made with garlic and olive oil. Just cook garlic—and red pepper flakes, if you'd like—in the oil; then add cooked pasta and a little pasta-cooking liquid, stirring vigorously to emulsify the oil and starchy water. Don't forget one last drizzle of oil for brighter flavor before serving.
Pasta al Limone
Just as simple as aglio e olio is pasta al limone, or lemon pasta. The secret to the dish is the same: creating a satiny emulsion with the pasta-cooking liquid and fat, but in this case, you're using butter. The lemon zest and juice combined brighten up the dairy notes from the fat and cheese.
Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti With Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano)
Cacio e pepe seems simple, all right—it's nothing more than pasta, olive oil, butter, Pecorino Romano cheese, salt, and pepper. But with the wrong technique, it's easy to end up with a sauce that's greasy or clumpy (or both). Our trick for making a creamy, thick sauce is to grate the cheese finely on a Microplane and combine it with pasta in a relatively cool skillet.
Vegan Carbonara Pasta
The traditional version of this beloved Roman dish is made with eggs, cheese, and cured pork, making it an unlikely candidate for veganizing, to say the least. Yet this easy take on carbonara manages to be meat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, and still absolutely delicious. We do it by replacing the pork with meaty king oyster mushrooms; mimicking the egg-rich sauce with a combination of silken tofu, miso paste, and nutritional yeast; and replicating the lactic tang of the Pecorino with a surprise ingredient—sauerkraut brine.
Penne With Hot-As-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce
Penne arrabbiata is a great year-round pasta dish—it can be made with fresh tomatoes during the summer, but this time of year, canned ones will yield delicious results. Arrabbiata is Italian for "angry," and we like to embrace that fieriness by adding lots of red pepper flakes (or fresh red chilies if we have them). We also finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, ensuring that each piece is evenly coated.
Penne With Melted-Vegetable Sauce
This rustic dish's Italian name, penne con stracotto di verdure, translates to "penne with overcooked vegetables"—which admittedly doesn't sound particularly appetizing. But you can produce a surprisingly tasty sauce by chopping a medley of vegetables, like potato, fennel, green beans, and carrots, into small pieces; boiling them until they're fall-apart tender; and blending them up. Experiment with different combinations of vegetables if you like, but be sure to keep the potatoes, since the starch they contribute when they break down is necessary for thickening the sauce.
Pesto Pasta With Potatoes and Green Beans
Making our perfect pesto with a mortar and pestle instead of a food processor takes more elbow grease, but it's totally worth the effort. Once you've got a stash of it, this traditional Genovese preparation of pasta with pesto, green beans, and potatoes requires minimal effort and time. It's important to add the pesto to the other ingredients off the heat in order to retain its bright, fresh flavors.
Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo
With its emphasis on heavy cream, traditionally made fettuccine Alfredo tends to be a bit of a guilty pleasure for many of us. This modern variation satisfies a lot of the same cravings without weighing you down. We incorporate just a little cream, turning instead to pasta water, cornstarch, and an egg to achieve a brighter, but still thick, sauce.
Roman-Style Fettuccine With Alfredo Sauce
On the other hand, if you're in Rome and looking to make fettuccine Alfredo in a culturally appropriate way—or even if you're not in Rome and still want to make Alfredo but without any cream—then you'll want this recipe. All you need is pasta, a nice piece of young Parmigiano Reggiano, and butter, and you're good to go.
Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo
What if you wanted to go even lighter? What if you wanted the creaminess of Alfredo, but with no dairy at all? Well, you turn to cauliflower—a cauliflower and cashew purée, to be exact. Sure, this may be vegan, and thus not really an Alfredo sauce at all, but it hits all the same notes: creamy, tangy, and delicious.
Vegetarian Citrus Pasta With Swiss Chard
This simple vegetarian dish of whole wheat fusilli uses both leaves and stems of Swiss chard, so nothing goes to waste. Its unexpected tartness comes from the citrusy Middle Eastern spice sumac. These days, it's getting easier to find sumac in the international aisle of your local supermarket, but depending on where you live, you might need to make a trip to a speciality grocery or order your sumac online.
Nonvegetarian Pasta Recipes
Ricotta Gnocchi With Asparagus and Prosciutto
Ready to leave winter behind? Celebrate the coming of warmer days by pairing fresh asparagus with heavy cream, Parmigiano Reggiano, crispy prosciutto, and bright lemon. This dish takes only 20 minutes if you have store-bought gnocchi on hand, but making these simple ricotta gnocchi from scratch adds just another half hour to the process.
Shrimp Fra Diavolo (Spaghetti With Spicy Tomato Sauce)
Lobster fra diavolo is a restaurant favorite, but a version made with shrimp is more practical and economical for home cooks. We start ours by marinating the shrimp in baking soda to give them a snappy crispness; reserving the shrimp shells and sautéing them infuses the oil with their flavor. Adding clam juice to a sauce of garlic, chili flakes, and canned tomatoes also heightens the dish's briny notes, and we like to splash in some brandy at the end for extra richness.
Amatriciana is a classic Roman tomato sauce, enriched with cured pork and spiced up with chili flakes. Guanciale (pork jowl or cheek) is our meat of choice here, but it can be hard to find, and pancetta is a great substitute. As for the tomatoes, we use hand-crushed canned San Marzanos, cooking them quickly to preserve their bright flavor.
Spaghetti Puttanesca (Spaghetti With Capers, Olives, and Anchovies)
No need to spend too much time wondering about the origins of the name, which famously translates to "spaghetti in the style of prostitutes." Let's move on to the recipe instead: The intensely savory, briny sauce gets its umami flavors from a bold mixture of garlic, anchovies, capers, and olives. Fortifying the pasta with high-quality, oil-packed tuna adds another dimension to this pungent Southern Italian favorite.
Japanese Mentaiko Spaghetti (Pasta With Spicy Cod Roe and Butter Sauce)
A classic example of fusion cuisine that's actually good, mentaiko spaghetti is also a fine representative of another category of dishes that is often maligned: drunk food. Just as good when you're five beers deep as it is when you're totally sober, mentaiko spaghetti deserves a place in your weekly meal rotations, if only because it's dead simple to make. All you need is butter, soy sauce (usukuchi, or light soy sauce, to be specific), nori, and some cured pollack roe, and you're ready to go. The pollack roe can be found online or at any Japanese grocery store, and since it freezes very well, it's easy to buy a lot to have on hand for whenever you get the craving.
Easy One-Pot, No-Knife, Lighter Tuna Noodle Casserole
Tuna noodle casserole might bring to mind some of the worst of mid-century American cooking, but this version is 100% canned-soup-free and lightened up with crème fraîche, peas, parsley, and lemon juice. The recipe is just as easy as a from-the-can casserole, though—it takes 15 minutes, one pan, and not a single bit of knife work.
One-Skillet Orecchiette With Shrimp, Spinach, and Mushrooms
Here, cooking the orecchiette in the same skillet as the sauce leaves you with one less dish to clean. We start by browning mushrooms; then deglaze the pan with white wine to save all the flavorful bits. Tossing the shrimp and spinach in toward the end ensures neither is overcooked.
Skillet Pasta With Mushrooms, Pancetta, and Wilted Greens
This one-pot fusilli dish packs in a lot of flavors, with earthy shiitakes, browned pancetta, and wilted bitter greens. Emulsifying the rendered fat from the pancetta with the stock used to cook the pasta produces a nice creamy sauce.
Pasta With Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, and Parmesan
Orecchiette's cuplike shape makes it perfect for catching little pieces of flavorful ingredients—in this case, mushrooms, Brussels sprout leaves, shallots, garlic, and thyme. A quick sauce of chicken stock, lemon juice, and butter helps them all cling to the pasta.
Easy Skillet Baked Ziti With Sausage and Ricotta
Our No-Boil Baked Ziti recipe calls for 30 minutes just to soak the noodles, so it's better as a weekend option. This saucy, gooey skillet version, cooked on the stovetop and requiring just 10 minutes of soaking for the noodles, is almost as good and takes a fraction of the time of the oven-based recipe. We make it with a creamy tomato sauce, a mix of low-moisture mozzarella and ricotta, and hunks of Italian sausage.
Crispy Baked Pasta With Mushrooms, Sausage, and Parmesan Cream Sauce
You don't need a lot of time to make a baked pasta—this comforting dish takes only about 30 minutes. Cooking the mushrooms in sausage fat and finishing them with soy sauce and lemon juice gives them a big umami punch. We finish the dish with a generous layer of seasoned bread crumbs and crisp it up under the broiler.
Pasta With Swordfish, Tomato, and Eggplant (Rigatoni Con Pesce Spada)
This swordfish pasta takes inspiration from Sicily, where seafood reigns supreme. The swordfish is complemented by velvety eggplant and tomatoes simmered in white wine, along with a mixture of fresh mint and oregano. A simple preparation lets all the fresh ingredients in this light pasta shine.
Pasta alla Gricia
It takes just five ingredients to put this rich and creamy pasta together. We start by rendering guanciale in a pan and then blooming freshly ground pepper in the bubbling fat. Emulsified with starchy pasta water, the sauce is finished with a generous helping of Pecorino Romano, for a perfect rendition of the Roman classic.