It’s no surprise that in the wake of the first round of COVID-19 lockdowns, pasta positively flew off the shelves. Cheap, quick, and easy to prepare, pasta is a staple for a reason. And to top it all off, it’s versatile! Pasta can be dressed up or down in all manner of sauces ranging from the super-simple to the gourmet and extravagant. Quite frankly, pasta is the uninspired cook’s best friend.
Of course, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. If you find yourself consistently tossing pasta with your favorite jarred pesto, with your mom’s marinara, or simply with butter and cheese, you’re in luck. There are so many ways that you can add flavor, texture, color, and nutrients to your favorite noodle shape, so if you’re looking for ways to jazz up this staple fave, we’ve got more than a handful of suggestions to help you. Now, let’s help you find the pasta sauce recipe of your dreams.
The best slow cooker marinara sauce ever
Marinara often gets taken for granted because of its simplicity, but this simple tomato sauce is a classic for a reason. Rich and zesty, marinara sauce is the perfect pasta topping, either on its own or with a touch of parmesan for an extra hit of umami. This marinara sauce recipe combines tomatoes with onion, garlic, and a touch of heat for a sauce that goes just as well on pasta as on pizza, meatball subs, and more. We can’t get over how easy it is to make. Just pop everything in the slow cooker and wait for it to do its magic!
Lightly saucy one-pot spaghetti, for nights when two pots is too many
No, but really, on days when everything feels like a struggle, don’t spend your hard-earned cash on Uber Eats — just pull up this one-pot spaghetti recipe. Seriously, it couldn’t be easier. Step one, dump ingredients into pot. Step two, wait ten minutes. Step three, dig into lemony, cheesy, garlicky goodness. What more could you ask for?
Get some of your five-a-day with pasta primavera in a hearty sauce
If you’re struggling to get your daily veggies into your diet, pasta primavera is the dish for you. This recipe, named for its panoply of springtime veggies, combines cherry tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and asparagus with rotini pasta. Once all of the cooking juices have melted into a rich sauce, you’ll gild the lily with a touch of parmesan cheese, basil, and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper heat. It’s the perfect pasta dish to take full advantage of the season’s bounty, and it’s delicious to boot.
Not your school cafeteria baked ziti
Baked pasta dishes can unfortunately tend towards the overcooked, mealy, and dry — as you might know if you’ve "enjoyed" airplane or school cafeteria ziti. But never fear: That’s anything but the case when it comes to this baked ziti recipe. A combo of pasta, marinara sauce, and herbed ricotta cheese, this creamy baked pasta dish is the perfect comfort food main to feed the whole family. And if you gild the lily with a bit of extra parmesan? It’ll be *chef kiss* perfection.
Enjoy your pasta cold with antipasto salad in an herbed sauce
Antipasto usually refers to a cold platter of Italian goodies, like marinated artichokes, olives, and pickled banana peppers. But toss all of those ingredients with cooked pasta, provolone, and a zesty herbed vinaigrette, and you’ve got this antipasto pasta salad that’s perfect for a picnic or other gathering.
While there are loads of reasons to love this pasta salad recipe, one of our faves is that it only gets better with time. And unlike a mayo-based pasta salad, there’s no need to worry if it’s been hanging out on the buffet for a little bit when you go in for seconds (or thirds… who’s counting, really?)
Give into simplicity with cacio e pepe in an easy sauce
No, you weren’t imagining things: Cacio e pepe took off in a big way during lockdown. And honestly, it’s no surprise. This simple combo of pasta, black pepper, and grated pecorino cheese is an Italian comfort food staple with a short ingredients list and loads of flavor.
This version deviates a bit from Roman tradition by adding a touch of butter and slightly milder cow’s milk parmesan in place of some or all of the zingier ewe’s milk pecorino. No matter how you serve it, it’s bound to be delicious.
This creamy chicken alfredo sauce will conquer your heart
According to some experts, alfredo is is a natural descendent of cacio e pepe. To suit the American palate, alfredo is slightly sweeter and creamier than the Roman original thanks to the use of butter and nutty parmesan. This version also uses both cream and cream cheese, which give the sauce even more depth and richness.
The chicken included in this recipe turns the pasta into an easy, complete dinner… although you may want to add some sautéed broccoli on the side for a pop of color and vitamins. But hey — you do you.
A copycat Olive Garden alfredo sauce for the home kitchen
Speaking of alfredo, one of America’s favorite versions is the one found at the Italian chain that treats you like family! This Olive Garden copycat recipe is far from diet food, but trust us — it’s worth the calories. Butter, garlic, cream, and two Italian cheeses marry to create this rich sauce. where the nuttiness of parmesan pairs perfectly with the piquancy of the Romano. Toss with your favorite noodle, and prepare to have your world rocked.
Fire up your pasta sauce with fajita flavors
Mexican food? Meet Italy. In this fusion pasta dish, penne is paired with the feisty flavors of spiced bell peppers and chicken. The creamy sauce is made even richer and more comforting thanks to some shredded Mexican blend cheese. As a recipe that’s both super flavorful and deceptively simple to make (thanks to its reliance on packaged taco seasoning), it’s sure to become a new family favorite.
Bring on the brine with saucy pasta puttanesca
If you believe the legend, pasta puttanesca was first invented by ladies of the night in Naples’ red light district. The cunning women would ostensibly combine cheap, easily available ingredients like capers, olives, and anchovies to form a briny sauce with a note of sweetness, thanks to the addition of tomatoes.
Whether the origin story holds water or not, we can all agree that the recipe is both delicious and easy to prepare. And since most of the ingredients are shelf stable, it’s the perfect pantry recipe any day of the week.
Dig into the real pasta carbonara with authentic sauce
Pasta carbonara purists claim there’s no need for cream to make this rich sauce, and after trying this classic version, we can’t help but agree. Crispy nuggets of bacon swim in an egg-based sauce that cooks right in the hot spaghetti, coating and clinging to each noodle. A touch of nutty parmesan cheese to finish things off, and this pasta carbonara is ready to be slurped right up.
A homemade pesto to rival store-bought sauces
Store-bought pesto is one of our favorite kitchen shortcuts, with all the flavor of basil and garlic and none of the chopping. We keep a jar in the fridge at all times, adding a spoonful to omelets, tomato sauces, and, of course, hot noodles. But trust us: Once you’ve made your own homemade pesto sauce, it’s hard to go back to the shelf-stable version.
In this recipe, a combo of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan gets whirred in the food processor until creamy and smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and a touch of lemon, and it’s ready to be tossed with hot pasta.