What to CookOn the CheapPastaDinner, Faster

A 2-Step Plan for Turning Pasta into a Well-Rounded Meal

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For home cooks, there is no easier weeknight meal than pasta. It’s like the sweatpants of cooking! You can kinda slouch into it with no real plan and you'll still have a great dinner.

Brussels Sprouts Carbonara
Brussels Sprouts Carbonara

And when it comes to pasta, keeping it simple is the rule to live by. Classic pasta dishes like cacio e pepe, pasta alla norma, and fettuccine alfredo all use a few inexpensive ingredients and just a bit of technique to give us magic deliciousness.

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But we also don’t have to feel stuck making only the classics, wonderful as they are. Let's learn from their tricks and see how we can use them as a base for pantry-cooking. Today, we'll start with carbonara, with it’s breakfast-y ingredients (bacon and eggs) as our base.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara by Brette Warshaw

Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara by Sara Jenkins

And to make our carbonara more exciting (and well-rounded), we’re going to roast some vegetables and toss them in with the noodles. Brussels sprouts were on sale at my market this week, so they were the natural choice. It also doesn’t hurt that the bitter and slightly sweet brussels go perfectly with bacon and eggs.

If you don’t have or enjoy brussels sprouts (or if you have leftover roasted vegetables in your fridge), other options abound. You will get a similar flavor result with one of their cousin brassica vegetables: broccoli, collards, kale, or even cauliflower. Spinach and Swiss chard will work well also—they are just less hardy and might do better sautéed on the stovetop rather than roasted in the oven.

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Brussels Sprouts Carbonara

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Serves 4 to 6
  • 1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, stemmed and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, and more to taste
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated and divided
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 4 pieces bacon
Go to Recipe

The “roast vegetables, toss with pasta” formula is one of the best places to expose yourself to a new or rarely-used vegetable. It’s low risk, since almost all vegetables taste great roasted, and most everything goes well with pasta—especially if you add enough cheese. If you are part of a CSA and don’t always know what to do with your vegetable bounty, try roasting first, then bam! Toss with pasta and you have a full meal with minimal fuss.

In short, choose a classic pasta dish you are comfortable with and think about how you could add one or more roasted vegetables to complement the flavors and meet your vegetable-eating goals.

Here are a few more combinations to try yourself:

When choosing your pasta shape, keep in mind that tubes and shaped pasta are better with chunkier vegetables and sauces and long noodles are better with smooth, thick sauces that cling to the noodles.

But at the end of the day, tossing the pasta with roasted vegetables is usually very flavorful as it is!

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This brussels sprouts carbonara turned out beautifully and I hope you enjoy it, but do let me know if you try any other combinations!