Pasta Basics For All Year Round

Weeknight Cooking

How to Build a Pasta-Ready Pantry (And Skip the Mid-Week Slump)

June 21, 2017

By keeping a few quality ingredients on hand, you can quickly transform your dinners every night of the week. We partnered with Johnsonville to share a few ways we like to change it up with pasta.

Quick and flavorful weeknight pasta dinners (which I'm kind of known for) can come together easily with a well-stocked pantry and seasonal ingredients, especially during summer when the produce is bountiful.

The three ingredients that I keep at arm’s length—good quality olive oil, garlic, and freshly-grated cheese (like Pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano)—are what I recommend to always have on hand to get out of a mid-week jam. An assortment of fresh herbs such as basil, mint, and chives, or toasted, crunchy nuts, and flaky salt are also wonderful for finishing a dish, so those are good to have around, too. These small additions add brightness and texture, and will take your pastas from good to great.

Photo by James Ransom, Graphic by Tim McSweeney

The best thing about utilizing in-season, peak produce is that you don’t have to do much to show it off. The old adage “what grows together goes together” couldn’t ring truer, especially with what you're tossing in pasta.

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Grab one or more of your pantry (and fridge) workhorses (like cheese, garlic, nuts, and herbs) and pick a favorite pasta shape. Vegetables can be used interchangeably, such as asparagus, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, or leafy, wilt-able greens like kale, spinach, and arugula. Tossing in a summer-appropriate meat, like sausage, is never a bad idea as it adds a subtle, smoky flavor. Generally, I use meat in pasta like an accessory—after all, an outfit can only be so good without the perfect shoe or bag tying it all together. Same theory here!

Once you learn what flavor profiles work well together (use the image and recipes above as a good starting point!), you’ll be able to think on your toes to create simple, delicious meals that showcase late spring and early summer produce. When fall and winter come, you'll be ready to go at it again.

Here are a few more tips for pulling together perfect pastas:

Salt your pasta water well. I recommend two tablespoons of Kosher salt, at least. Taste your water before dropping the pasta, it should be salty like the sea. (We've heard that before!)

Cook your pasta al dente, which translates “to the tooth,” so it maintains texture. Nobody likes soggy pasta.

Save your pasta water! (I repeat: Save your pasta water!) The salty, starchy water is the key for bringing your sauce together. The salty pasta water adds more seasoning to your dish and also helps to loosen up the sauce.

Finish your pasta dish in a stovetop skillet. Toss all the ingredients together, gradually pouring in small amounts of pasta water until you reach a desired consistency. Sprinkle in cheese (if using) and toss again. Your finished pasta should be glossy.

Johnsonville's all-natural, cooked dinner sausages (no fillers here!) come in styles like Three Cheese Italian, Chorizo, Andouille, and Smoked so you can do summery pastas every which way. Read more about their products here.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Colu Henry

Written by: Colu Henry


Cookie July 2, 2017
Wow, Johnsonville processed “sausage”?? Really? This is not by any stretch of the imagination an "all natural" product, that statement is flatly untrue. Go to their webpage and look at the ingredients if you are unsure. Johnsonsville produces highly processed, unhealthy, chemical-laden meat products, full of MSG, sodium nitrite, propyl gallate, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, corn syrup, and other extremely unhealthy food additives, to name just a few. "No fillers" only means there is no snouts, beaks, offal, or other non-flesh ingredients, but it is far from "all natural." And frankly, it tastes like you would expect: horrible. There is no way Food52 editors are actually cooking with this stuff. Don’t ruin these recipes with processed “meat,” --buy your sausage at a local grocer or a farmer’s market.
I know I speak for a lot of us when I say we love Food52 because we know we can count on food writing that focuses on fresh, unprocessed, healthy, whole ingredients. Content marketing is one thing, but this article, actually disguising an advertisement for unhealthy, processed meat as food journalism, is an unhappy surprise. I sure hope this doesn’t represent a new trend in Food52’s writing.
Rprp July 1, 2017
all great ideas, but to me a ready pantry for quick meals, pasta or otherwise, MUST have canned tuna (preferably, but not necessarily, Italian, in olive oil); canned cannelini beans,tomato paste and onions.