Dinner Tonight

18 Weeknight Pastas You Can MacGyver Out of Anything in Your Pantry

September 13, 2018

We all have those days, ones where we just need something (anything!) to go our way. Cooking is one small way to manage, allowing a recipe to take us into a moment of peace. The easier, the better. And what's easier than pasta?

Now, I don't just mean a jar of marinara. (Don’t get me wrong, I love that, too.) But I’m confident—nay, convinced—that no matter how bare your fridge and pantry, if you have a box of pasta, you have dinner.

Italian food is all about simplicity. You know, less-is-more ingredient lists, fuss-free techniques. That’s what makes pasta such a got-home-from-work-late champ. Put a pot of water on the stove. Figure the rest out between then and when the timer strikes al dente.

And drink a glass of wine while doing it.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“After that drunken bath, the cooked noodles are tossed in a skillet with olive oil and sautéed garlic...a touch more wine pasta water to keep it loose and creamy makes it magical. We like to gild the lilly with a knob of high quality butter and of course a generous shower of parm. Truly a fantastic dish and gorgeous as well.”
— Kate R.

Here are my 6 most tried-and-true ingredients, plus a recipe to show each off. Use these suggestions less like a rulebook and more like a playbook. (Emphasis on play.)

if you have eggs...

The formula: 1/4 pound pasta + 2 fried eggs
We learned this trick from our co-founder Amanda’s sister Rhonda, who learned it from [Naples at Table] by Arthur Schwartz. Permission to eat pasta for breakfast: granted. (Sorry, toast.) Rhonda tops her version with pangrattato, or olive oil–fried breadcrumbs with lemon zest and herbs.

The possibilities:
Spaghetti + crispy bacon + fried eggs + crumbled toast
Rigatoni + so much lemony sautéed kale + fried eggs
Bucatini + miso–brown butter + fried eggs + nori pieces

if you have canned tuna...

The formula: 1/2 pound pasta + 1 can tuna
Better than George Clooney? You have to try it to believe it. Food52er boulangere had this “best thing I have ever tasted in my entire life” combination on her first night in Florence. She adds in pan-fried tomatoes, wilted spinach, and lemon juice.

The possibilities:
Linguine + olive oil + canned tuna + parsley
Bucatini + tomato sauce + canned tuna + olives
Penne + lemony mayo + canned tuna + capers

if you have yogurt...

The formula: 1/2 pound pasta + 1 cup Greek yogurt
Saved by our community members 1,845 times, it’s safe to say you’re as obsessed with Diane Kochilas’ yogurt pasta as we are. The creamiest, dreamiest sauce comes together like that (snaps fingers) and we love its tangy, bright flavor. Just don’t forget to save the pasta water to thin the yogurt—it makes the dish.

The possibilities:
Shells + Greek yogurt + frozen peas + mint (like this)
Tagliatelle + Greek yogurt + sautéed spinach (like this)
Rigatoni + Greek yogurt + tons of lemon zest + pecorino

if you have alliums...

The formula: 3/4 pound pasta + 1 1/2 pounds alliums
The recipe above knows this, too: Cooked-into-oblivion alliums are a pasta’s best friend. They also last a lifetime a while in your pantry, so you probably always have some around. This version, adapted from Beard on Pasta cooks a boatload of onions for 1 hour (yep, 1 hour!), stirs in some booze, and tops the whole thing off with cheese.

The possibilities:
Tagliatelle + braised leeks + fried breadcrumbs
Penne + braised red onions + radicchio + Manchego
Pappardelle + onions + minced anchovies

if you have cheese...

The formula: 1 pound pasta + 1 1/2 cups grated cheese
Cacio e pepe is the lazy way to make mac and cheese. And I mean that as a compliment. Most recipes opt for Pecorino Romano, but who are you if not a rule-breaker? Try Parmesan, asiago, even fontina or Gruyère or extra-sharp cheddar. And the pepper? Feel free to showcase another spice, too—just add to taste.

The possibilities:
Bucatini + Pecorino Romano + ground pink pepper
Penne + cheddar + ground mustard + ground cayenne
Fusilli + Gruyère + crushed, toasted fennel seeds

if you have canned beans...

The formula: 1/2 cup bean-sized pasta + 1 can beans
You know what’s just as shelf-stable as pasta? Beans. Victoria Granof’s Pasta con Ceci takes chickpeas, tomato pasta, garlic, and olive oil and makes dinner magic. But chickpeas don’t deserve all the fun. (A lot of it, sure, but not all of it.)

The possibilities:
Orzo + white beans + olive oil + lemon zest + dill
Elbows + pintos + sautéed kielbasa, bell peppers
Ditalini + chickpeas + any-greens pesto

Martha Stewart's Genius One-Pan Pasta

What's your go-to pantry pasta? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Mary September 30, 2018
My grandmother in Italy (Puglia) would cook on purpose! It was her mission for the day! But sometimes if she had leftover veggies from the previous day, she would sauté in her own olive oil, peppers, onions, carrots, grated day old bread (the big round loaf delivered by the bread boy kind), garlic and a bit of anchovy and red pepper flakes and dress it with parm cut from the wheel she had hanging in her cold storage. It was the best food ever. I still make this dish. The ingredients will never compare to hers but it’s close.
Emma L. September 30, 2018
That's such a special memory, Mary—thanks for sharing. Wish I could eat those veggies right now!
Kate R. September 30, 2018
One “go to” in our home is pasta boiled in red wine. After that drunken bath, the cooked noodles are tossed in a skillet with olive oil and sautéed garlic...a touch more wine pasta water to keep it loose and creamy makes it magical. We like to gild the lilly with a knob of high quality butter and of course a generous shower of parm. Truly a fantastic dish and gorgeous as well.
Emma L. September 30, 2018
Oh my gosh. Need this ASAP. Do you use all red wine? Or cut some of it with water? Cannot wait to try—thank you for sharing!
Irene September 30, 2018
I'n fascinated by this too! The web says it’s called Drunken Spaghetti, All'Ubriaco and there are recipes at Food and Wine and Saveur. I’m in!
Kate R. October 1, 2018
I use about 3 parts wine to one part water. Definitely try it Emma😄
Emma L. October 1, 2018
Thanks, Kate!!
Hollis R. September 19, 2018
bowtie pasta mixed with butter, salt, and cottage cheese. delicious. even better from the fridge -- melt butter in a pan, throw in the pasta, and saute it up til the pasta gets a bit crunchy around the edges and the cheese melts into elongated strings. pure heaven!
maggie September 14, 2018
Martha Stewarts 4 garlic pasta!!!! Has saved the day (dinner) numerous times and is soooo very delicious
weshook September 14, 2018
Our tuna and pasta when I was a kid had bacon (some of the bacon grease), garlic, tuna, pepper and sometimes frozen peas if we had them.
Emma L. September 14, 2018
Whoa! I haven't tried that. And must!