In the mood for pasta? We’ve got you covered with our top pasta dinner ideas, from spaghetti to penne to good old mac and cheese.
Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for pasta. Are we right? And contrary to previous wisdom, pasta eaten in moderation can be part of a healthy diet (see below). Pasta is seriously versatile, and one of the most delicious ways to eat your veggies. Here we’ve got a collection of our best pasta dinner ideas ever: from gooey mac and cheese to
Is pasta healthy?
Have you been avoiding pasta because it’s not typically considered healthy? Good news: a new study found pasta can actually help you lose weight. The Italian researchers found that eaten in moderation, pasta can be part of a healthy diet. This is a full 180 of conventional wisdom, right? Here at A Couple Cooks, Alex and I have been enjoying pasta in moderation for years—so we’re glad it’s back in good graces!
How to cook pasta to al dente
Before we get on to these pasta dinner ideas…you must promise us that you will cook your pasta to al dente. Say it with us: “I will cook my pasta to al dente.”
What does al dente mean? In Italian it means “to the bite” and it refers to pasta that is still firm on the inside when cooked. You’ll find that al dente pasta tastes so much more satisfying: maybe because it’s a little more work to chew it? You may also find yourself eating less pasta because you have to bite through each piece. Here’s how to cook pasta to al dente:
- Boil the pasta in a large pot of boiling water.
- Start taste testing the pasta a few minutes before the package instructions indicate. The pasta should be tender, but still firm on the inside so that it has a little bite. (You may see a tiny bit of white on the inside of the pasta, which is good!)
- Once it’s ready, immediately drain it! Pasta can go past al dente in a matter of seconds.
Let’s get to the recipes: our top pasta dinner ideas!
First up in our pasta dinner ideas: a fan favorite! This mushroom pasta with goat cheese is turning heads everywhere. Said one reader, "This pasta was, in a word, “A W E S O M E”. It was so good, my husband had me make it again the next night! It’s so flavorful and delicious and super quick!" The pasta is smothered with creamy goat cheese, the mixed mushrooms are sauteed with fresh thyme and oregano until they’re super savory, and there’s a pop of fresh lemon to round it off.
What's a better pairing than tomatoes and basil? Even though this combo is super basic, it's satisfying every single time. Right? Just like a classic vanilla bean ice cream, tomatoes + basil is always an equation for success. Here's a pasta dinner idea that highlights them both, with a creamy balsamic sauce and savory Parmesan cheese. It's pretty darn perfect...and only takes 20 minutes to make.
This 20-minute creamy goat cheese pasta is so tangy and creamy, sweet from the tomatoes and lightly peppery from the fresh basil. The secret to the creaminess is that goat cheese, which brings a body to the sauce that’s almost like a vodka sauce. Combined with chewy penne, it’s out of this world! And best of all, you barely have to think to make it.
Got an Instant Pot? Make this pasta using our Creamy Instant Pot Pasta recipe.
The best recipes are the simplest, in our minds. And the simplicity of pesto pasta with homemade basil pesto, ripe juicy tomatoes, and a splash of cream can’t be beat. With seasonal ingredients, it will always, always taste beautiful and fresh. And that’s something we can’t get tired of! The silky smooth, savory basil pesto coats the tender pasta, punctuated by the pop of the cherry tomatoes. It's one of our favorite pasta dinner ideas.
Eat vegan? Here's a vegan version: Vegan Pesto Pasta
This mac and cheese is one of our top pasta dinner ideas because not only is it quick and simple, it's got a healthy spin! This one's made on the stovetop, with Greek yogurt is stirred in at the end for creaminess and protein. Fresh spinach is gently wilted in for all the added nutrients, and turmeric gives a tiny immunity boost and some extra color. And the flavor? Spot on delicious. The combination of cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese and garlic makes it taste sophisticated–but still tasty enough for kids!
This vegan spaghetti with creamy marinara sauce has a supremely savory sauce, where garlic, shallots, and capers all work together with cashew cream to make as much umami as possible in a vegan spaghetti recipe. It’s so.darn.good and a pasta dinner idea that's seriously simple to whip up.
Where are our ramen fans at? What's more comforting than steaming noodle bowls filled with colorful veggies and savory broth? Ramen is a traditional Japanese dish that’s an interpretation of Chinese noodles, but it has a Korean spin as well! This Korean ramen is one of our favorite vegan dinner recipes for its satisfying, savory flavor. Gochujang (Korean chili paste), peanut butter, miso and seaweed all work together to add major savoriness to the broth. It’s full of delicious colorful veggies and tofu, all piled onto chewy ramen noodles and topped with tangy quick pickled cucumbers.
Looking for a fast and easy pasta dinner recipe, where all you have to do is “set it and forget it”? This Instant Pot spaghetti recipe is times when you just don’t want to have to think about dinner. All it takes is just throwing all the ingredients in the pressure cooker! And the flavor? Take it from one of our readers, Erin, who said: “Oh my, I scraped the bowl clean on this one! The flavor was awesome and it was so easy, it was exactly what I needed right now.” Side bonus: it’s plant-based, too.
Here's a fancy spin on mac and cheese, featuring the sumptuous combination of roasted tomatoes and white cheddar cheese. The sharpness of the white cheddar cheese brings a sophistication, and the contrast of the bright roasted tomatoes is an unexpected flair. Another nice feature to this pasta dinner idea is that it doesn’t require baking time: simply make the mac and cheese, top with roasted tomatoes, and serve!
Pasta puttanesca is one of the most classic pasta dinner ideas there is! Not only is it easy to make, but its incredibly robust flavor also makes for a flavorful and satisfying meal. The key to this pasta puttanesca recipe is a tangy tomato sauce that's studded with briny Kalamata olives. If you’re not an olive person, we’d still give this one a try. They meld within the sauce to make for a wonderful, nuanced flavor.
These vegan meatballs are absolute cozy, comforting deliciousness, and please even the staunchest of meat eaters. The ingredients are simple: just oats, potatoes, cashews, garlic and spices, pan fried to crispy perfection! Serve them with spaghetti and the best marinara sauce you can find. And then top with our vegan Parmesan — it’s got the texture of shaker can Parmesan cheese, but it’s fully-plant-based and super savory. Mama mia!
What’s gemelli pasta? Gemelli is a type of short cut pasta, though it’s a bit longer than penne. It’s a single s-shaped strand twisted into a spiral. Here, fire roasted tomatoes make a quick, flavorful tomato sauce with garlic and basil, thrown over gemelli pasta with a sprinkling of feta cheese for a salty burst. Spinach and white beans add nutrients and flavor, resulting in a pasta dinner idea that's full of flavor with a healthy spin.
In Italian, orecchiette means “small ears”; it’s a small cup-shaped pasta. Here we’ve used it to make a lemon asparagus pasta with feta cheese and olive oil. What we’ve learned from our travels to Italy: simple is best. A few flavors elegantly combined can taste better than something that has taken all day to prepare. This orecchiette recipe takes just 7 ingredients and about 20 minutes to make. It’s so quick and simple it works for a weeknight meatless dinner, but it’s also elegant enough to serve for guests.
These vegetarian spinach meatballs are so, so delicious that you’ll want to eat the entire recipe yourself! The “meatballs” are made of spinach and feta, and have an almost meaty quality to them. Put them on spaghetti with a simple flavorful seasoning of soy sauce and butter and well, it's a pretty unbeatable recipe. We used summery cherry tomatoes here since we had them on hand, but you can omit them to make this recipe work all year round.
And last but certainly not least in our pasta dinner ideas is our spicy kale lasagna! This one is ooey, gooey, with a hint of spice and a huge crowd pleaser. The no-boil noodles to cut down on prep time, and cottage cheese is a twist on the classic ricotta filling. The earthy flavor of the kale is complemented by tangy tomato sauce and spicy red pepper flakes, making this pasta dish impossible to resist.
Looking for more pasta dinner ideas?
Those were just to get started! We have lots more pasta recipes where those came from:
- Simple Vegetarian Ramen
- Tomato Basil Pasta
- Peanut Noodles with Napa Cabbage Recipe
- Best Gouda Mac and Cheese
- Grilled Vegetable Pasta
- Pumpkin Vegetarian Stuffed Shells
- Summer Pasta with Zucchini
- Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- Mexican Lasagna
- Spicy Kale Lasagna
- 5 Minute Romesco Gnocchi
- Penne with Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
- Pumpkin Gnocchi Bake with Goat Cheese
- Italian Soup with Vegetables & Gnocchi
- Vegetarian Tortellini Soup
- Italian Vegan Pasta Salad
- Creamy Pasta Marinara
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.