Need pasta recipes? Here are all the best easy pasta dinner ideas, from spaghetti marinara to good old mac and cheese — in order of cook time!
In the mood for easy pasta recipes? Us too. Contrary to previous wisdom, pasta eaten in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Pasta is seriously versatile, and one of the most delicious ways to eat your veggies. Here we’ve got a collection of our best easy pasta dinner ideas! From simple pasta marinara to a veggie-filled spring roll noodle bowl to cozy mac and cheese, there’s something for everyone.
Is pasta healthy?
Have you been avoiding eating pasta recipes 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? 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 easy pasta dinner recipes…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.
Recipes shown in order of cook time
Now, a pasta recipe can be easy but take 1 hour, or a recipe can be easy and take 20 minutes! Time is not really of the essence when it comes to pasta. However, we know that most people assume that easy means quick. Below, the recipe are listed in order of cook time from shortest to longest. That way, you’ll know that fast and easy pasta recipes are first, and the total time gradually climbs as you scroll down the list. Ready to cook?
First up in our easy pasta recipes for dinner: pasta marinara! It's ultra flavorful, with a tangy sweetness from fire-roasted tomatoes, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. To add a hit of nutrients and make it into an easy weeknight meal, there’s a few handfuls of spinach thrown in. It all comes together into a cozy dinner that everyone around the table loves.
Take it from one of our readers, Erin, who said: “Oh my, I scraped the bowl clean on this one! The flavor was awesome.” Got a pressure cooker? Make our Instant Pot Spaghetti.
This Creamy Gnocchi is one of our very favorite easy pasta dinner ideas. It takes just minutes to make the sauce, and the gnocchi boil up in 3 minutes. The flavor? It tastes like the fanciest ever mac and cheese: but takes literally no effort at all. It's modeled after the famous Italian recipe, Cacio e Pepe pasta (literally “cheese and pepper pasta” in Italian). Our version uses chewy gnocchi dumpling-style pasta and it’s simply to die for.
Next up in our pasta dinner ideas: a fan favorite! This seriously pesto havarti mac and cheese is just as gooey as it looks, and adding a swirl of bright green basil pesto takes it to genius status. This is one of our best pasta recipes because everyone who tastes it becomes a believer. The way that the Havarti cheese melts in makes the creamiest sauce.
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 an easy 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 easy 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. You can also make this pasta using our Creamy Instant Pot Pasta recipe.
This mushroom pasta with goat cheese recipe 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.
Your noodles are destined for greatness with this vegan fettuccine alfredo! It’s creamy and luscious, but full of nutrient-rich cauliflower and protein-packed cashews. Another advantage to this vegan alfredo sauce is that it’s gluten-free as well! Many alfredo sauce recipes have flour because it’s used to make the “roux” that thickens the sauce. Said one reader: “YUM! I love it! It’s super easy to make. I made it again 2 days later!”
Pasta puttanesca is one of the most classic easy 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.
This easy mac and cheese recipe 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 both sophisticated and comforting.
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 easy pasta dinner ideas. Eat vegan?Try our Vegan Pesto Pasta.
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 easy orecchiette pasta recipe takes just 7 ingredients and about 20 minutes to make. It’s so quick and simple it works for a weeknight dinner, but it’s also elegant enough to serve for guests.
Here’s a flavor-packed pasta dinner idea you can make in no time: miso ramen! This one is quicker and easier than most, relying on miso paste for big flavor in a short cook time: just 30 minutes. The broth is so savory, flavored with soy sauce, mirin, and a little coconut milk to make it creamy. Top with a soft boiled egg and you’ve got comfort food to the max! (For a plant-based version, go to Tofu Ramen or Mushroom Ramen.)
Gemelli is a type of short cut pasta: 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 dinner idea that's full of flavor with a healthy twist.
Here’s a tasty pasta recipe that’s comfort food with a healthy spin: our creamy cavatappi pasta! Cavatappi is corkscrew shaped pasta, and it's paired with a creamy cauliflower sauce that coats the noodles perfectly. It’s cheesy but not too rich, made with cauliflower to infuse all the nutrients in this healthy veggie. It's perfect as a weeknight pasta dinner, but fancy enough for entertaining. For a plant-based and vegan option, use our Vegan Alfredo Sauce.
This eggplant pasta has got it all! This vegan recipe is packed with savory and zesty flavor: tender roasted eggplant, zesty marinara sauce, peppery basil, and salty capers. This Mediterranean-style dinner is incredibly versatile: it works for weeknights and for serving to company! It’s cozy yet elegant all at once. We used a pasta shape called mafaldine, but you can use any shape you have on hand, long or short.
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 easy to whip up.
This vegan spaghetti and meatballs is the absolute most cozy of dinner ideas, and pleases 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!
Another top pasta dinner recipe: butternut squash pasta! Here tender butternut squash is pureed into a creamy sauce with garlic, spices, and goat cheese. It’s savory with a sweet undertone, and the perfect sauce to cover al dente pasta. It’s a little like mac and cheese, but a little sweeter and loads healthier.
Here's a fantastic pasta dinner idea: Roasted Cauliflower Pasta! It’s got tender, caramelized roasted cauliflower: sweet, lemony and garlicky. Then it’s got al dente pasta that’s covered in a quick Parmesan pan sauce. Top it all off with crunchy basil breadcrumbs and toasted pine nuts and it’s an explosion of flavor.
When we say explosion of flavor, we mean it! This noodle bowl recipe is everything that’s great about a spring roll, in bowl form. There’s the contrast of crisp veggies, tender noodles, and crunchy crushed peanuts, and an herbaceous punch from the trio of basil, cilantro and mint. A zingy garlic lime sauce infuses a gingery, citrusy goodness throughout, and it's mixed with our easy marinated tofu.
Honestly, we’re a little speechless with this one. It's a fantastic pasta dinner idea that works for weeknights or entertaining (and it saves well for lunches).
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 easy pasta dinner recipe is that it doesn’t require baking time: simply make the mac and cheese, top with roasted tomatoes, and serve!
This creamy vodka sauce will shoot you to Italian grandmother status in no time. It's simmered with garlic and basil, served over rigatoni with lots of Parmesan. The secret? Simmer the sauce for 1 hour!You don't see a lot of long simmers on our website, since we're into fast and easy dinner recipes. But guess what?
Even more than fast and easy, we’re obsessed with flavor. This vodka sauce pasta is so seriously full of flavor, it’s worth every second of that simmer. And what says “you’re special” more than a 1 hour simmered pasta? Serve with our Favorite Chopped Salad.
Here’s a pasta dinner idea that marries basic Italian flavors into a mess of garlicky, gooey goodness: Baked Rigatoni! It’s a pasta bake that’s got all the comfort of tomato sauce and cheese, but has intrigue and uniqueness in the flavors. The tomato sauce is full of garlic and a little fennel for meatiness, and it’s got lots of fresh peppery basil for a herbaceous kick. Cover it in gooey mozzarella cheese and you’ve got a dish that’s hearty enough to please any eater.
A favorite in our easy pasta dinner ideas is our spicy kale lasagna! This one is ooey, gooey, with a hint of spice and a huge crowd pleaser. While it's not speedy, it's an easy pasta recipe and you can clean up while it bakes!
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 dish impossible to resist.
Last but certainly not least...a plant based version of this popular pasta! This vegan lasagna will become your new favorite! It's layered with tangy tomato sauce, savory mushrooms and spinach, and creamy hummus (instead of a ricotta layer). Then it's topped with vegan "Parmesan" made with ground cashews. It's a fan favorite! It saves well, so you can freeze leftovers and enjoy for days.
A few make ahead tips: make the spinach and mushroom filling and vegan Parmesan in advance. The day of, simply layer with sauce and bake!
Parmesan cheese or goat cheese crumbles, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta until it is al dente (start tasting a few minutes before the package recommends: you want it to be tender but still a little firm on the inside). Then drain.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, place the crushed tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, oregano, kosher salt, whole basil leaves and spinach (if using). Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer 15 minutes.
Pour the marinara sauce over the pasta. Garnish with chopped basil. If desired, serve with Parmesan cheese or goat cheese crumbles: but it’s just as good without!
Keywords: Pasta Dinner Ideas, Easy Pasta Recipes for Dinner, Pasta Marinara, Homemade Marinara, Marinara Pasta
Looking for more pasta dinner recipes?
Those were just to get started! We have lots more pasta recipes where those came from:
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.