Ways to Elevate Your Pasta Dishes
Pasta is a beloved food enjoyed all over the world. The simplicity of pasta makes it a versatile base for endless possibilities when it comes to flavor and creativity.
While plain pasta with a bit of olive oil or butter can certainly hit the spot, there are so many ways to take your pasta dishes to the next level.
Elevating your pasta means enhancing it with herbs, spices, vegetables, proteins, and sauces that complement and bring out the best in the pasta. With a few small tweaks and additions, you can transform an ordinary pasta dish into something extraordinary.
The following are some of the best ways to add excitement and intrigue to your favorite pasta recipes.
Upgrade Your Pasta
While budget-friendly dried pasta works just fine, opting for artisanal or fresh pasta makes a noticeable difference. Fresh pasta has a tender, delicate texture and is often enriched with eggs. The added eggs give the pasta a rich, almost silky quality when cooked al dente.
Try swapping out standard spaghetti or penne for pappardelle, tagliatelle or ravioli. The wide, long ribbons of pappardelle are perfect for thicker, chunky sauces.
Tagliatelle’s slender shape grabs the subtle flavors of lighter olive oil or cream sauces. For convenience, look for premium dried pasta made with just durum wheat and water. Experiment with alternative pasta shapes like orecchiette, cavatelli, or campanelle for fun textures.
Make it Creamy
Creamy sauces instantly make pasta feel luxurious. Alfredo and carbonara are indulgent options. Classic Alfredo sauce is made by simmering heavy cream and butter with garlic, Parmesan, and nutmeg. The blend of dairy and cheese creates an ultra-rich, velvety sauce that coats the noodles.
Carbonara is an indulgent mix of egg, bacon, and cheese. Venturing beyond these traditional sauces, consider exploring the fresh, vibrant, and aromatic pesto sauce.
Made from basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, it pairs wonderfully with various pasta shapes. For those seeking lighter alternatives, Greek yogurt offers both a protein boost and a tangy flavor.
Pureed vegetables, like cauliflower or butternut squash, serve as the base for vegetable-centric cream sauces.
Take It Slow with Low and Slow Cooking
Slow braising is a fantastic technique for pasta dishes like Bolognese, beef ragu, or Sunday gravy. Low and slow cooking for several hours allows the sauce to develop a deep, complex flavor. As the meat simmers, the juices become rich, concentrated sauce.
Diced pancetta or bacon, milk, and seasonings slowly meld as the meat becomes fall-apart tender. The alcohol cooks off the wine as the dairy enriches the sauce. Scraps like prosciutto rinds or chicken wings add richness.
The collagen-rich extras act like flavor sponges. Serve over pappardelle or rigatoni. The thick, substantial noodles stand up well to the hearty sauce. Hands-off slow cooker pasta sauces are also a great option. The low heat and long cooking time give you a sauce that tastes like it simmered all day.
Sprinkle on Breadcrumbs
A topping of toasted breadcrumbs gives a crunchy, golden finish. Panko, Italian-style, or homemade crumbs pair well with creamy or olive oil-based sauces. The coarse texture contrasts nicely with smooth sauces.
For extra flavor, toast the crumbs with lemon zest, Parmesan, herbs, or chili flakes. The acidity of lemon brightens, while Parmesan adds a savory punch. Dried herbs like oregano, basil, or parsley give a fresh taste and aroma.
A pinch of red pepper flakes provides a subtle heat. Breadcrumbs are also great on pasta bakes and casseroles to help create a crispy top layer. As the dish bakes, the crumbs brown and crisp to develop a delicious roasted crunch.
Drizzle flavored oil over your pasta for instant aroma and taste. Infuse olive oil by slowly heating it with ingredients like sundried tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, or olives. The dried tomatoes and olives impart a briny, robust flavor. Garlic and rosemary provide a pleasant herbal note.
Let the oil cool before tossing through hot pasta so the fruity flavor doesn’t become bitter. Nut oils like walnut and hazelnut also add nuttiness. The toasted nut flavors pair perfectly with fall or winter kinds of pasta.
Truffle oil is perfect for special occasion pasta. A few drops of the decadent oil make pasta feel luxurious.
Transform your pasta into a hearty, comforting baked dish with a flavorful filling. Ideas include ricotta, goat cheese and spinach, ground beef and mozzarella, sausage and roasted veggies, or chicken and pesto.
The creamy cheeses, savory meats, and fresh herbs make delicious combinations. Cook the pasta only until al dente before assembling and baking the dish with cheese and sauce until bubbly. The slightly undercooked pasta finishes cooking fully in the oven.
Lasagna, manicotti, ravioli and cannelloni are all great stuffed pastas. The large sheets or pockets are perfect vessels for tasty fillings. Just be careful not to overstuff so the pasta cooks through.
Vegetarian pasta dishes are endlessly adaptable. Make a simple primavera with fresh vegetables, olive oil, garlic, and herbs. The summer veggies highlight the delicate pasta. Blend white beans, vegetable broth, and greens for a fiber-filled sauce. The beans provide plant-based protein. Top with an egg for protein.
A runny yolk enriches the dish or roast eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes with feta. The charred veggies and salty cheese make a Mediterranean-inspired meal. Nuts, seeds, and avocado offer healthy fats.
Sprinkle on pepitas or pine nuts for crunch. Explore pasta with seasonal produce like summer squash, artichokes, or mushrooms. Follow what looks best at the farmer’s market.
Finish with Flair
Make your pasta next-level with artful final touches. Shower microgreens, chopped herbs, or peppery arugula over the top. The fresh greens add texture and color contrast. Shave Parmesan into wispy ribbons with a vegetable peeler.
The delicate cheese shards melt gracefully. Include a side of crusty garlic bread as it sops up any extra sauce. Adorn pesto pasta with sliced bocconcini or burrata for an oozy center. The melted mozzarella or burrata creates a rich, creamy bite.
Grate lemon zest or dust with paprika or chili powder to add a pop of flavor and vibrancy. Elevate your pasta presentation with creative plating or serving styles. Make your table look like an Italian restaurant.
With endless ingredient combinations, techniques, and recipes to try, the possibilities are unlimited when it comes to pasta. Whether you want a quick weeknight dinner or impressive dinner party fare, pasta is the perfect blank canvas.
With a few simple tricks in your toolkit, you can transform basic noodles into restaurant-caliber works of art right at home.