Easy Weeknight Pasta Recipes

March 02, 2017 Cooking for the Family

Every Sunday of my childhood, my mother – Mom MacEachen, as we lovingly call her – spent the afternoon simmering our family’s signature sauce recipe. A simple, savory marinara sauce, it was the finishing touch on the rest of the supper we shared. A different cut of pasta each week, but always the same delicious, comforting sauce.

I still stir together the family sauce at least once a week, and I serve pasta even more than that. Smothered or dressed, twirled or baked, in soup or salad, pasta is absolutely one of my go-to weeknight dinners. There are endless possibilities, plus everyone in my family loves pasta anything.

I’m always playing with pasta, but I do have some hearty standby recipes. Here they are, for any day of the week:

Quick Creamy Pasta

It has been my experience that creamy pasta recipes are often the most versatile ones. They come together almost as fast as it takes to boil a pound of pasta. Even better, they can be pulled straight from the freezer and sautéed or baked to perfection in a flash. Plus, creamy pasta recipes make marvelous backdrops for assorted veggies and proteins.

When I’m prepping a creamy pasta dish, I multiply the recipe and wrap leftovers for last-minute meals. Usually I’ll reach for sautéed mushrooms and grilled chicken to toss with some linguine or fettucine, but roasted mushrooms, peppers, and steak and pork work very well too.

Healthy Pasta Salad

At any given moment, I’ve got all the makings of a simple pasta salad sitting in my fridge, like veggies, black olives and fresh herbs. Cold pasta salad is a quick and easy side for sandwich night, and it doesn’t take much to turn it into dinner itself. Just add beans (and pepperoni or cooked, crumbled bacon!) to give it extra heft and heartiness.

My secret to a winning pasta salad recipe is a deliciously flexible vinaigrette dressing. It’s not temperature sensitive, so it travels well to potlucks, tailgates and post-game activities. And pasta salad with vinaigrette dressing is great for lunchboxes too!

Freezer Casseroles

A meaty, cheesy pasta casserole is my lifesaver come early Friday evening. After a week of full-fledged family-schedule madness, there is just nothing better than a one-pan supper that everyone loves.

My crew’s favorite is a macaroni bake inspired by Taco Tuesday (also a perfect way to use up leftovers from Taco Tuesday!). I layer it with cooked and crumbled ground beef, turkey or chorizo, traditional taco fixings like beans, tomatoes and cheese, and something kicky like chopped green chilies. Topped with a dollop of sour cream, it’s the easy way for me to kick-start the weekend with my family.

Crowd-Pleasing Pasta Bar

I start with a backbone of pasta, bacon and beans – three ingredients the whole family likes – and let everyone personalize their pasta from there.

My one kid doesn't like tomatoes, the other swears he hates onions, and don't even get me started on green things. My husband and I love pesto pasta, but my kids won’t even look at it. So, I keep the tomatoes, the onions and all the green things (pesto, herbs, spinach, kale) on the side, and let everyone top their pasta their way. Then everyone’s bowl gets finished with the protein of the evening, from roasted pork to broiled steak to flaked tuna.

Because of easy pasta recipes like these, my family eats well every night of the week. On Sunday and every other day, this Mom MacEachen is especially pleased when her two-year-old requests pasta for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. It’s a longtime family tradition that I’ve expanded on – and it never lets any of us down.