If you're using self-isolation as a good excuse to curb your dining out habit and hone your cooking skills, you're not alone. A cruise through your Instagram feed should prove that pretty much everybody — from your close friends to the celebs you're following — is spending a lot more quality time in the kitchen. But don't stress, culinary novices, some of the best dishes also happen to be the simplest (ask any chef) and with a few easy pasta recipes under your belt, you can actually create a fancy, restaurant-quality meal in just minutes.
There's so much to love about a pasta dish. First of all, there's just something inherently cozy and comforting about them — even when they're not super rich. Besides that, they're the kind of meals you can create with pantry goods you've probably already got lying around. Thirdly, since most pastas cook in just a few minutes, it's a hearty dinner or lunch you can create even if you're tired or short on time.
And good news for gluten-free folks: The wheat-less options are better than ever (chickpea, brown rice, quinoa, the list goes on) so even those with celiac can join in with a plate of carbonara or cacio e pepe without sacrificing taste. Additionally, pastas can be a good go-to for vegetarians, too, since it's easy to sub in ingredients you want more of for the meats, even in the most popular recipes.
Ready to carb load? See ahead for seven easy-to-make pasta dishes — that are both delicious and will satisfy your desire for some culinary therapy — from the chefs and food experts who love 'em.
Easy Pasta Recipe: Cacio E Pepe
You really only need four things to make this classic pasta dish: Spaghetti (or your desired pasta), pecorino or parmesan cheese, butter, and black pepper (yes, there's salt, too, but that's a freebie.) The key to making it perfectly velvety, according to Chef Hunter Evans of Elvie's, is a little pasta water, which you can reserve after boiling your pasta and then add in at the end to melt all the ingredients together.
Easy Pasta Recipe: Pasta Melanzane
Jim Dunleavy, Director of Food & Beverage, Eatzi's Market & Bakery, turns to this dish in the summer, since that's when its star ingredient, eggplant, is at its peak. "First, peel and dice an eggplant, dice a tomato, and chop garlic," he explains. "Then, cook any small pasta to al dente. While the pasta is cooking, sauté the eggplant in olive oil, then add the tomatoes and garlic and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes are broken down. Drain the pasta and toss in the sauce, then remove from heat and toss with julienned basil. Season to taste and serve with fresh grated Parmesan.”
Easy Pasta Recipe: Sausage & Kale
Amanda Berrill, recipe developer, foods stylist, and personal chef based in Los Angeles, turns to this combo for a cozy dinner every time. Start by cooking your pasta to al dente, setting aside one cup of the starchy water. While that's going, brown your sausage (or desired ground meat) and set aside, leaving the remaining fat in the pan. "Reduce heat to medium, add a few cloves of minced garlic to the pan and sauté in the fat until fragrant and soft," she explains. "At this point you can add chopped kale and sauté until cooked through, adding salt and pepper to season."
Add your meat back in, followed by your pasta. Bring it all together with the pasta water, cooking down until you achieve a glossy sauce. "You can also throw in a tablespoon of unsalted butter to melt down and incorporate if you like," she adds. "Add more pasta water if needed, then top with a copious amount of finely grated parmesan, tossing to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed, adding a squeeze of lemon juice or sherry vinegar. Serve with even more parmesan on top."
Easy Pasta Recipe: Carbonara
For Chef Daniel Cutler of LA's Ronan, it's all about this creamy pasta that uses tempered egg yolks to achieve its glorious sauce. While you're cooking your pasta to al dente, the chef suggests prepping your sauce by separating a few egg yolks — reserving whites for an omelet in the morning, if you like. "Grind a few turns of the old pepper mill and temper the yolks with some pasta water by putting a little water in at a time, about a tablespoon per yolk," he explains. "This ensures you don’t curdle the yolks."
If you want to make a vegetarian version, go ahead and toss the strained pasta in the yolk mixture in a bowl, add some grated cheese and a splash of olive oil while stirring consistently, and voila. "If it’s too thick, add a little more pasta water," Cutler suggests. You can do as his wife, and add in some arugula to get your veggie fix, or if you want a meatier version, add guanciale, bacon, or ham — rendering it first and leaving out the extra olive oil.
Easy Pasta Recipe: Burrata Tortelloni
“Burrata Tortelloni is hands down my favorite type of pasta for the spring and summer," says Carlos Calderon, Brand Chef for North Italia, who makes versions of the dish to suit each season. "This dish yells classic tomato and cheese pairing with the creamy sweet filling and slightly sweet and acidic tomato sauce." Calderon tosses in fresh heirloom tomatoes during the summer but you can add whatever veggies you like.
Easy Pasta Recipe: Gluten-Free Shrimp Scampi
“My favorite pasta has been shrimp scampi with gluten-free fettuccine," shares Yunnie Kim Morena, restaurateur and blogger at KimChiAvocado, who grabs all the essentials for this meal from Trader Joe's. "The dish includes very simple ingredients that are in most refrigerators and pantries, like butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon, and white wine. Throw in a splash of white wine and drink the rest of the bottle with the finished product!”
Easy Pasta Recipe: Caramelized Shallot Pasta
Best-selling cookbook author Alison Roman (an absolute Insta-follow for foodies) has practically become synonymous with this simple (but unique) pasta recipe that was published on NYT Cooking. (find the complete instructions here). Start by caramelizing thinly sliced shallots and garlic for 15 to 20 minutes (just until softened and slightly golden), then melt in a can of anchovies and add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
Once dissolved, add a small (6-ounce) can of tomato paste, stirring consistently for about two minutes to avoid burning. Remove from heat and store half the sauce, leaving the rest in your pan. Then add your al dente-cooked pasta and add to the pan with a cup of pasta water, reducing until sauce thickens and clings to the pasta.