4 Pasta Recipes That Are Faster and Healthier Than Boxed Mac 'n Cheese

Chow on 07.30.12
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We've been eating a lot of pasta lately. It's all my three-year-old son asks for, and the baby seems to get fussy right at noon, so I'm happy to oblige. On goes the pot of water, in goes the pasta, and I start rummaging around the pantry and fridge in search of ingredients for a sauce. I've become a true master of the instantaneous pasta lunch. Within twelve minutes, I've usually figured out what to add. These are the top four favourites that get rotated on a regular basis in our house. 

1. Pasta with Tuna

Open and drain a can of tuna (or salmon). Add enough hot, drained pasta, such as rotini or penne, for two people. Pour in 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (a key ingredient here, so don't worry about it seeming like a lot). Season with black pepper, kosher salt, and a handful of freshly grated Parmesan. Sometimes I add another handful of greens, like arugula or sautéed kale, if I have time.

2. Pasta with Tomatoes and Bacon

Sauté 3-4 strips of bacon, a sausage, or 1/4 cup pancetta or diced ham. Remove from the pan. Sauté 2 cloves minced garlic, add a can of tomatoes, and simmer for a few minutes. Add meat and toss it all together with hot, drained pasta (rotini or penne), enough for 2 people. Season with pepper, salt, and Parmesan.

3. Pasta with Pesto

Grab a generous handful (about 1 cup lightly packed) of fresh basil leaves, cilantro, or arugula, or 1/3 cup roughly chopped garlic scapes. Blend it with 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and 2 tbsp pine nuts or walnuts to make a paste. You may have to add more oil to get the right consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with hot, drained pasta -- spaghetti or linguine are good -- and add grated Parmesan to taste.

4. Pasta with Olive Oil and Garlic

Sauté 2 cloves minced garlic and 1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes. Add 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Add to hot, drained pasta (both long and short varieties work here), along with 2-3 tbsp of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and freshly grated Parmesan. Sometimes I add extra ingredients to boost the flavour a bit, like 2 tbsp sliced olives, a couple of minced anchovy fillets, or 1 tbsp capers, or 1/2 cup sauteéd greens or fresh arugula.

Each recipe makes enough for 1 hungry parent and 1 hungry kid. Measurements are all approximate and ingredients flexible, so don't hesitate to tweak the recipes to satisfy any picky eaters. You can't go wrong with these standbys. Not only can the kids help you with these and get fed, but you, as the parent, won't feel like you've settled for anything less than a gourmet lunch!

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