19 Easy Pasta Recipes We Make for Emergency Dinners

It’s 7 p.m. on a Monday. You’re opening and closing your fridge and cupboards, hoping that a meal will appear if you click your heels three times. When you don’t want to wait for delivery or go to the grocery store, there’s one thing you probably have on hand to make: pasta. Everybody has that one pasta dish they make when they’re desperate, but it doesn’t just have to be butter and Parmesan. (But it totally can be—we’re into that, too.) We polled Bon Appétit staffers to find out what easy pasta recipes they make when they’re scrounging for scraps in the kitchen, and hopefully it’ll inspire your next weeknight dinner to be just a little better. There’s no shame in the emergency pasta game.

Ways to Eat More Vegetables


Add more greens and beans to your pasta.

Michael Graydon & Nikole Herriott

“I doctor up a jar of pasta sauce with ground sausage or beef, random veg, can of garbanzo or cannellini beans, and a box of salad leftovers. I toss that with pasta scraps, aka all the random shapes we have in the cupboard mixed together. Nothing fancy.” —Amelia Rampe, assistant food editor

“My go-to is fake pesto-ish sauce: leftover spinach, avocado, olive oil, garlic, and lemon if it’s around. Blitz it all in a blender and then smother on whatever pasta.” —Carolina Mesarina, assistant to the creative director

“I brown any leftover butter I have to achieve a richer, nuttier sauce, then add some garlic and lots of spinach and cook those down. I’ll throw in a bit of Parmesan to thicken the sauce right before serving. I’ll eat it with spaghetti, topped with red pepper flakes and some extra fresh Parm.” —Jill Baughman, digital recipe editor

“I’ve been into throwing onions, lots of garlic, and kale into a pan and cooking that down and then adding it to some orzo and Pink Lady apple chunks. Apple adds a nice crispness (in flavor and texture) and acidity, which helps balance out the richness of garlicky kale and caramelized onions.” —Kate Fenoglio, design production associate

Grown-Up Butter + Cheese Sauce


Like Cacio e Pepe, but evensimpler.

“I start by emulsifying butter into pasta water and then toss long strands of pasta in the sauce until it’s completely coated. I then squeeze fresh lemon juice—and sometimes even microplane some zest on there—all over and add toasted breadcrumbs.” —Elizabeth Jaime, visuals editor

“I’ve started keeping stuffed pastas in my freezer at all times. I’m obsessed with an agnolotti filled with braised meats (that Andrew Knowlton turned me onto), and another that’s stuffed with prosciutto, both from Eataly. I buy a lot at a time, then freeze them on a parchment-lined sheet tray (so they don’t all stick together), then transfer them to a freezer bag. Then they’re always waiting when I need a quick dinner. I just cook them in boiling water, toss them with butter and Parm, and that’s it. Painfully easy and unfailingly delicious.” —Meryl Rothstein, senior editor

“All in one pan: butter, garlic, red pepper flakes, tender herbs like parsley or chives, anchovies, and salty cheese. Toss with bucatini and or some long shape—never flat pasta!—and add way too much black pepper.” —Andy Baraghani, senior food editor

“Lemons are my number one improve-any-meal ingredient, so I always have a few lying around. My go-to desperate pasta recipe, inspired by one of Melissa Clark’s, involves blanching and caramelizing a batch of lemon slices and then mixing them in with spaghetti, Parmesan, butter, chili flakes, whatever fresh herbs I have lying around, and pasta water to emulsify. It’s not exactly a nutritional powerhouse, but it is a tasty weeknight meal in a pinch.” —Julia Black, associate web editor

“I sauté some zucchini and shallots or garlic, then immediately add a ladleful of pasta water into the pan. I emulsify about 1-2 Tbsp. of miso paste into—sometimes with a little butter for richness—and finish with chives and Parm if I have them. It’s salty enough without the cheese, and could even be vegan without the butter.” —Alyse Whitney, associate web editor

Put an Egg On It

Silkiest Carbonara

Yes, we have a way to make carbonara easier for a weeknight.

Alex Lau

“My husband has perfected a pork-free carbonara that we throw together when we don’t have anything in the house or someone needs a bowl of warm feelings. While pasta is boiling, separate 2 or 3 egg yolks into a bowl and grate lots of Parm over them. Whisk together. When pasta is done, reserve a cup of pasta cooking liquid, then drain pasta and return it to the same hot pot. Mix in butter and about half of the pasta water, then add yolks and cheese and mix with more water until it’s creamy and emulsified.” —Carla Lalli Music, food director

“Fusilli with garlicky kale or spinach (that’s probably been wilting away in my fridge all week), lots of olive oil, and a fried egg for good measure. And red pepper flakes. And Gossip Girl reruns.” —Emily Schultz, associate social media manager

Freezer Raid


In a pinch, you could use frozen broccoli in your pasta.

Alex Lau

“I always have frozen Sun Noodle ramen and frozen stock for a good quick ramen base. I go kitchen sink style with whatever vegetables are around (I like zucchini and radishes) and a soft-boiled egg” —Brad Leone, test kitchen manager

“I turn to my freezer in times of need with a bunch of veg—broccoli, asparagus, green beans, corn, and carrots sautéed in ghee—and a Trader Joe’s Chicken Chile Lime burger. I toss it with pasta and top it with a sunny-side-up egg.” —Sam Siegfried, editorial business assistant

“I thought my aunt invented this genius pasta when I was a kid, so I make it sometimes for comfort: seashells and peas. Small shell pasta, frozen peas, butter, and garlic powder. That’s it.” —Claire Saffitz, senior food editor

“I boil Jovial brown rice gluten-free pasta—you wouldn’t know it’s not wheat!—and throw it in a pan with olive oil, chile flakes, anchovies, and garlic. Toss in some frozen peas, sprinkle with Parm or pecorino, and make quick dinner happen.” —Chris Morocco, senior food editor

Add Some Crunch


Breadcrumbs make any pasta dish better.

Michael Graydon & Nikole Herriott

“I always have panko breadcrumbs in my pantry and a carrot of unknown age (but probably at least a week older than it should be) in my crisper drawer. Dice and sauté the carrot, mix in with whatever shape of pasta, add olive oil, lots of panko, salt, lemon juice, and a fresh herb if it exists. I wouldn’t serve it at a dinner party but it fills me up and is just easy and totally fiiiine.” —Carey Polis, editor, bonappetit.com

“I go simple with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, red chile, and maybe a splash of red wine vinegar. I add whatever greens I have on hand (like kale or chard) and chopped almonds for crunch. Oh, and pre-grated Parm is always in the freezer to sprinkle on at the end. —Eleanor Park, test kitchen contributor

“The ultimate no-cook pasta uses hand-crushed canned tomatoes, drained and rinsed white beans, whatever hardy green you have on hand (spinach or arugula works), garlic powder, red pepper flakes, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of pasta water, and Parm. Top it all with panko or toasted baguette crumbs. It takes like 13 minutes to make, including pasta cooking time, and you can make it in one pan.” —Alex Delany, assistant web editor

Speaking of no-cook pasta…

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