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Make it an epic pasta night with recipes for sauces, salads and more

30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs, listed below. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post)

Pasta is a beloved staple of American weeknight cooking, and for good reason — it’s often the path to a quick, simple meal that can be adapted easily to suit a family’s or an individual’s taste.

But a pasta night can be a spectacular event, too. Sometimes that means making your own pasta from scratch, or making a knockout sauce. Maybe it even means rounding out a meal with sides, so the pasta can play against other flavors at the table.

The perfect pasta night spread is within reach; below, you’ll find recipes for the best pasta night ever. Mix and match to your needs — you don’t have to make pasta from scratch, but maybe you want to. Maybe you’ll pair it with the sauce that you have in the freezer, or maybe you’ll pick up a fun new pasta shape from the market and match it with a sauce you’ve never tried before. Perhaps, you’ll like a sharp, vinegary salad alongside the meal, or crisp, buttery garlic bread. Tell us your perfect pasta night menu in the comments!


Like I said, you don’t have to make your own pasta. But if you have the time and will, it can be a fun experiment! If you’re not down to make your own pasta, feel free to skip over this section and get straight to sauce ideas.

Fresh Egg Pasta for Lasagna, pictured. Yes, this is “for lasagna,” but you can use this recipe from cookbook author Domenica Marchetti to make all sorts of shapes, including ravioli.

Fresh Spinach Pasta for Lasagna. Like the above, but in a gorgeous green hue, thanks to spinach.

Basic Buckwheat Pasta. Want to try something a little different? This dough uses buckwheat to impart a rustic, earthy flavor.

Cavatelli Pugliesi. This is one of the simpler shapes to make by hand, with ridges to hold sauces. Use a ridged gnocchi board, a carved cavarola board or a more common kitchen tool such as the small-holed side of a box grater or even a Microplane.

Ligurian Corzetti. Consider these “pasta coins” — after you make and roll out the dough, you can use a corzetti stamp or any kind of embossing tool to create a design, then use a cookie cutter to cut round shapes.

Ricotta Gnocchi With Leeks and Peas. Potato gnocchi can be harder to get right, but ricotta gnocchi is a far simpler introduction to making these little pasta dumplings.

Gluten-Free Pappardelle With Mushrooms. No gluten? No problem! Take the gluten-free pasta recipe nestled within this dish and use it for whatever you like.

A detour … for fillings!

Once you have a pasta dough, you may want to try your hand at making ravioli or other filled pastas. What can you put in there? So many things! Consider stuffing with Creamy Fresh Ricotta, or if dairy doesn’t work for you, make a vegan version like this Tofu Ricotta or flavorful Vegan Artichoke Tofu Ricotta. You could also consider roasting and mashing squash for a filling, seasoning however you please. Pesto would work, too! This is an opportunity to get creative — experiment with spices, zests and/or herbs to make a filling that you’ll enjoy. Lay a sheet of pasta out flat, add a tablespoon of filling every few inches along, lay another sheet on top, then gently press down around the filling and cut out your ravioli shapes.


Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce III, pictured. Marcella Hazan is the go-to for classic Italian recipes for good reason. This sauce is perhaps the platonic ideal for a red, tomato-based pasta sauce.

Big-Batch Pantry-Friendly Tomato Sauce. Make an absolutely enormous batch of pasta sauce that you can freeze for so many uses.

Classic Basil Pesto. We had to include pesto! This sauce has a sincere, dedicated fandom. If you’re a basil-pesto purist, this classic iteration sticks to tradition. And if you’re not? Try something different like Dandelion Greens Pesto or Mustard Greens + Pecan Pesto. Or take the middle route and make Summer Tomato and Basil Pasta With Pine Nut Sauce, which essentially uses a deconstructed pesto.

Pasta Romesco With Spinach. Romesco sauce in pasta? We say yes, because it’s so delicious. Blend roasted red bell pepper with garlic, tomato paste, almonds and a few more ingredients for this lovely sauce.

Penne Alla Vodka With Chicken. Pasta alla vodka has been in and out of the trend cycle for a while now. A flash in the ’90s made it a popular dish, then Refinery29 published a piece in 2017 about how the pasta could, um, prelude romantic activity. And then it came back once more on social media when model Gigi Hadid posted an Instagram story last year to show people how to make her spicy version of pasta alla vodka. We can’t get rid of this sauce, and frankly it’s so good, we don’t want to. Feel free to leave out the chicken if you don’t want it.

30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs, pictured at the top. We can’t leave out spaghetti and meatballs! How else will you have your “Lady and the Tramp” moment?

Our best meatball recipes using beef, turkey, chicken, mushrooms and more

Shrimp and Linguine Fra Diavolo. Spicy, tomato-saucy shrimp atop linguine from none other than the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten? How could you resist, really?

Classic Ragu Bolognese. Writer Leslie Brenner was on the hunt for her perfect ragu Bolognese. This one is it. But if you’d like something a little different, you could try this sumptuous Braised Lamb Ragu or this far more weeknight-friendly Turkey and Kale Ragu.

Spaghetti Puttanesca With Cannellini Beans. Briny from anchovies, olives and capers, puttanesca is a versatile and delicious sauce to have in your arsenal. Include beans for extra protein, or skip them! Up to you.

Creamy Cannellini Bean Rigatoni. If you want a creamy sauce but don’t do dairy, creamy white cannellini beans are your answer!

A detour for … pan sauces!

Sometimes you don’t want a thick layer of sauce on everything — a quick sauté of veggies, possibly with legumes, held together with a little emulsion of pasta water and the fat in the pan is what you want. In that case, consider following the instructions in these recipes for Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils), Cascatelli With Green Olives, Calabrian Chiles and Lemony Tuna, Pasta With Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Eggplant or Pasta With Caramelized Pears and Gorgonzola. Or perhaps you want something that feels a little more brothy, but is very firmly not soup? Make Linguine alle Vongole (Linguine With Clams).

Starters and sides

We said a spread and we meant it! This batch of recipes includes salad recipes to add fresh crunch to the plate, as well as a few protein-heavy side dishes to counter vegetable-laden pastas and, of course, garlic bread. We love garlic.

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Nancy’s Italian Chopped Salad, pictured. This mix of bitter greens, umami-rich salami, chickpeas, red onion and more in a tangy red wine vinaigrette makes you just want more.

Retro Caesar Salad. It’s a classic salad for a reason! Have a simple Caesar at the table, a nod to red-sauce joints.

6 Caesar salad recipes that range from classic to unexpected

Muffuletta Salad. This briny, olive-laden salad will be a nice accompaniment to the table.

Herbs and Their Stems Salad. A light pileup of fresh herbs will be delicious, bright counterpoint to a rich pasta.

Roasted Garlic Soup. Start your meal with a hot cup of garlic soup. Why not?

White Bean Soup With Calabrian Chile Oil. This creamy white bean soup has spicy drizzle of chile oil on top.

Spring Vegetable Soup. A light celebration of springtime’s best starts your meal off right.

Triple Garlic Bread. Not just garlic bread. We’re tripling the garlic here with fresh, roasted and powdered garlic packing a punch.

Garlicky Broccoli and Beans With Pesto. This pesto-laced bean dish is ultra-quick thanks to a neat blanching trick with a kettle.

Pureed Fava Beans With Crostini. Fresh fava beans make this beautiful, pale green spread for crostini. You can also top your toasts with other creamy toppings; think Whipped Ricotta Toasts With Green Garlic, Peas and Prosciutto or Sweet Pea Toasts With Feta. You could even make a flavorful Mushroom Pâté!

Shrimp and White Bean Bruschetta. All you need for this recipe is a sheet pan and a mixing bowl! Toast your toasts (up to two days ahead), then roast your shrimp, beans and tomatoes together and top those toasts.


Go on and take a break before scrolling through your dessert menu. Sometimes, even after a rich, filling meal, you may still want to satisfy your sweet tooth, and who are we to stand in your way? We’ve provided options that range from bright and light to decadent.

Summer Fruit Semifreddo, pictured. When you want the vibe of ice cream without all the work, you can make semifreddo using some good-quality fruit. This one relies on summer fruit, so bookmark it for the day when stone fruit and berries are ripe and ready.

Tiramisu. When tiramisu is good, it’s sublime. When it’s bad … it’s really bad. Thankfully, this fluffy, rich dessert is phenomenal.

Ricotta Cream. Listen. Don’t make cannoli from scratch. Leave that to the professionals. Make the ricotta cream that’s piped in there, though, and use pizzelle cookies as a vehicle for scooping it up.

Amaretti Dipped in Ruby Ganache. These cookies are simple and gorgeous — and an excellent option for dipping in a post-dinner coffee. If you don’t feel like hunting down ruby chocolate, go ahead and use whatever chocolate you like.

Bomboloni. These small, round little Italian doughnuts are the ideal pop of sweetness for the end of a meal.

Grilled Peaches With Basil Mascarpone. Light, aromatic and juicy, these gorgeous grilled peaches are a bright way to finish your evening without sending you straight to bed.

Granita di Caffe. An icy, coffee-based granita can be just what you need after a hot meal.