For pasta lovers like me, Sundays are for long-simmered ragùs, and, when I’m feeling really ambitious, homemade noodles. For the rest of the week, thankfully, there are boxed pastas and pantry sauces I can pull together in about the time it takes to boil a pot of water.

Pasta is a great vehicle for seasonal vegetables: peas and asparagus now, eggplant and peppers in summer, hearty greens in fall. But it also lets you get creative with everyday supermarket staples such as lemons and cherry tomatoes from the produce aisle, salmon from the fish counter and bacon from the deli. Plus cheese — don’t forget cheese. Pasta and cheese love each other. In fact, if all you have on hand is a box of pasta and a wedge of cheese, you can still make a nice dish of pasta.

The array of pasta shapes available, including fat, rustic bucatini and elegant farfalle (bowties), to name a couple of my favorites, gives you even more to play around with.

Start with this recipe. Check out my BLT BucatiniLemon Spaghettini and Farfalle With Salmon Peas and Sage, and then add your own spin. To cook pasta like a pro, follow these tips.

The Roman classic, pictured above, at far right, is traditionally made with just three ingredients: spaghetti, pecorino Romano and black pepper (lots of it). Colu Henry, author of “Back Pocket Pasta,” adds a little butter to help emulsify the cheesy sauce.


  • Salt
  • 12 ounces dried spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted or salted butter
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving

Step 1

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt it generously. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water; reduce the heat to medium-high and cook according to the package directions (for al dente).

Step 2

Once the pasta is about halfway done, start the sauce: Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pepper and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until aromatic.

Step 3

Add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water (directly from the pasta pot); once the mixture is bubbling at the edges, cook for 1 minute, stirring, to form a well-blended (emulsified) sauce.

Step 4

Reduce the heat to medium. Drain the spaghetti, reserving another 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and pecorino Romano directly to the skillet, tossing vigorously until evenly coated and the cheese has melted. Add the pasta water and cook for 1 minute.

Step 5

Divide among bowls and serve with additional cheese and pepper.

Tested by Domenica Marchetti; email questions to

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Calories: 520; Total Fat: 19 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 50 mg; Sodium: 890 mg; Carbohydrates: 64 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 19 g.