Easy Ways to Dress Up Boring Pasta
Start with a pound of macaroni, add a few flavorful ingredients and you've got a company-worthy meal in minutes.
Lemon + Ricotta = A Light and Zippy Dinner
Works best with: Medium-size cuts such as gemelli, shells or mezze rigatoni

While the pasta boils: Combine 2 cups of ricotta, a half-cup of grated Parmesan, the zest of a lemon and juice from half of the lemon. Drain noodles, toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil and add the lemon-cheese mixture, which should soften and melt quickly. Stir in as much of the starchy cooking water as you need to keep the sauce from becoming too thick.
Roasted vegetables
Goat Cheese + Roasted Vegetables = A Filling and Healthy Meal
Works best with: Tube shapes like penne (ribbed varieties will hold onto the cheese better)

While the pasta boils: Warm 3 cups of cubed, roasted vegetables (which you can make up to 2 days in advance) in a sauté pan sprayed with olive oil. Sweet potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and onions all work well. Drain pasta, toss with an 8-ounce log of goat cheese that you've broken into pieces and about a cup of cooking water. When the cheese is completely incorporated, stir in the warmed vegetables and top with chopped, fresh herbs, such as parsley or basil.
Butter + Sage = A Rich and Warming Sunday Supper
Works best with: Orecchiette, gnocchi or ravioli

While the pasta boils: Place a stick of butter in a large sauté pan with 20 or so fresh sage leaves; cook until the butter just starts to brown. Add cooked pasta, enough of the starchy water to ensure the noodles don't stick, 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
Tomatoes + Heavy Cream = A Familiar Yet Special Dish
Works best with: Spaghetti or angel hair

While the pasta boils: Sauté a diced onion and a chopped clove of garlic in olive oil over medium heat. When it's golden, stir in a 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Swirl in a cup of heavy cream and continue to simmer. Drain pasta and add to sauce.
Bread crumbs
Bread Crumbs + Olive Oil = A Crunchy and Carby Comfort Food
Works best with: Spaghetti

While the pasta boils: Pulse about 3 slices of country-style bread (crusts removed) in a food processor until they are coarse crumbs. Warm a few teaspoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add bread crumbs. Cook, stirring until crumbs are lightly golden; add 5 chopped garlic cloves and continue cooking another minute or 2. Season with salt and pepper. Drain pasta, toss lightly with olive oil, stir in bread-crumb mixture and finish with minced, fresh parsley.

Next: 6 more sauces that cook while the pasta does