Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Caper Pesto Sauce

Photo: Con Poulos

The Basil-Less Pesto
The old way: The beloved original, say the people of Genoa, Italy, who invented it, can only be made with their local small-leaved basil and a marble mortar. But even if you don't subscribe to such strict rules, chances are that you're using basil, garlic, cheese and olive oil.
The new way: A salty, intensely savory spin on the familiar mixture includes salt-packed capers, anchovies and parsley, plus the usual garlic, cheese and oil. Whole wheat pasta is the perfect pairing to stand up to such a complex, interesting topping.

Get the recipe: Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Caper Pesto Sauce
Crab and Goat Cheese Wonton Ravioli with Tomato Sauce

Photo: Anna Williams

The Half-Homemade Ravioli
The old way: Making pasta from scratch, cutting the sheets into squares and delicately serrating the edges can take the better part of a day, never mind the time spent stuffing and sealing each cushion with ricotta and herbs.
The new way: Thin premade wonton wrappers shrink the prep time significantly, and a filler of crabmeat, goat cheese and herbs is easy to assemble and not something you'd see at your average red-sauce restaurant.

Get the recipe: Crab-and-Goat Cheese Wonton Ravioli with Tomato Sauce
Tagliatelle Bolognese

Photo: Thinkstock

The White Bolognese
The old way: Also known as ragu, most recipes for this meat sauce from Bologna call for at least 2 cups of chopped tomatoes, along with onion, celery, carrot, beef, white wine, milk and nutmeg.
The new way: Chef Gabriel Thompson reinvents the much-loved tagliatelle topper at his New York restaurants, L'Artusi and dell'anima, skipping whole tomatoes completely and using only a teaspoon of tomato paste—which caramelizes slightly, adding a hint of sweetness. The finished dish is outrageously smooth and rich.

Get the recipe: Tagliatelle Bolognese
Spaghetti with Garlic

Photo: L'Artusi

The Aglio Olio with a Little Bit of Crunch
The old way: Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is in any Italian cook's repertoire, since its ingredients—garlic, olive oil, hot dried chilies and pasta—are pantry staples.
The new way: A Parmesan brodo (essentially a stock made from cheese rinds and water) gives the dish a sturdier backbone. Sprinkling lightly browned bread crumbs on top of the plated pasta adds warm, toasty crunch.

Get the recipe: Spaghetti with Garlic
Penne with Tuna, Plum Tomatoes and Black Olives

Photo: Dana Gallagher

The Basic but Nonboring Fresh Tomato Sauce
The old way: A traditional tomato sauce is one of the greatest examples on the planet of just how good ripe plum tomatoes can taste, but sometimes you want a bit more...yet don't have time to make much else.
The new way: We love this plum tomato sauce because its extra ingredients—canned tuna and Italian or Greek black olives—are so common yet add such depth.

Get the recipe: Penne with Tuna, Plum Tomatoes and Black Olives
Low-Fat Spaghetti Carbonara Pasta with Peas

Photo: Cristina Ferrare

The Lighten-Up Carbonara
The old way: Diced guanciale (similar to pancetta), garlic, eggs and cheese are an unbeatable combination—does anyone not like this dish?—but the mix isn't exactly winning awards for its healthfulness.
The new way: Cristina Ferrare uses low-fat milk and fresh peas. She also leaves out the egg and brightens the flavor with fresh mint.

Get the recipe: Low-Fat Spaghetti Carbonara Pasta with Peas
Conchiglie all'Arrabiata

Photo: Trento

The Texas-Spiced Arrabiata
The old way: A typical Roman sauce, arrabiata combines garlic, tomatoes, red chili and olive oil. Penne is the usual pasta match.
The new way: At Trento, a new restaurant in Austin, Texas, chefs Alex Kahn and Andreas Exarhosa add a generous heaping of serrano chili for bright but potent heat. The chefs also make this dish with conchiglie (shell) pasta, which does an excellent job of scooping up the tomato chunks so you get some in every bite.

Get the recipe: Conchiglie all'Arrabiata

Keep reading: 11 healthy Italian dishes