Tomato sauce over pasta

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A Tomato Sauce That Rivals Sunday's Marinara
Best with penne, rigatoni or ziti

This bright, fresh sauce takes considerably less time to make than the traditional weekend version. Warm 1/4 cup olive oil in a sauté pan. Then add 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved; 2 to 3 cloves garlic (minced is nice but thinly sliced is quicker); and 10 or so fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped. When the tomatoes are soft and the pasta's done, add the pasta and stir in 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, a small handful of pine nuts and about 15 small mozzarella balls (they'll melt into the hot pasta). Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with more basil.

To get the most out of this recipe—and the next five—follow three simple rules:
  • Use a pound (or slightly less) of pasta.
  • Boil the pasta until it's almost but not quite done, since it will finish cooking in the sauce.
  • Save at least a cup of the pasta cooking water—you may need it to help build your sauce.

Pasta e fagioli

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Old-School Pasta e Fagioli for People Who Can't Spend 2 Hours on Dinner
Best with ditalini or tubetini

Pasta and beans are a classic combination. Here's how to get maximum flavor in just minutes: In a few tablespoons of olive oil, sauté a chopped onion and a rib of sliced celery. Add a small can (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes or 1 or 2 chopped fresh plum tomatoes, a small can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans (alternately, you can use peas), a small can of vegetable or chicken stock, salt and pepper. Simmer and then mix in the cooked pasta.

Pasta with pesto

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The Reason We Are Basil's
Number One Fan
Best with linguine or tortellini

Pesto doesn't get any easier than this: Lightly toast a few spoonfuls of pine nuts; add them to a food processor with 2 cups basil (lightly packed), 1 clove garlic, a dash of salt and at least 1/2 cup olive oil. Blend until the sauce reaches the consistency you like; stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and add more oil if necessary.

Pasta with sage-butter sauce

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The 3-Ingredient Sage-Butter Sauce
Best with mezze rigatoni, orecchiette, gnocchi or ravioli

Butter and sage go especially well with rich, cheese-filled ravioli, but any medium-size pasta will work here. 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.

Pasta with garlic olive oil sauce

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A "The Cupboard's Bare? No Sweat!" Classic
Best with spaghetti

Here's the ultimate fast, frugal and filling pantry meal: Sauté 10 whole peeled garlic cloves in olive oil. Toss the cooked pasta with the garlic, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and chopped parsley. Depending on how much cheese you use, you may not need to add salt.

Penne alla vodka

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Penne alla 15 Minutes
Best with penne

Bulk up jarred vodka sauce—and up your day's vegetable intake—by adding zucchini and carrots. Before you add pasta to the boiling water, gently slide in the diced veggies. Cook for a few minutes, until crisp-tender, and then scoop out with a slotted spoon or spider; then, cook pasta. Meanwhile, heat sauce in a sauté pan. Add cooked vegetables and pasta; toss well.

Next: The healthiest pasta dishes you can make