The Ultimate Pantry Pasta Formula

Linguine with peas and bacon
The Spruce / Diana Rattray

When you can't get to the supermarket, don't despair! You probably have all you need for an exciting main dish in your pantry and fridge. If you have pasta and some basic ingredients, you have the makings of a delicious meal.

Pasta meals are filling and versatile—they can be meaty or meat-free. And most kinds of pasta are vegan. A simple foundation of olive oil or butter and garlic makes a fabulous sauce. Add some fresh spinach leaves or roasted red peppers along with some Parmesan cheese, and you have an instant meal. Or brown some butter and add some shallots, red pepper flakes, and diced tomatoes or sliced olives. A combination of olive oil, garlic, and cream is the perfect base for a springtime pasta with steamed peas and sliced asparagus.

Here are some basic combinations to start with, along with a big variety of pantry mix-ins and flavor ideas.

Garlic and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

Slice 1 or 2 roasted red peppers into strips (from a jar or freshly roasted). Heat 4 tablespoons of butter or olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic (about 3 to 4 cloves) and sauté for about 2 minutes. Cook 8 ounces of spaghetti in salted water following the package directions; drain thoroughly, saving about 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Return the hot pasta to the pan. Toss the warm garlic mixture with the hot drained spaghetti; add about 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and the roasted red pepper strips. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a small amount of the hot pasta water, as desired. Toss to mix and serve immediately.

Pasta with garlic, brown butter, and roasted red peppers
The Spruce / Diana Rattray

Pasta With Quick Marinara Sauce

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Slice 6 cloves of garlic and add them to the hot oil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the garlic is softened. Add a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, a dash of crushed red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to the garlic and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add a sprig of basil and stir it into the sauce mixture; continue to cook for a minute or two, or until thickened. Meanwhile, cook 1 pound of pasta in salted water following the package directions. Drain the pasta, return it to the pan, and toss with the marinara sauce. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Penne with quick tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese
The Spruce / Diana Rattray

Pasta With Bacon, Cream, and Peas

In a skillet, cook 3 strips of bacon until crisp and then drain them on paper towels; crumble. To the bacon drippings left in the skillet, add a thinly sliced shallot and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Cook until the shallots are softened. Meanwhile, cook 8 ounces of pasta following the package directions; drain well. Return the pasta to the pan. Combine the bacon and the garlic and shallot mixture with the pasta. Add about 1/2 cup of steamed peas, about 1/3 cup of heavy cream, and 4 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Toss and season with kosher salt and pepper. Serve hot with extra Parmesan cheese.

Linguine with cream, bacon, and peas
The Spruce / Diana Rattray

Roasted Garlic and Red Pepper Pasta

Roast a whole head of garlic. Cook 1 pound of spaghetti in salted water following the package directions. Meanwhile, heat 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the olive oil and cook for about 2 minutes, mashing the garlic to blend it into the oil. Add 1 teaspoon of Aleppo pepper flakes or about 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Drain the pasta and reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the saucepan and add the oil and garlic mixture. Toss to blend with some of the cooking water, as desired. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Spicy roasted garlic pepper pasta
The Spruce / Diana Rattray

Sesame Noodles

Cook 6 to 8 ounces of angel hair pasta following the package directions; drain well. In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce with 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of peanut oil or canola. Whisk to blend and add to the hot drained pasta. Add about 3 sliced green onions. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Quick sesame noodles with scallions
The Spruce / Diana Rattray

Mix and Match Flavor Ideas



  • Cream
  • Lemon
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Tomato paste
  • Cream cheese
  • Soy sauce
  • Prepared pesto
  • Crushed tomatoes