One of the greatest things about pasta — aside from it being downright irresistible — is that it's so easy to make. On any given day of the week, all that’s required to achieve the bliss of properly twirling tender noodles around your fork is to boil a box of pasta, strain it and toss in sauce. This welcome ease, however, also lends itself to falling into the same routine. And suddenly, we find ourselves in a continuum of making the same pasta recipe week after week.
Well folks, sometimes we need to think outside the box!
For many pasta lovers and chefs alike, this age-old carbohydrate is a standout staple because of its versatility. The flour-based (and sometimes rice or bean-based) is a vehicle for endless flavors and textures. It works with fruit (tomato may be, after all, pasta’s number one fan) and citrus (hello, lemon zest); creamy cheeses like ricotta, soft cheeses like mozzarella or burrata and, of course, hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and its close cousin Parmesan; plus, a pretty much any vegetable, meat, poultry or seafood under the sun.
Some pasta dishes can be a rich, decadent dinnertime treat reserved for special occasions and others can actually be a host of nourishing ingredients that accommodate different diets, from vegan to low-carb. Yes, low-carb! To help you discover new and interesting recipes from the latter category, we rounded up our favorite healthy-ish pasta ideas that are unique, delicious and easy to add to any menu plan. Plus, once old faithful gets a break from the mealtime routine, you may even miss it a little bit.
Mushroom Bolognese by Tom Colicchio
This is a great vegetarian alternative to a classic beef Bolognese. The mushrooms mimic the same rich, hearty feel of the original but, obviously, without the meat. The aromatics and fresh herbs round out the flavors to make this an exciting and satisfying pasta dish.
Rigatoni with a Quick Cherry Tomato Ragu by Jake Cohen
This recipe is perfect for when you want to avoid spending too much time in front of the stove. This quick and hearty pasta uses sweet cherry tomatoes to add a burst of fresh flavor to the savory ragu. A warm bowl of pasta just always hits the spot, especially in cold winter months.
Lightened-Up Bolognese Sauce by Casey Barber
This lightened up meat sauce cuts down on cook time and calorie count but doesn't lose any of the rib-sticking, slow-simmered comfort of a classic Bolognese sauce. How could this be? By using a mix of ground turkey and ground beef as the base, plus some beef or chicken broth, the sauce boasts a beautifully earthy, salty flavor. Balanced out with sweet, acidic tomato, dry white wine, a little milk for a touch of creaminess and, of course, garlic, it's really the perfect pasta dish for the whole family to enjoy.
Tracy's Spinach Pesto by Anthony Contrino
"Confession: After a long day of cooking on set, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner for myself," says Anthony Contrino. "I often head to my cousin Tracy's house. One of my favorite things she makes is this creamy spinach pesto — it's so easy to whip up and so delish!"
Joy Bauer's Kale Pesto Pasta by Joy Bauer
Whip up this tasty spin on traditional pesto, stat! Each bright and vibrant bite contains a blend of earthy kale, toasty walnuts, aromatic basil, EVOO, garlic and Parmesan. The end result is a flavorful sauce that's bursting with vitamin C, beta-carotene and omega-3s, three nutrients that play a key role in enriching your skin's overall appearance.
Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta by Gaby Dalkin
This lightened-up version of Alfredo sauce is perfect when it's a little chilly outside. The sauce is downright healthy compared to that of a traditional Alfredo and no one would even know the difference, it's so delicious.
One-Pot Pasta with Spinach and Ricotta by Mark Bittman
Two simple vegetarian additions turn this easy one-pot pasta into a vibrant main dish. You can customize the ingredients to suit your taste. You can use any kind of noodle you prefer or switch up the greens with chopped kale, escarole or chard instead of spinach.
The avocado cream sauce is both light and refreshing — qualities rarely found in creamy sauces. This sauce also maintains an amazing brightness with the addition of fresh basil and lemon and is extremely versatile.
Herby Lemon Spaghetti with Snap Peas by Valerie Bertinelli
Wake up your weeknight dinner routine with this light and zesty pasta dish. It's quick and easy to throw together and bursting with fresh flavors.
Pasta alla Norma by Anthony Contrino
This simple, rustic Sicilian pasta dish is a Contrino family favorite. Sweet tomatoes, earthy eggplant and a little red pepper for spice make it a hearty dish for any night. Normally topped with ricotta salata, this version uses a whipped ricotta to balance the tomato-based sauce with a creamier texture.
Broccoli and Chickpea Pasta by Marc Meyer
One of Dylan Dreyer's favorite recipes, this easy pasta dish checks all the boxes for a healthy, kid-friendly dinner: veggies, starch and protein. Her son Calvin adores it so you know it will be a success with diners of all ages.
Mac and Greens by Chloe Coscarelli
Love a bowl of comforting mac but also want to get your greens? This dish has got you covered. Easy, creamy and craveable, it's 100% plant-based so it's good for you and the earth.
Springtime Pasta Bake by Alex Guarnaschelli
This dish serves that wonderful need for comfort food without being overly rich or heavy. It features fresh asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes and sweet onion. Plus, it all comes together in the oven, which makes it a cinch for any weeknight meal.
Lentil Bolognese by Samah Dada
It's fun to use lentils in a Bolognese in the same way that you would meat, while keeping traditional elements like carrots and onions along for the ride. The result adds a plant-based twist to a traditional and iconic pasta dish.
Roasted Red Pepper Pasta by Samah Dada
This pasta is flavorful, light and balanced while remaining a plant-based, veggie-packed dinner or lunch that everyone will love. The roasted red peppers and garlic add a sweetness to the sauce that is undercut by the acidic tomatoes, lemon juice and spices.
Lemon-Tahini Pasta with Zucchini and Tomatoes by Samah Dada
In this pasta, Samah Dada balances earthy sesame butter with some fresh lemon juice to make it creamy, bright and tangy. It's the perfect pasta for when you want something flavorful and rich with a little bit of zing, too.
Harissa-Spiced Pasta with Chicken with Green Beans by Chris Kimball
Harissa-spiced pasta and chicken with green beans reflects the cooking and flavors of North Africa with the punch of harissa married to Italian influence with the pasta shells.
Sunny's Peppery Herbed Pasta by Sunny Anderson
Coarsely ground black pepper and red pepper flakes bring a unique spice to this simple pasta dish. It only has five ingredients, but it is absolutely bursting with flavor.
Pasta with Charred Brussels Sprouts by Chloe Coscarelli
Full of flavor and so easy to prepare, this pasta dish is a go-to. The maple syrup balances out any bitterness from the Brussels sprouts so all you taste is the freshness of the veggies.
Giada's Paccheri with Mushroom and Pistachios by Giada De Laurentiis
Mushrooms with Marsala and pistachios is a fantastic combination of flavors, which is why this pasta is currently one of Giada's favorites. Try using royal trumpet mushrooms, morels, cremini, shiitakes or oyster mushrooms. They all have different flavors and textures and experimenting with new varieties is part of the fun!
Creamy Vegan Cacio e Pepe by Samah Dada
Cacio e pepe is one of those dishes that many people love because of its simplicity, but it's not easy to replicate the complex flavor of traditional Italian cheeses. Dada's take on the Italian staple uses nutritional yeast and cashews to create a luscious, umami-packed sauce.
Vegan Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower by Chloe Coscarelli
Eating dairy-free or vegan food doesn't mean you have to miss out on your favorite flavors and textures. This recipe has all the rich and creamy goodness of traditional macaroni and cheese without all the heaviness.
Easy Vegan Pesto by Samah Dada
Classic Italian pesto gets a healthy makeover with a big serving of spinach. This recipe is totally customizable with any toppings you choose! Add blistered tomatoes, almond milk ricotta, more olive oil and something crunchy. A gluten-free chickpea pasta is great for added protein.
Pasta Carbonara with Shiitake Bacon by Chloe Coscarelli
The creamy, indulgent sauce is made from healthy, high-protein tofu, but it tastes like it has all sorts of dairy products in it. Top it with shiitake bacon (simply thinly sliced roasted shiitake mushrooms with olive oil and sea salt) and it’s the perfect bait for your long-term mate!
Baked Lemony Broccoli and Mushroom Pasta by Yasmin Fahr
The combination of broccoli, mushrooms and garlic with the bright lemony flavor and kick of heat is divine. Baking the pasta gives the pieces along the rim an extra crunchy texture that's deeply satisfying.
Clean Green Spinach-Mushroom Lasagna by Candice Kumai
An ideal dish that often provides leftovers for later, this hearty, veggie-packed lasagna hits all the right flavor notes. Even for those used to its meaty counterpart, this dish will be a winner.
Baked Broken Lasagna Pasta with Spinach by Yasmin Fahr
This recipe is low maintenance, so you can put it in the oven and then finish odd tasks around the house while it cooks. There's something comforting about digging up the thick pieces of lasagna noodles smothered in garlicky red sauce. Plus, the spinach makes it feel like it's a little bit healthy.
Spicy Italian Mackerel Spaghetti by Stephanie Harris-Uyidi
As a member of the tuna family, mackerel is a delectable, yet underrated fish that deserves more attention. A firm, high-fat fleshed fish, it's known for its bold, savory flavor. When mixed with salty olives, sweet, acidic tomatoes and fresh herbs, this seafood-topped pasta is a must-try.
Joy Bauer's Baked Ziti Casserole by Joy Bauer
Cheesy, saucy, noodle-y and satisfying, this lightened-up baked ziti will not disappoint. Just imagine: whole-grain penne tossed with ground meat, three different cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta and Parm) and flavorful tomato sauce, then baked to perfection in the oven. Joy Bauer also sneaks in some spinach for added nutrition and fiber. It's baked-ziti bliss.
Broccoli Pesto Pasta by Josh Mamaclay
This pesto balances the bright flavors of basil and lemon with the savory flavor of roasted broccoli. It's a really easy way to get greens in through our favorite vehicle: carbs and cheese.
Italian Wedding Soup by Katie Stilo
Move over, chicken noodle. This pasta and meatball soup is super comforting, pretty simple to make and is chock full of healthy ingredients.
Bobby Flay's Eggplant Bolognese by Bobby Flay
This Bolognese, a meaty meatless wonder, is sure to thrill the vegetarians among your friends and family, and it’s just as satisfying to those who check the carnivore box.
Love pasta? Try these recipes:
Slow-Cooker Pasta Alfredo 3 Ways by Casey Barber
Rigatoni Pie with Vodka Sauce by Checka Ciammaichelli
Slow-Cooker Beef Stroganoff by Casey Barber