Italian cuisine plays a lot of roles in our kitchens. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s comforting. And despite being all of the above, it’s also romantic.
Proof? The best way I can think to celebrate Valentine’s Day is with Alex and a few of my best friends over brick-oven pizza at a downtown NYC Italian restaurant. Comforting, easy, and full of love.
But pasta is the Italian staple we come back to the most. We’d venture to guess that you do, too. And as such, it can sometimes get old. Pasta with tomato sauce is a classic and our favorite, but there are times when we need to move beyond the familiar into pasta territory so exotic we and our dinner guests or family members will barely even realize they’re eating the same old. Inspired by old Italian favorites and new fusion flavors, here are our ways to break out of your rut.
1. Penne alla Vodka
If Phoebe’s ex-boyfriend had his way, he would have eaten Penne alla Vodka for every meal. No matter what the venue — New York diner, upscale Italian restaurant, or our college dining hall –he would try to order this pasta dish, and amazingly enough, most of the time he got his way. It may have been mundane for North, but for us, Penne alla Vodka is an awesome departure from the ordinary.
2. Linguine Primavera
Second in our rotation after pasta with tomato sauce, this versatile linguine dish gets you your dose of greens pretty harmlessly. You can switch it up depending on the seasons, using whatever vegetables you like or you find at the market. The trick is to get everything sauteeing beautifully in lots of olive oil, as the arom of onion, garlic, zucchini, spinach, and asparagus waft through your apartment.
3. Shrimp Angel Hair with Three Herb Dressing
The beauty of this dish is that angel hair only takes 4 minutes to cook and shrimp only two. Fresh herbs just need to be washed and snipped, and there you have it: a light pasta dish–almost a pasta salad–that’s ready in almost no time.
4. Baked Gnocchi with Pesto, Peas, and Pancetta
With good-quality groceries from your favorite mom-and-pop Italian shop, this dish comes together easily, but, like a lot of baked pastas, feels elegant in an Italian countryside sort of way. Plus, gnocchi contains potato, and its sink-your-teeth-in texture is a nice change of pace from regular dried pasta.
5. Eggplant-Zucchini Lasagna with Fontina
Lasagna is already a different beast than plain pasta, and this vegetable-laden dish mixes it up in a few different ways, including being made in a round pan and using fontina instead of the typical mozz.
6. Teriyaki Rice Noodles
These thin rice noodles are a gluten-free pasta lover’s delight. Not to mention the thick, sweet teriyaki sauce and freshly pickled vegetables. These noodles taste a bit like the yummy, sauce-saturated rice left on your plate after devouring Chicken Teriyaki.
7. Sardine Linguine with Sundried Tomatoes and Olives
Sardines seem to be having a moment in the sun, but if you’re like most of us, they’re still not a part of your daily dinner rotation. That’s a change, isn’t it? The mix of ingredients in this pasta are salty, fresh, and pungent, and the sardines are fishy, but in a welcome way. Plus, it’s super cheap.
8. Eggplant Parmesan Rigatoni
Making Eggplant Parm is a pain in the ass. There is frying. There is the pot it takes to do the frying, the one it takes to make the sauce, and the dish in which the eggplant is finally arranged and baked… So it’s great that this pasta satisfies the craving without much of the hard work: you’ve got rich eggplant, gooey cheese, and crunchy breadcrumbs. With a little imagination, this pasta dish serves up the same satisfaction as the real deal.
9. Capellini with Roasted Yellow Tomatoes
If your loyalty will always lie with pasta and tomato sauce, then this dish will at least shake things up a little tiny bit and provide sweet relief to the people you dine with. After 10 minutes in the oven, cherry tomatoes burst then thicken into sauce, becoming an ideal topping for pasta. Add diced mozzarella while it’s hot, if you dare.
How do you spice things up when your go-to fettucine or linguine gets old?