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4 Deliciously Easy Pasta Recipes to Please All Palates

Two are for vegetarians and two are for meat lovers.

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Photographs by Scott Suchman (prop and food stylist: Lisa Cherkasky)
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These four pasta dishes from my blog Once Upon a Chef are a warm and welcoming way to usher in the new year. So, grab your pot and get the water boiling — a delicious dinner is coming right up!


Penne alla Vodka

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup finely chopped yellow onion (from 1 small yellow onion)

3 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 28-ounce can of whole peeled plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (see note below)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

⅓ cup vodka

1 pound penne pasta

⅔ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil, plus more for serving

Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion; cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper; cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, salt, sugar, and vodka; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, boil pasta according to package instructions until just shy of al dente. Before draining, ladle out 1 cup of the pasta cooking water; set aside. Drain pasta, then return to pot.

Stir cream into sauce and simmer, uncovered, about 3 minutes. Using an immersion blender, purée sauce until mostly smooth, leaving some small chunks. Alternatively, ladle some sauce into a blender and purée until smooth. (Remove the center knob on the blender and cover with a towel to avoid splatters, then add back to pan.)

Pour sauce over the penne. It may seem a little soupy. Bring sauce and pasta to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently; cook until sauce is reduced and thickened enough to cling to the pasta, for a few minutes. Add a little reserved pasta water if the pasta seems dry. Stir in basil; taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon pasta into bowls and pass Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.


Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Pepper)

Serves 4


1 pound bucatini or spaghetti

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3-4 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

In a Dutch oven or large pot, bring 4 quarts of water and 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil. Add pasta; cook according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 2 cups of pasta cooking water and drain.

Set the pot over low heat and melt butter. Add pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add drained pasta to pot and toss to coat. Remove the pot from the heat.

In a blender, combine cheese and 1⅓ cups pasta cooking water. Blend until smooth, 10-15 seconds. Add the sauce to the pot; toss with tongs. Place pot over low heat and cook, stirring constantly with tongs, until sauce is the consistency of a thin cream sauce, a few minutes. Add more pasta water to thin sauce if necessary. Be careful: if the sauce gets too hot, it will start to clump and stick to the pot and tongs. Once the sauce is the right consistency, immediately transfer pasta to bowls and serve. Pass more cheese and pepper at the table.


Spaghetti & Meatballs

Serves 4 to 6 (Makes 22 to 24 small meatballs)

1 large egg

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil (plus more for serving)

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup water

1½ pounds ground "meatloaf mix" (equal parts ground beef, pork and veal)

¾ cup dried Italian bread crumbs

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (plus more for serving)

32 ounces good quality Marinara sauce

1 pound spaghetti

Preheat oven to 350°F and set an oven rack in middle position.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, basil, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic and water. Add meat, breadcrumbs and cheese; mix with your hands until just combined.

Roll mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes; remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a metal spatula to flip the meatballs (they will stick a bit but should release easily when you scrape under them with a spatula). Put meatballs back in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, until nicely browned and almost cooked through.

Meanwhile, bring the marinara sauce to a simmer in a large skillet. Transfer meatballs to the sauce, leaving any fat behind. Cover loosely; simmer for about 10 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Keep warm.

While the meatballs cook, boil a large pot of salted water. Add spaghetti; cook until al dente. Drain, then toss with the sauce/meatballs (it may be easier to toss together in the pasta pot; it depends on the sizes of the pans). Serve with fresh basil and more grated cheese.


Pad Thai

Serves 4

8 ounces flat rice noodles (linguini or fettuccini width)

2 large eggs, beaten

¼ cup + 2 tablespoons water

2½ tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1½ tablespoons ketchup

¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar

Heaping ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, divided

¾ pound large (31/35) shrimp, peeled and deveined, thawed if frozen


2 cloves garlic, minced

3 scallions, light parts thinly sliced, dark parts cut into 1-inch pieces

¼ cup dry roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup bean sprouts

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Lime wedges, for serving (optional)


Bring a large pot or wide skillet of water to a boil. Turn off the heat, and add noodles. Briefly swish around to separate; let sit for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until noodles are soft, but still chewy. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, beat eggs with a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Make the sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk water, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, and red pepper. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; season with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, for two minutes. Add garlic and light green scallions; cook, stirring constantly, until softened and shrimp are cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer shrimp, garlic, and scallions to a large plate, using a rubber spatula to scrape the pan clean.

Add 1 teaspoon oil to the hot pan. Add eggs and scramble until cooked, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add to the plate with the shrimp.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the hot pan. Add drained noodles to the pan, along with the sauce mixture. Cook, tossing noodles gently, until liquid is absorbed and the noodles are cooked through, a few minutes. Add contents of the plate and dark green scallions to noodles; toss gently to combine, until everything is warmed through. Adjust seasoning to taste, and transfer to a serving platter; top with peanuts, bean sprouts, and cilantro (if using). Serve with lime wedges.

What's your favorite pasta dish of all time? Let us know in the comments below.

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