Pasta is a weeknight salvation. Here are 7 easy ways to enjoy it

Few ingredients are as versatile, forgiving and easy to transform as pasta, a pantry staple that hits the dinner table effortlessly.

Don’t let all those protein-centric diets sway you. Pasta’s good qualities are infinite. It’s cheap. It’s fast. It pleases palates across generations. Best of all, it’s happy accompanied by any of a long list of ingredients, some of which you already have in your garden, pantry or freezer.  And with the back-to-school season upon us, that sort of ease is what every working parent needs.

It only takes minimal time and effort to integrate pasta into the dinner line-up. You’re guaranteed something cozy and delicious, and you’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Spaghetti with fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and red pepper is fresh and easy.
Pesto primavera keeps it light with asparagus, peas and a touch of basil pesto, set off by fresh lemon juice and avocado.

The most important thing to remember is to keep it simple.

Arm your pantry with different types of pasta, then stock the fridge with easy ingredients you can throw into a skillet. Keep handy jars of pesto, roasted peppers, anchovies, capers, olives, pureed tomatoes and chickpeas. Grow fresh herbs in your garden. Always have lemons in the produce drawer and frozen peas in the freezer. Never find yourself without olive oil, a wedge of Parmesan and a head of garlic.

Here are 7 ideas for quick weeknight pasta dishes:

1. Fresh tomato. Combine fresh, sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced red pepper and minced garlic in a skillet with olive oil. Sauté, then toss with cooked spaghetti and top with fresh basil and Parmesan.

2. Puttanesca. Sauté a couple teaspoons finely chopped canned anchovies in olive oil with minced garlic and red pepper flakes, add pureed tomatoes and good black olives. Toss with spaghetti. Don’t be afraid of anchovies. They will break down and add an irreplaceable depth of flavor to the dish.

3. Pesto primavera. Toss your favorite pasta with store-bought or homemade pesto along with lightly sautéed chopped asparagus and peas. Top with avocado and garnish with lemon.

4. Lemon. Lemon zest and juice are one of the most underrated pasta accompaniments, and really, nothing could be easier. To cooked pasta, add a couple teaspoons lemon zest and the juice of one or two lemons. Douse with a little good olive oil, some Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and you’re there.

5. Garlic, olive oil and parsley. This kid-friendly pasta sees spaghetti tossed in a light sauce of olive oil and minced garlic, and topped with chopped Italian parsley. Simple and tasty as a standalone or side dish.

6. Vodka sauce. A classic sauce with crushed tomatoes, minced garlic and red pepper flakes combined with cream and a little vodka. It’s traditionally served over penne. You won’t taste the vodka, but you’ll know an extra ingredient is there by the pleasing tang.

7. Get creative. Play around with pasta shapes you’ve never tried before. And while these dishes are meat-free, it’s easy enough to toss in some grilled or roast chicken or shrimp, or even some prepared meatballs.

Traditionally served with penne, vodka sauce features tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes combined with cream and a splash of vodka.