5 Simple Pasta Dishes You Need To Make Right Now

Nov 23, 2020 | Pasta, Recipes

Last night as I sat with my family eating a big bowl of Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (garlic and oil), I thought about why more people don’t eat like this. By this, I mean a few good ingredients cooked together to make something magical. It can’t be because of time constraints, because the dish takes only a few minutes to put together. It can’t be because of money because the ingredients are cheap. And, it can’t be because of taste because it tastes amazing. And so my conclusion is that it’s simply a lack of knowledge. With that, I can help.

Simple Pasta Dishes

Simple ain’t easy

In Canada, we tend to overcomplicate pasta. When making the sauce, if it isn’t just coming from a jar, there is a tendency to add more and more ingredients until it tastes good. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom’s spaghetti sauce, and it has like twenty ingredients in it. But the mistake we make is assuming that’s all there is. Those twenty ingredient pasta sauces, tasty as they may be, run counter to the Italian way of cooking. The Italian way is to use quality ingredients that already taste good and add only a few other complementary ingredients. This isn’t just true of pasta. It’s the secret to all Italian food. Less is more.

Now I want to say, and I want to say it very clearly, that simple is not the same as easy. For most cooks, amateur or even professional, the simple dishes are often the hardest. There is nothing to hide behind. If you make a mistake, it’s obvious. But, a pasta dish with only a few ingredients that has been well executed will probably be some of the best food you’ve ever cooked or eaten.

Simple Pasta Dishes

Below you will find a list of five simple pasta dishes. Each one has only a handful of ingredients but will taste better than just about any pasta out there. Try them. Even if you don’t think you’ll like them, even if it’s only one or two of them, try them. Have them for a weekend lunch or a quick weeknight dinner, or whatever. Just try them! I promise that it will be worth your time and effort not only because they will taste good, but also because you will learn a bit about the benefits of simplicity in cooking. I think that can change how you look at food and how you cook overall. Isn’t that worth a quick bowl of pasta?


Before we jump into the list, I want to take a minute to talk about ingredients because the key to simple food is that you have to use quality ingredients. If you are making spaghetti with garlic and olive oil but using garbage olive oil that is overly bitter, the dish will not taste very good. When you are making carbonara and use poor quality bacon, the dish will not taste very good. If you are making pasta with tomatoes, or pasta with cheese and pepper and your tomatoes, or your cheese, aren’t good, you guessed it; your pasta isn’t going to be good either. Good ingredients are crucial to making these dishes taste good.

Olive Oil

When it comes to olive oil, avoid anything sold in a plastic bottle. The oil degrades the plastic, which leaches into your food and gives the oil an off flavour. Second of all, and this may seem counter to what you believe, avoid Italian olive oil. There is a massive issue in Italy with counterfeit olive oil. Seriously, you can read this Forbes.com article from 2016 for yourself. The olive oil that I use most often comes from Tunisia. You’ve probably seen it. It has a yellow label with a black horse on it. The brand is Terra Delyssa, and you can find it at Costco, Walmart, and even most grocery stores now. It is a really smooth flavoured oil that won’t make your food taste bad.

Parmesan Cheese

Real parmesan is sold in wedges cut off of a large wheel. They will be fairly expensive, running about $15 to $20 depending on size. However, that wedge of parmesan will last an average family of four two months or more. And, it will last in the fridge for months and months and months. To use the parmesan, grate on the fine setting of your cheese grater. That’s it. There is no comparison between real parmesan and the grated stuff that sits in a plastic jar on the shelf. Real parmesan is a necessity for good simple pasta. You can buy real parmesan cheese at the cheese or deli counter of most grocery stores.


Use either sea salt or kosher salt rather than table salt. Table salt has a harsh flavour and doesn’t dissolve as evenly as sea salt and kosher salt. Yes, this will make a difference in the flavour of your dish.


It is okay to use canned tomatoes as long as they are of good quality. Avoid no-name cans or store brands. Splurge for a can of San Marzano tomatoes or the best quality ones you can afford. Check the ingredients list on the can. If there are more than tomatoes, salt and basil in the can, it is probably best to avoid it.


Garlic should be fresh only. Don’t use garlic that is jarred in oil. It has been pasteurized and likely has chemical additives which will change the flavour. Buy a bulb of garlic and take the time to peel and chop it. And yes, this really does affect the flavour of the whole dish. Again, if you only have a few ingredients, and one of them tastes off, the whole dish tastes off.


In all the pasta below, use only fresh herbs. These dishes won’t be cooking long enough for dried herbs to hydrate and release their flavours properly. Save the dried herbs for that twenty ingredient pasta sauce.


Bacon should be naturally smoked if you can find it. It is best to buy bacon from your local butcher or smokehouse. If you can’t do that, look for packaged bacon at the grocery store that looks firm and dry. Avoid packages that are soft or look like they have excess moisture in them.


It is perfectly fine to use dried pasta in these dishes. However, I would avoid buying the cheapest options there are. Instead, opt for a name brand you know or even splurge for that expensive Italian brand you’ve always seen on the shelf but have never tried. And yes, you can make all of these pastas with gluten-free pasta. That’s what I do.

Okay, that is more than enough chit chat, let’s take a look at the five pasta dishes.

1. Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

Aglio e Olio (Ag-li-ol-e-o) means oil and garlic, and that is basically what this pasta is though there are typically a few other ingredients. Other than oil and garlic, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio consists of crushed red pepper flakes, lots of parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, fresh chopped parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice. This is the pasta that I had for dinner last night that sparked this entire post. I can’t truly express how delicious this pasta dish is. You’ll just have to make it for yourself.

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

A simple and delicious garlic pasta recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: pasta recipes, Quick Meals, Quick Pasta, Quick Recipes
Servings: 4
Author: Chef’s Notes


  • 8 oz Dried Spaghetti Noodles 225 g
  • 1/2 cup Olive oil
  • 1 bulb Garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 cup Parsley, freshly chopped
  • 1 cup Parmesan, freshly grated and loosely packed
  • 2 tbsp Lemon juice, fresh squeezed
  • 1/4 cup Hot water
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher or Sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp Black Pepper, freshly crushed


  • Bring a large pot of satled water to a boil.
  • In a large skillet, combine the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Put on medium heat.
  • Add the pasta to the pot and stir for a minute so that it doesn't stick or clump.
  • Once the garlic starts to turn golden brown just around the edges, add in the parsley.
  • Take a 1/4 cup of water out of the pasta pot and set it aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet.
  • Take the skillet off the heat and add in parmesan, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss the pasta to coat it in the sauce. Add in the reserved pasta water, and toss the pasta to coat it. Finish the pasta with a little more freshly grated parmesan and a few turns of fresh cracked pepper.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

2. Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara may be the most bastardized pasta dish in the world. If you go to any two-bit pub or chain restaurant, they have some sort of carbonara on the menu. In that context, they are using the word “carbonara” to refer to any pasta with cream in it that isn’t alfredo. Now, here is the big problem with that. Carbonara doesn’t have any cream in it. So how did it become the word that second or third-rate restaurants use for creamy pastas? Probably because carbonara is creamy. Let me clarify.

Where does the creaminess of carbonara come from?

The creaminess of carbonara comes from a mixture of egg and cheese cooked using only the heat from the hot pasta and bacon (traditionally guanciale) and sometimes the addition of a little boiling pasta water. A couple of eggs are broken into a bowl with a few big handfuls of parmesan cheese and some cracked pepper. I like to add a handful of fresh parsley to mine though that isn’t strictly traditional. The pasta is put in boiling water to cook, and the bacon is put in a hot pan to crisp. When the bacon and the pasta are cooked, they are added to the cheese and egg bowl and stirred until the egg reaches a temperature where the white and the yolk begin to coagulate. As the egg cooks, the cheese melts, and what’s left is a thick, creamy sauce. If it is too thick or too dry, a little hot pasta water can be added to the bowl.

As you can see, there is no cream in carbonara. So, the next time you’re at a restaurant, and you see carbonara on the menu, know that what you’re getting is probably just a big bowl of pasta, cream and disappointment that doesn’t even come close to the quality and flavour of its namesake. If you want to know more about Carbonara, take a look at this post I wrote back in 2019 all about it.


3. Pasta Pomodoro

Pasta pomodor

Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato and literally translates to “love apple.” That’s a pretty good name for a tomato if you ask me. Anyway, pasta Pomodoro is a straightforward dish of pasta, tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, a little red pepper, and parmesan. That’s it. You are going to be pretty hard-pressed to find a better recipe than this one from Bon Appetit. If you are looking for a dish with lots of fresh flavours, that is simple to make and celebrates the love apple, you’ve found it.

4. Cacio a Pepe

Cacio a pepe

You know how kids will eat pasta with a little butter, cheese, and salt and pepper. That’s a real Italian pasta dish. Though, the real version is probably a lot better than what most kids are eating. Cacio e Pepe literally means cheese and pepper. Simple but beyond delicious. Check out this version from Delish

5. Linguine and Clams

Linguine and Clams

If you like clams, nothing can beat a big bowl of well-made linguine and clam pasta. Clam juice, butter and white wine make the sauce’s base, with parsley adding a fresh finishing flavour. I’m salivating as I write this. Again, like all the pasta on this list, this pasta dish is incredibly simple and out of this world good. If you like clams, this is a must.

Linguine and Clams

A quick and delicious linguine and clams recipe.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: 30 minute meals, clams, linguine and clams, pasta
Servings: 2
Author: Chef Ben Kelly


  • 1/2 box Linguine I used gluten-free
  • 1 can baby clams
  • 1/4 cup curly parsley chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic sliced
  • 1/2 ea onion sliced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup White wine
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add in the pasta.
  • Heat a medium frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and 1 tbsp of the butter.
  • Add the onions into the pan and cook for 3 minutes or until they start to soften.
  • Add in the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Season with a bit of pepper and add the wine.
  • Cook until the wine has almost completely evaporated.
  • Add the juice of the clams, turn the heat up to medium high and cook until reduced by 3/4's
  • Drain the pasta and add into the sauce along with the clams, and parsley.
  • Season the pasta with salt and pepper to taste and toss.
  • Serve
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


This list of simple pasta dishes is by no means conclusive. It doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of amazing simple pasta dishes that are part of the Italian repertoire. And that’s just pasta. Once you start getting into other dishes like salads, pizza, braises, roasts, all of it, it’s all simple, focusing on great ingredients, and it all tastes amazing. Now do yourself a favour, pick one or two of the pasta on this list and make them. It will be worth it.

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