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Fast fix dinner: Pasta

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Quick pasta recipes

Any night of the week, pasta can be a quick meal that requires little preparation or planning, whether you're after simple or complex flavors Here are some tips and tricks on preparing elegant pasta dishes that taste like they took all day to cook.

Family making pasta dinner

fresh pasta

The refrigerated section of your grocery store likely offers a great selection of fresh pastas. Fresh pasta typically takes between 2 and 7 minutes to cook, depending on its thickness. Dried pasta usually takes more than 10 minutes (sometimes as long as 20 minutes). Fresh pasta can save you precious minutes if you are cooking in a rush. Also, fresh pasta usually tastes better.

No-boil pasta dishes

If you like baked pasta dishes (which are especially great for winter), try making them without even boiling the pasta. You can find lasagna noodles that are specifically made for this. All you do is arrange the dry pasta in the casserole dish and top with cheese, sauce and any other ingredients, bake, and voila! You have delicious lasagna without even boiling water. You can even use this same technique with regular pasta, such as ziti or elbow macaroni. You simply need enough liquid (ie, sauce) to cook the pasta in the oven. Macaroni and cheese, for example, works great as a no-boil pasta dish because the milk in the cheese sauce cooks the pasta to perfection.

Use what's in your kitchen

One of the quickest ways to create a tasty pasta dish is to simply use what you have on hand. If you have a few tomatoes, olives and some grated parmesan cheese, that can make the perfect summer pasta dinner dressed with a light olive oil and balsamic vinegar sauce. Or grilled chicken left over from the night before tossed with capers, mushrooms and a white wine sauce make a light yet full flavored pasta dish. Frozen vegetables also work great in pasta dishes, and you don't even have to worry about chopping them. Just look through your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and you can assemble a unique pasta dish without even going to the grocery store.

Make your own quick sauce

Pasta sauce does not have to take hours to prepare. You can make a tasty pesto, Alfredo or red sauce in about 15 to 20 minutes with just a few ingredients. You can also prepare a light olive oil and balsamic vinegar sauce or even a rich and luscious red wine mushroom sauce that tastes like it took all day. Just use some time savers like canned tomatoes and tomato paste for a red sauce or cream cheese to quickly thicken up homemade Alfredo sauce.

Use your slow cooker

You may not think of using a slow cooker to make pasta, but it can be a huge time saver if you begin cooking in the morning. You don't even need to boil the pasta; simply add the ingredients to your slow cooker and let them simmer away for a few hours. Just make sure there is a good amount of liquid so the pasta cooks and the dish does not dry out. Some recipes call for adding the pasta towards the end of the cooking, however, so it does not get too over cooked. You can even use the slow cooker just to make the sauce then boil the pasta and serve with your homemade sauce.

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