Pasta isn’t always considered an expensive meal, but when you add a lot of ingredients or a handful of more lavish ones, its price per serving can climb. But these smart pastas rely on just a few powerful ingredients—many of which you probably already have on hand—to keep flavors big and costs low. Because dinner it doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious and feel luxurious.
A fully stocked pantry is cheap pasta’s best friend. Eric Kim deploys spicy gochujang paste here to maximum effect for a six-ingredient paste (not counting salt) with ample depth of flavor. Honey enhances the sauce, while butter softens it, ready to slide the noodles.
This affordable pasta from Sohla El-Waylly is perfect for summer, calling for ripe, juicy cherry tomatoes instead of canned for a lighter, brighter result. Canned sardines and anchovies add the best kind of fishiness, while capers and olives lend salty notes. Almost every element packs a punch.
Recipe: Sardine Pasta Puttanesca
Alexa Weibel really stretches a can of chickpeas here, by first cooking it in rosemary-infused oil. Then, she puts some to use as a garnish, while the rest cooks down in the creamy sauce, thickening it even more.
This version of Kay Chun’s carbonara adds tomatoes and uses bacon, not guanciale, to give it smokiness. One element that remains the same, however, is the egg sauce, which she cleverly tempers with hot pasta water before mixing it with the pasta to prevent curdling.
Garlic lovers, we see you. This pasta from Ali Slagle channels marinara and meat ragout, but still manages to be vegan with its — yes — 40 cloves of garlic. A light breeze softens that garlic before the tomatoes are added. Everything comes together with any short tube pasta of your choice, the better to hold the thick sauce.
Ali Slagle’s take on buttered noodles takes it a small but important step further, as she has you brown the butter until it’s gloriously nutty in smell and taste. Salty parm rounds it out in a dish even the pickiest eaters are sure to enjoy.
Colu Henry takes all the flavors of the classic summer sandwich and riffs on them in this easy weeknight pasta. Cherry tomatoes break down while cooking in bacon fat, which serves as the backbone for the sauce. Arugula (not lettuce) lends a peppery bite, but you could also swap in another green if that appeals.
Recipe: BLT Pasta
This recipe by Genevieve Ko was initially created as an ideal school lunch option for its clever use of pumpkin seeds instead of nuts and its ability to be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature. One other standout? It lasts a while in the fridge, so you can make a big batch and eat it throughout the week.
Recipe: Pasta With Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Summer is pumpkin season, and maybe you count yourself among the lucky ones with a garden bursting with them. But, even if you don’t, this recipe from Florence Fabricant won’t break the budget. Feel free to swap walnuts for the more expensive pine nuts here: They lend the same bite without the price.
Japanese mushrooms are cooked in a butter sauce tossed with soy sauce in this classic wafu (or “Japanese style”) pasta from Hana Asbrink. Scallions and nori as finishing touches add umami and a light, oniony sheen to counter the earthy mushrooms. You could skip them, but don’t.
Recipe: Mushroom Wafu Pasta
Creamed spinach, that stellar steakhouse favorite, gets the pasta treatment from Colu Henry. And why not? It makes perfect sense. She calls for fresh spinach here, but you could also easily take a commenter’s tip and use frozen chopped spinach that has been thawed and drained. It is cooked down in garlic butter, then thickened into a sauce with cream. A dollop of ricotta makes it feel extra rich without breaking the bank.
Recipe: Creamed Spinach Pasta