Up until a year ago, pasta wasn’t something we ate very often, a fact that surprised many who knew we had two teenage boys in the house. It wasn’t that we weren’t fans, because we really, really were, it’s just that the boys prefer meaty meals, so pasta was something we turned to once every two weeks when we unearthed a litre of Bolognese from the freezer, or had leftover bits of chicken to refashion in the form of a new and exciting dinner.
Lately, though, I’ve discovered a love for the simple, humble vegetarian pasta dish, and I find myself serving it more frequently to my enthusiastic eaters who don’t seem to mind the absence of any meat (well, maybe they do, but they keep quiet about the fact).
I have two dishes that I've had on repeat since last spring, one of which is busy weeknight-worthy, and the other is mostly suited for Saturday or Sunday night dinner because it requires the time-consuming (but hands-off task!) of caramelizing onions. Having said that, it’s sophisticated enough to serve to your guests, so consider this the post where I give you TWO must-make vegetarian pasta dishes designed to suit any of your dinner needs.
The first, spaghetti aglio e olio, is about as cheap and cheerful as a dish can get, and goes from stovetop to table in less than 30 minutes. Made with just a handful of ingredients – olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, parsley, pasta and Parmesan – I serve an oversized bowl of these oil-coated noodles alongside a hearty kale salad and no one seems to mind that I may have omitted adding any meat.
The second dish, pasta with yogurt and caramelized onions, is sophisticated yet simple, striking enough for company, and reminds me of an Alfredo sauce that’s lighter, leaner, and better thanks to the hefty garnish of caramelized onions and Parmesan cheese.
Both dishes leave me feeling satiated and completely satisfied. They’re also easy on the wallet and save me lots of time, the true testament of a meal that sees plenty of table time these days.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
- 1 lb. dried spaghetti
- ½ cup olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until al dente, about 1 minute less than the directions on the package. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water; drain pasta.
2. Meanwhile, while the pasta is cooking, set a large skillet set over low heat and warm the oil. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat until the pasta is drained.
3. Return the skillet to low heat. Add the pasta and half of the reserved cooking liquid and stir until the pasta is well coated with the sauce, adding more water as needed. Dump it into a large serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped parsley and the grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with extra cheese on the side, if desired.
Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions
- 4 good glugs of olive oil
- 5 yellow onions, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound fresh fettuccine, tagliatelle or other long pasta
- 2 cups Greek yogurt
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- Optional: chopped parsley or chives
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and golden brown, 30-40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water. Drain and reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.
3. In the same pot, whisk together the Greek yogurt with the pasta water, starting with ¼ cup and adding more, as needed, to reach desired thickness. Toss pasta with the yogurt mixture. Transfer to a large platter or bowl, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and top with onions. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or chives, if desired.
Adapted from Amanda Hesser, The New York Times and Food52’s Genius Recipes