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Weeknight dinners needn’t be boring – these creamy pasta dishes are every bit as satisfying as they are quick to put together.
There are few things that pique our attention quite like a generous helping of pasta. Especially when said pasta is coated with a rich, creamy and irresistibly cheesy sauce, who are we to resist?
And with many of us making a return to the office, we’re looking for dishes that can easily be whipped up once we get home – or for those who are still WFH, meals that can be created in a flash once your laptop is finally cleared away from the kitchen table.
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Quick, easy, yet deeply satisfying, pasta is always a weeknight winner, though we see no reason why these indulgently creamy dishes wouldn’t match equally well with a lazy Saturday night in front of the TV, or a Sunday afternoon lunch with friends.
A classic pasta bake is a recipe everyone needs in their repertoire. A firm favourite for all occasions, Theo Michaels’ recipes makes the most of your kitchen cupboards, using dried pasta, along with tinned tuna, tomato soup and olives for a meal that comes together in minutes. Finished with a good helping of both cheddar and mozzarella cheese, which are melted to perfection once baked, this simple dish will go down a treat.
For lovers of blue cheese, look no further than Alexander Hoss-Knakal’s pasta with radicchio, gorgonzola and walnuts. Promising creamy perfection, the tangy cheese is turned into a heavenly sauce with cream, white wine and cream cheese – with tart apple, bitter radicchio and crunchy walnuts cutting through the richness of the blue cheese-laced sauce.
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And for good days, bad days and everything in between, mac and cheese is always a good idea. While Alice Zaslavsky’s double denim mac and cheese guarantees plenty of dairy goodness (the recipe makes use of both comté and parmesan), it also has the bonus of not one, but two hidden vegetables. A comforting cheesy, creamy pasta recipe that still offers two of our five a day? Who are we to say no…
Creamy tomato and tuna pasta bake
Theo says: “What self-respecting canned cookbook wouldn’t include a proper store-cupboard tuna pasta bake? Not this one, that’s for sure! I love how the cream of tomato soup softens the sauce, making it a little creamier than using regular canned tomatoes; plus it’s really quick – you just need to put it together and whack it in the oven! And to ring the changes, this recipe works equally well using cream of mushroom or asparagus soup (just leave out the tomato purée).”
- 360g dried fusilli or penne pasta
- A splash of olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 2 tsp dried mixed herbs or dried oregano
- 1⁄2 x 150g can pitted black olives, drained
- 400g can cream of tomato soup
- 110g can tuna, drained
- 100g grated cheddar cheese
- 150g mozzarella ball
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan.
Cook the pasta in a pan of salted boiling water for about eight minutes (under-cook it by a minute or two). Drain, reserving 125ml of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat a splash of olive oil in a large ovenproof pan and fry the onion for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the garlic for a moment. Follow this with the tomato purée, dried herbs, olives and a generous seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pour in the can of soup, stir and let it simmer gently for a few minutes. Tip the drained pasta into the sauce and stir to incorporate fully, then add the reserved pasta cooking water. Crumble in the tuna, folding it in just enough to be fully coated – you don’t want it obliterated in the sauce.
Scatter the grated cheddar all over the top, then cut the mozzarella into five or six slices and lay them over the top. Finish with a little drizzle of olive oil.
Pop into the preheated oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese has fully melted, then serve.
From Canned by Theo Michaels (£18.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Pasta with radicchio, gorgonzola and walnuts
- 3 French shallots
- 1 tart apple (eg Granny Smith)
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- 1 small head of radicchio (red chicory)
- 150g gorgonzola cheese
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 60ml white wine
- 100ml thin (pouring) cream
- 60g cream cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 300g fusilloni (large spiral pasta)
- 40g walnuts
Peel and finely dice the shallots. Wash or peel the apple, if preferred. Halve, core and cut into thin slices and then into julienne strips. Toss the julienned apple with the orange juice.
Wash and trim the radicchio. Pat dry and cut into bite-sized pieces. Finely dice the gorgonzola.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the shallots and sweat. Add the gorgonzola and deglaze with the white wine. Stir in the cream, cream cheese and a little salt and pepper and simmer for about one minute.
Meanwhile, bring plenty of salted water to the boil in a pot. Cook the fusilloni until al dente according to the instructions on the packet. Add the pasta to the sauce and briefly return everything to the boil. Toss in the radicchio. Coarsely chop the walnuts and dry-roast them in a frying pan.
Divide the pasta and sauce among plates. Garnish with the walnuts and julienned apple and serve.
From Fairytale Cooking by Alexander Hoss-Knakal (Murdoch Books, £20), out now
Double Denim Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Alice says: “Remember when Justin and Britney were dating, and went to the MTV Video Music Awards wearing double double denim? Well, between his hair (noodles) and her surname (Spears), I bring you this dish. Often, mac ’n’ cheese recipes are let down by too many steps (I’m looking at you, béchamel sauce), so what I love about this one is that the only thing standing between you and a bowl of oozy deliciousness studded with sumptuous asparagus spears is how long it takes to boil the pasta. If you don’t have time to fuss around with cooking the veggies, chop the asparagus into fine discs and toss into the colander just before draining the pasta water through it; this will cook the asparagus just enough to take the raw edge off. You can also grate some of the cauliflower through the cooked pasta just before turning off the heat and draining. Pouring plenty of boiling water over a cupful or two of frozen peas in a bowl is another option.”
- 500g macaroni (or gluten-free pasta)
- 3–4 bunches of asparagus, about 600g in total
- ½ head of cauliflower, with leaves
- 100g butter
- 300g comté (or gruyère or cheddar), grated
- 250g parmesan, grated
- Olive oil, for drizzling
For the bonus beurre noisette:
- 80g butter
- 1 handful of raw or roasted hazelnuts
Grab your largest pot, fill it three-quarters full of water, add plenty of salt and bring to a vigorous boil. Add the macaroni, setting a timer for three minutes before the packet says the pasta will be ready.
Meanwhile, snap the woody ends off the asparagus and reserve them, then slice the spears into bite-sized pieces. Chop the cauliflower into fork-sized florets, and the stalks into bite-sized pieces. Cut the leaves to forkful size and reserve.
Melt the butter in a large non-stick saucepan.
When your timer goes off, pop the cauliflower into the pasta pot, then reset the timer for another two minutes.
When the timer goes off again, in go the asparagus spears, then reset the timer for one minute more. Scoop out and reserve a mugful of pasta water, then carefully pour the asparagus, cauliflower and pasta mixture into a colander to drain.
To make the beurre noisette, pop the reserved asparagus ends and cauliflower leaves in the emptied pasta pot with the butter and hazelnuts. Allow to bubble away and brown over medium heat until the pot smells like you’re baking cookies in it. Reserve for garnish. Meanwhile, sprinkle all the comté and about 200g of the parmesan into the other saucepan of melted butter, then add the cooked pasta, veggies and mugful of reserved pasta water. Stir until everything combines into one glorious oozy mess. Season to taste with salt and plenty of cracked black pepper.
Scoop out the brown butter mix across the mac ’n’ cheese. Sprinkle each serving bowl with the remaining parmesan, another couple of cracks of black pepper, drizzle with a glug of olive oil and serve.
Store your leftovers in an ovenproof dish, so that all you have to do the next day is sprinkle panko or rice crumbs on top, glug with olive oil, finish with some grated parmesan and reheat at 180°C for 10 minutes or so.
From In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky (Murdoch Books, £25), out now
Photography: Mowie Kay © Ryland Peters & Small; Melina Kutelas; Ben Dearnley