How to dress up your pasta from the pantry

Pasta has become an inexpensive, versatile and shelf-stable staple for many who want to limit trips to the grocery store.

Transform this cheap, versatile shelf-stable staple with ingredients in your cupboard

A classic pasta puttanesca with olives, capers and sometimes anchovies can be made by simmering down any form of canned tomatoes in your pantry. (Supplied by Julie van Rosendaal)

Pasta has become an inexpensive, versatile and shelf-stable staple for many who want to limit trips to the grocery store.

Though many default to jarred sauces, pasta of all shapes and sizes can be quickly and easily dressed with pantry staples.

If you do like a tomato sauce for your pasta, the great food writer Marcella Hazan's formula for the best simple red sauce is perhaps her most widely used recipe.

Simmer a large (28 oz) can of tomatoes, a small onion, some butter and a big pinch of salt, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon, for 45 minutes.

Remove and discard the onion (or whiz it in with a handheld immersion blender right in the pot) and serve with pasta.

If you have random jars of briny things like olives and capers in your pantry, try a classic pasta puttanesca with olives, capers and sometimes anchovies. It can be made by simmering down any form of canned tomatoes in your pantry — diced, stewed, whole, crushed or pureed, intensified if you like with a spoonful or squirt of tomato paste.

(Tubes last a long time, and are more easily stored than leftovers from a can.)

Warm a generous pour of olive oil with some garlic (melt in an anchovy fillet if you're a fan), then cook down tomatoes with smashed or chopped olives and capers, then serve 

Stale slices and heels of bread can easily be turned into rustic crumbs in the food processor (or grate frozen slices on the coarse side of a box grater) and added to pasta with olive oil, garlic and some of the starchy pasta water (toss some crumbs with the pasta, and save some to add crunch on top).

If you have a chunk of parmesan or pecorino in the fridge, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) can be quickly made, again making use of some of the starchy cooking water.

You may also find tins of oily fish in your pantry — good tuna packed in oil or even sardines can be added to pasta with olive oil, garlic and parmesan.

Or look in your freezer. Frozen peas can be added to the cooking water during the last few minutes, then drained along with the pasta and dressed with butter, parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. 

And if you find yourself with extra cooked pasta, it can be easily reheated (without clumping!) by dipping it in boiling water for a minute (or heat the kettle and pour overtop), then draining, or you could make a pasta frittata by adding some beaten egg and cheese and cooking it on the stovetop in a skillet (or start it on the stovetop, finish it in the oven).

Dress cold plain pasta with any kind of vinaigrette, and add whatever veggies or canned beans you have on hand to make a cold pasta salad, or add peanut sauce for cold peanut noodles. 

Toast Crumb & Garlic Spaghetti

Toast crumb and garlic spaghetti, from 'Dirty Food' by Julie Van Rosendaal. (Supplied by Julie Van Rosendaal)


250 g dry spaghetti (about enough for 4)


2-4 slices white bread (or 1-2 cups fresh crumbs)

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed

¼ cup (ish) butter

2 tbsp (ish) olive oil

Pinch red chilli flakes

Freshly grated parmesan


Cook the spaghetti in a big pot of salted water until al dente, and scoop out about a cup of the cooking water before you drain it. 

Meanwhile, whiz your bread into rough crumbs, along with the garlic, in a food processor.

Set a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter and oil and when the butter starts to foam, add the garlicky breadcrumbs and chili flakes and cook, stirring, until toasty and golden. 

Scoop about half of the crumbs out of the pan, add the drained pasta and toss to coat with the remaining crumbs, grating some parmesan overtop and adding a splash of the starchy pasta water to moisten.

Serve topped with the reserved crumbs and extra parmesan.

Serves 4.

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

Don’t be afraid to add a sprig of rosemary, a chopped carrot, a bit of crumbled sausage or anything else you think would be delicious to your pasta e ceci. (Supplied by Julie Van Rosendaal)

Pasta e ceci is a quick sort of soupy pasta that's a staple in Rome, where there are as many variations as there are people who make it.

This version is cooked quickly on the stovetop, pasta and all, which allows the starch from the pasta to thicken the sauce.

Choose a small shape that cooks quickly, or use broken lasagna noodles if you have a few left at the end of the box, or a bunch of different varieties if you have a few kinds to get rid of.

If you have a parmesan rind around, toss that into the pot, too. And don't be afraid to add a sprig of rosemary, a chopped carrot, a bit of crumbled sausage or anything else you think would be delicious.

Although there are hundreds of similar versions out there, I took direction from Deb's Smitten Kitchen website, and she took hers from Rachel Roddy at the Guardian.


A generous drizzle of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

¼ cup tomato paste or ½ cup crushed tomatoes or passata 

1 tsp salt (or to taste)

A good grind of black pepper

1 15 or 19 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (1½-2 cups)

½ cup (or a handful) small pasta, like small shells, ditalini or little hoops

2 cups hot water (put the kettle on to boil if you want to speed things up)

For garnish:

Good olive oil, warmed if you like with a clove of garlic, bit of chopped rosemary and/or pinch of red chili flakes



In a deep skillet or heavy pot, heat the olive oil with the garlic until it starts to smell wonderfully garlicky.

Add the tomatoes (careful, it might splatter) and salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for a minute.

Add the chickpeas, pasta and water and bring to a simmer, stirring until the sauce is uniform.

Turn the heat down and let it simmer away for 15 minutes, or until the pasta is tender and much of the liquid is reduced and absorbed.

If you like, warm a bit of olive oil on the stove with a crushed clove of garlic, about half a sprig of chopped rosemary or a pinch of chili flakes and drizzle it overtop with the parmesan; otherwise, just add a drizzle of straight-up olive oil.

Serves 2 generously.

Cacio e Pepe


8 oz (250 g) long, dry pasta, such as spaghetti, bucatini or linguine 

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp butter

1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1-1½ cups finely grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving 


Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions, or until al dente. Before draining it, scoop out about a cup of the starchy cooking water with a ladle or measuring cup.

As the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet (one that will accommodate your pasta) over medium heat, grind in a generous amount of pepper and allow it to toast for about a minute.

Add the butter and about ¼ cup of the starchy water and whisk it all together. 

Drain and add the pasta (or transfer it to the skillet with tongs), add the cheese and toss with tongs, adding a splash more hot pasta water until it emulsifies and turns into a creamy sauce. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Listen to food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal on the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesdays at 8:20 a.m. MT. Hear her full column on bread:

Pasta with panache! Our food guide Julie van Rosendaal joins us. 6:57

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.