By Lorraine Allen
I enjoy cooking in winter because it’s always cold where I live, and hovering near the warm oven and hot stove brings me comfort. And while I love cooking stews and soups above all, pasta dishes seem to be, hands-down, the perennial kid favorite. Thankfully, pasta is so versatile and easy to change up that you can, in fact, prepare it multiple times a week and make it completely different each time, if you wish (or if your kids’ demands are driving you crazy). Here are some delicious kid-approved, easy, and hearty pasta dishes that are perfect for winter.
Pasta With Creamy Tomato Sauce and Bacon
Preheat oven to 425. Bake bacon slices on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet until crisp, about 20 minutes; drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted boiling water; drain and keep warm. To make the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet; add 2 minced garlic cloves and one chopped shallot and cook, stirring, until soft. Stir in 1 tablespoon tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. (You can add chopped fresh herbs now, or dried Italian seasoning.) Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in a few splashes of heavy cream and simmer 10 minutes more. Toss with the pasta and crumbled bacon.
Pasta With Chicken, Eggplant, and Tomatoes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss 1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes, and 1 cup grape tomatoes, cut into halves, with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet (or two). Roast 30 minutes, turning veggies halfway through. Meanwhile, cook and drain pasta (reserve a few tablespoons of cooking water), and chop or shred pre-cooked chicken (leftovers, or a rotisserie chicken) into bite-size pieces. Toss pasta with chicken and roasted veggies. Add some reserved pasta water if mixture is dry. Add a drizzle of olive oil and toss in ½ cup cubed or grated fresh mozzarella and a handful of fresh torn basil leaves.
Pasta With Mushrooms and Herbs
Cook pasta in boiling salted water; drain and keep warm. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan and add a pound or so of chopped mixed mushrooms (such as oyster, cremini, shitake, and soaked dried porcini). Stir in 1 clove of garlic, minced, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, and/or sage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are nicely browned, about seven minutes. Stir in ½ cup either heavy cream or goat cheese (if you prefer a tangier taste), stir well, and simmer over low heat for another five minutes. Toss with the pasta and serve with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.
Lasagna takes effort, but with a few shortcuts you can have dinner on the table in around 30 minutes – and if you make two, you can freeze one to quickly reheat on another weeknight. You’ll need good-quality jarred sauce, no-cook (or “oven ready”) lasagna noodles, and 4 cups total of grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese (fresh grated, by the deli counter). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large, deep baking dish and place noodles in a single layer on the bottom. Top with sauce, and then cheese, repeating until the dish is full, ending with a layer of cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until pasta is tender and cheese is melted. Tip: For a heartier lasagna, brown and drain a pound of sausage or ground beef and add to the sauce.
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Spaghetti With Meatballs
A mixture of ground beef, veal, and pork works best, but you can use chicken, turkey, or lamb, too. In a large bowl, gently mix together 2 pounds ground meat, 1½ cups plain breadcrumbs, 2 beaten eggs, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and a small handful of chopped fresh parsley, thyme, and/or rosemary. Season with salt and pepper, then use moistened hands to form meatballs. Meanwhile, in a large, shallow pan over low heat, simmer a 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes with 2 cloves of minced garlic and a small chopped onion for about 20 minutes. Add the meatballs in a single layer, and cook, without turning – two to three minutes for small ones, four to seven minutes for large – then turn over to finish cooking. Serve over cooked spaghetti.
Easy Pork and Cheese Ravioli
This dish uses a clever shortcut – round dumpling wrappers – instead of homemade pasta dough. For the filling, cook 1½ pounds ground pork and a couple of minced shallots in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until the meat is no longer pink, about seven minutes. Place half the dumpling wrappers on a cutting board and top each with a spoonful of cooked pork and a sprinkle of grated pecorino Romano cheese. Using your finger dipped in the water, trace a ring around the outer edge of the dumpling wrapper, then fold in half and press all around to seal the edges. Cook ravioli about four minutes in boiling water, then drain and serve with your favorite sauce and more grated cheese.
Pasta With Quick Sausage Sauce
This super-quick pasta dish is packed with flavor, and is always a crowd pleaser. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large skillet and add 1½ pounds of your favorite fresh Italian sausage (casings removed); break up the meat with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink, about six minutes. (Optional: add dried herbs, minced garlic, or red pepper.) Stir in a large can of diced tomatoes and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes. Just before serving, stir in a few splashes of heavy cream.
What are your favorite hearty winter pasta dishes?
Lorraine Allen is a writer and mom to one spunky first-grader and one squirrel-obsessed dog. You can follow their allergy-friendly cooking adventures at Feeding Lina.