Five or Fewer: Get dinner on the table fast with these easy pasta dishes
The first time my grandmother ever tried to make noodles, she put a pot of water on the stove and walked away without knowing she had to turn on the fire. Luckily, that first step is about as complicated as the following recipes get.
Noodles and pasta, it almost goes without saying, are among the fastest and most satisfying ways to get dinner on the table in a hurry. I’ve partnered four noodles — flat ribbons of eggy pappardelle; nutty buckwheat soba; dried ramen noodles, because obviously; and slick-sweet rice noodles — with easy, vegetable-driven mix-ins: the results aren’t classic combinations, but they satisfy in a surprising way. And they’re all the better for coming together so quickly.
So put a pot of water on the stove — with the fire on — and you’ll have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.
These dishes have five or fewer ingredients, but we don’t count oil, salt and pepper (or list them in the ingredients), knowing you’ve got them right on your kitchen counter.
Spring Pea Carbonara
20 minutes. Serves 2 to 4.
The creaminess of carbonara comes from eggs and Parmesan blending into a silky sauce when tossed with al dente noodles. Just make sure the noodles aren’t too hot before tossing or the eggs will scramble. Here, wide pappardelle replaces spindly spaghetti to cradle peas and salty prosciutto. And while you absolutely could substitute fresh, shelled peas from the farmers market, there’s a wonderful maxim from Fergus Henderson, the chef of the legendary St. John restaurant in London, that gives you an easy out: “A wise old chef once told me: Wait till peas are in season, then use frozen.”
- 1 package pappardelle (8 to 9 ounces)
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more
- 4 ounces very thinly sliced prosciutto, torn
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the package directs. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl until smooth. Add the cheese and mix until evenly incorporated.
- Reserve a half cup pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and peas in a large colander and shake to cool slightly. Pour into the bowl with the egg mixture. Toss gently until evenly coated. For a thinner sauce, toss in the reserved water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you get the consistency you want.
- Season lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground black pepper. Fold in the prosciutto until laced through the noodles. Serve immediately.
20 minutes. Serves 2 to 4.
This chilled dish plays richness against brightness. Salting tomatoes releases their sweet juices, which mingle with the sour brine of kimchi juice and the nutty depth of sesame oil in the dressing; swirling in runny egg yolks thickens the mixture.
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 to 4 large eggs
- 1 package soba (8 to 9 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, plus more
- ½ cup cabbage kimchi with juices, plus more
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While waiting, put the tomatoes in a large bowl, generously season with salt, toss, and let stand.
- Once the water boils, boil the eggs: Add as many eggs in their shells as you plan to serve. Boil for 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a small bowl and cover with ice and water.
- Generously salt the boiling water and add the noodles. Cook according to the package directions. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water until room temperature. Shake the colander to remove excess water and dump the noodles into the bowl with the tomatoes.
- Cut the kimchi into bite-size pieces if needed. Add the sesame oil and the kimchi with 2 tablespoons of its juices. Toss until well-mixed. Taste and add more oil, juices and salt to taste. Divide among serving dishes. Carefully peel the eggs and add to the bowls, along with more kimchi if you’d like. Cut the eggs in half, roughly hacking at them with your fork or chopsticks, and mixing them with the noodles to coat them with the yolk. Eat immediately.
Pistachio Pesto Ramen
20 minutes. Serves 2 to 4.
This springtime pesto tastes lighter than most because it doesn’t include cheese. You can shower on Parmesan at the end if you want, but a generous portion of roasted and salted pistachios gives the pesto big flavors. Ramen may not seem like a natural choice for pesto, but its curls hold the herb sauce perfectly.
- ¼ cup shelled roasted and salted pistachios, plus more
- 1 small garlic clove, smashed and peeled
- 1 cup tightly packed basil leaves, plus more
- 1 small lemon
- 2 packages dried ramen (4 to 5 ounces each), noodles only
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- While the water boils, make the pesto: Combine the pistachios, garlic and basil in a food processor. Pulse until very finely chopped, scraping the bowl once or twice. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in a quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil, then zest half of the lemon directly into the mixture. Halve the lemon and squeeze in the juice of the zested half (about 2 tablespoons). Mix well and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cook the ramen noodles as the package directs (don’t add the seasonings). Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water until warm. Shake the colander to remove excess water and dump the noodles into the bowl with the pesto.
- Toss until the noodles are evenly coated. Taste and add more lemon juice, oil and salt if you want. Divide among serving dishes and zest the other half of the lemon directly on top. Sprinkle with more pistachios if you’d like. Serve immediately.
Rainbow Curry Rice Noodles
30 minutes. Serves 2 to 4.
Sweet shallots and carrots mellow the heat of curry, as do rice noodles. Be sure to buy rice noodles that are about a quarter-inch wide; they’re sometimes labeled pad Thai noodles. If you can handle adding a sixth ingredient, a squeeze of fresh lime juice at the end adds welcome brightness and acidity.
- 1 package wide rice noodles (8 ounces)
- 1 can (14 ½ ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon red curry paste, plus more
- 4 rainbow carrots, peeled
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water until cold and drain again.
- Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven or other wide, large pot over medium-high heat. Open the can of coconut milk and scoop 2 to 3 spoonfuls of the solid fat into the Dutch oven. Add half of the shallots, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until a shade darker and toasty, 1 to 2 minutes. Add everything remaining in the can of coconut milk, then fill the can with water and pour it in. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer. Taste and add more curry paste and salt if you’d like. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers, run a vegetable peeler along the lengths of the carrots to create ribbons. You’ll have a flat core of carrot remaining; you can snack on it or save for another use.
- Add the noodles and carrots and stir until both are just tender with a little bite, about 1 minute. Divide among serving bowls, top with the remaining shallots, and serve immediately.
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