The Ultimate Student Guide to Pasta

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As a student, you will probably eat a lot of pasta. We are a couple of weeks into term and chances are you’ve had pasta at least four times, let’s be honest, probably more. And most of the time you’ll have gone for a simple option like just adding some cheese or tuna mayo. However, if you are going to be eating pasta near enough every day you are going to need to find a way to make pasta more exciting. Good news: this is easy to do. Diversifying your pasta does not take much effort and is super quick (not as quick as tuna mayo but they are worth the microscopic amount of extra effort). If you are looking for some inspiration or simply want to spice up your favourite pasta dish, then this step-by-step guide is for you.

Step 1: Pasta

A very simple thing to change is the pasta itself. You might always automatically buy penne, so why don’t you vary it? Sure, there are some obvious options like spaghetti and macaroni, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. You might find you really like the bow-tie-like farfalle or the ribbon-like tagliatelle. Changing the shape can make a difference to your meal – not all pasta tastes the same!

There are also pasta variations that are distinctly different to the other, like gnocchi or tortelloni. Gnocchi is a potato dumpling and tortelloni is a stuffed pasta. Swapping your usual pasta shape for one of these can then transform a simple meal like pasta and tomato sauce into a new mixture of textures and flavours.

A bigger change you can make is buying pasta made with different ingredients. Recently I have been using whole-wheat pasta instead of white pasta. This adds more fibre to your meal without affecting taste. But flour is not the only thing pasta can be made out of. You can also get pasta made from spinach, chickpeas, carrots and just about any vegetable you can think of – you can even make them yourself!

Step 2: Sauce

Most of us will have our trusty jars of pasta sauce in our cupboards. They are great, they take about 5 minutes to cook and are super tasty. A simple way to mix up your pasta would be to try different sauces – you can buy more than just a classic tomato pasta sauce! Other traditional sauces such as mac ‘n’ cheese and carbonara can be bought in a jar and again this is only a few of the more basic options.  

Another option is to buy fresh pasta sauce. It takes about the same amount of time to cook and it won’t break the bank. If you are too lazy to make your own sauce (or if you lack the nack to master a sauce), but still want something that tastes fresh, then this is a great option that shouldn’t be forgotten!

Of course, you can also make your own sauce. If you think the options are endless for jarred sauces, then be prepared for the endless options available to you if you make the sauce yourself – the limits literally do not exist. Of course, the classic sauces like tomato, cheese and carbonara are not that hard to make – they only take a few key ingredients! But you can also make whatever you like. You can tailor your favourite sauce to your specific taste – even if it is weird, no one can stop you.

Step 3: Extras

This is where there is perhaps the most variety. This might be a controversial statement but: everything goes with pasta. You can add whatever meats, vegetables, protein sources, fibre source etc to your pasta dish. You might have to find the right sauce but trust me it will work.

Add some meat (chicken, turkey, beef etc), fish (salmon, tuna, etc), pulses (beans, peas etc) and/or some vegetables (spinach, tomatoes, peppers etc) and suddenly your meal is full of nutrients and protein. You won’t need to lie when your mum asks what you’ve had for tea!

Any of these extras will at most include just having another pan on the stove, it is so easy. You can also add pre-cooked leftovers (although probably not from a takeaway) so even your designated ‘bad cook’ flatmate can do it.

Step 4: Toppings

You might think that pasta toppings are just sprinkling a bit of cheese on top. However, there is so much more that can be done.

First of all, a lot of cheese varieties exists, so cheese can be an exciting topping. You don’t have to just use your everyday cheese, you can splurge and get yourself some fancier cheese, cheese lasts forever so there is no worry about it going off before you use it all! You can buy parmesan; it doesn’t just exist in Bella Italia. If you try hard enough you can add basically add any cheese to pasta, mozzarella is my personal favourite, especially if you make it into a pasta bake.

This brings me to my second point, oven baking pasta with cheese on top can be a game-changer. A small, simple step but it changes the whole texture of the meal. If you want to go wild you can add breadcrumbs, ready salted crisps or cream crackers to make it even crispier.

Finally, you can go all posh and add some nuts, some seeds or even some croutons.

Step 5: Sides  

A classic is garlic bread. Another obvious option is a salad. However, you can have whatever you want alongside your pasta. Nothing will happen… except your flatmates might think you’re a little bit weird. A small cost for a delicious meal.

You can have any of the variations of the ‘extras’ I mentioned as a side. If you don’t like your vegetables covered in sauce or don’t think they will go with what you’re having, making them a side dish can solve your problem. If you would have the meat, fish or vegetarian substitute in your pasta, then you can also have it with your pasta.

Flipping the game and having pasta as the side is another option. Pasta is a carb just like chips so you can always switch them out in your meal. This solves the classic student problem of having no idea how much pasta is for one person. If you made too much pasta, you can have it as a side another day.

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