25 Best Pasta Recipes - Cooking Light (2023)

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Whether you're cooking for a family supper or entertaining with friends, these top-rated pasta recipes will never fail to impress. For weeknights, keep it simple by choosing quick-cooking pasta recipes like Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce with Spaghetti. If you have more time to spend in the kitchen, try a batch of Tomato-Basil Lasagna with Prosciutto. From creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese to luscious Fettuccine Alfredo, your family and your guests are sure to find a favorite in this collection of healthy pasta recipes.

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Fresh Tomato, Sausage, and Pecorino Pasta

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

In honor of our 25th anniversary, we compiled a collection of our readers' best-loved pasta recipes from the past 25 years. Based on research from MyRecipes.com, we pulled the Cooking Light recipes that received the most votes and highest star ratings.

First up: Put ripe tomatoes to good use and make a fresh tomato sauce to top sweet Italian sausage and penne pasta. Reviewer sillybluestarr raves, "I didn't change a thing about the recipe and it's so amazing. I make this for guests when they come over!"

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Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Feta Vinaigrette

Credit: Photo: Lee Harrelson

Orzo pasta is a versatile base for dishes, and this one is chock-full of zesty ingredients. Red onions add crunch and the combination of artichoke hearts, feta cheese, and kalamata olives all add fresh brininess to the salad.

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Creamy, Light Macaroni and Cheese

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

Nothing defines comfort food better than mac and cheese, and nothing gives "comfort" a bad nutritional name quite so deliciously: A typical bowl can contain a half-day's worth of calories and two days' saturated fat. So, we gave the well-loved classic dish a much needed makeover. Instead of the traditional buttery, heavy sauce, we turned to an unlikely hero for a boost: butternut squash. Combined with nonfat milk and Greek yogurt, the squash adds a rich, nutty flavor, sneaks in some vegetable, and brilliantly mimics the color and creaminess of cheddar sauce. Over fifty 5-star reviews agree: butternut squash is a delicious addition.

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Baked Ziti and Summer Veggies

Credit: Photo: John Autry and Randy Mayor; Styling: Cindy Barr

Add pops of color to baked ziti with fresh summer veggies like squash, zucchini, and tomato. This quick and versatile recipe can be easily adjusted based on your favorite veggies or what you have on hand.

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Farfalle with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

This farfalle recipe scored high in our Test Kitchen for its rich flavor and ultracreamy texture. The exotic mushroom blend, a combination of shiitake, cremini, and oyster mushrooms, is sold in eight-ounce packages. If unavailable, you can use all cremini mushrooms.

Reviewer evelyns agrees with our Test Kitchen, "This was by far the BEST pasta dish I have ever made. It was amazingly fast to prepare and was truly restaurant quality."

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Roasted Chicken and Bow Tie Pasta Salad

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

The flavor and contrasting textures―crunchy celery, onion, and walnut, chewy pasta, tender chicken, and juicy grapes―make an easy salad that can be made ahead and travels well, either for a dinner on the go or a workday lunch. Leftover chicken, or deli ham or turkey can take the place of the store-bought rotisserie bird if you prefer.

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Pasta with Asparagus, Pancetta, and Pine Nuts

We love the bright flavor that lemon juice and fresh asparagus bring to this recipe. Pine nuts are particularly delicious in this dish, but feel free to substitute walnuts if you have them on hand.

Reviewer cookfromsocal gave the dish 5 stars: "This was fantastic, lot of flavor and so easy. Next time will put in more pine nuts. Couldn't wait to have the leftovers for lunch the next day. A definite repeat."

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Fettuccine Alfredo with Bacon

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

When you're short on time and the ingredient list is short, make every ingredient the freshest and best you can find. A real wood-smoked bacon imparts lots of flavor to this quick fettuccine alfredo: Applewood is mild and slightly sweet, while hardwood, such as hickory, is more assertive.

Laurie18 says, "I found this recipe to be quite the guilty pleasure. Alfredo usually has a 1000 calories and this had less than 400 calories and included bacon!

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Tomato-Basil Lasagna with Prosciutto

Instead of full-fat ricotta, which is used in traditional recipes, we combine low-fat cottage cheese and fat-free cream cheese for just enough creaminess without all the heft. This tasty lasagna is a great make-ahead option. After assembling the lasagna, cover and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator; bake as directed.

"This recipe will definitely be on repeat!" praises reviewer heidz23. "Sometimes eating something like lasagna leaves you feeling heavy, but this is a great, lightened version that is just as flavorful."

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Orecchiette with Peas, Shrimp, and Buttermilk-Herb Dressing

Credit: Photo: Anna Williams

This herby pasta salad is perfect for a picnic or potluck gathering; you can easily double the recipe to serve a crowd. Can't find orecchiette? Medium shell-shaped pasta will also work in its place.

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Bow Ties with Tomatoes, Feta, and Balsamic Dressing

Credit: Photo: Lee Harrelson

You're reading the recipe correctly: There are green grapes in this dish. Their juicy, crisp, and bright sweetness complements the tomatoes and provides a nice contrast to feta's creamy tang. Besides the pan-grilled asparagus shown, any green vegetable sautéed or grilled with a little garlic, salt, and pepper makes a good side―try spinach, broccoli, or even kale.

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Bucatini with Mushrooms

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

A large assortment of mushrooms, including luxurious dried porcinis, is the key to the huge earthy flavor of this dish. It's meatless, but you'd never know it with all the savory flavor of mushrooms, Parmesan, and truffle oil. A generous splash of cream gives the sauce its luscious texture.

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Roasted Asparagus and Tomato Penne Salad with Goat Cheese

Credit: Photo: John Autry

Herbes de Provence lends a hit of floral flavor to the dressing of this penne salad. Serve this dish immediately or cover and chill for 2 hours for a cold pasta salad.

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Mushroom Bolognese

Credit: Photo: John Autry

Food journalist and author Mark Bittman retooled classic bolognese sauce giving it less meat, more flavor, and the same luxurious creaminess as the traditional version.

"This smells incredible as it cooks, with a deep, earthy, mushroomy fragrance," praises Executive Food Editor Ann Taylor Pittman. "And the flavor lives up to the promise of the aroma."

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Asparagus and Chicken Carbonara

Pasta carbonara is traditionally made with raw egg yolks and whipping cream. This lighter version achieves the same texture with egg substitute and fat-free evaporated milk. Egg substitutes are excellent to use in recipes that traditionally call for raw eggs. Substitutes are pasteurized and have a low risk of containing bacteria.

Serve this dish immediately; if it stands, the sauce can become too thick.

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Penne with Sausage, Eggplant, and Feta

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

Meaty breakfast sausage, earthy eggplant, and zesty feta complement each other in this hearty pasta dish.

"This was so amazingly quick, easy, and delicious. My husband does not like eggplant so he gave it the evil eye then proceeded to eat two huge servings!" said reviewer fittaraw.

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Farfalle with Tomatoes, Onions, and Spinach

Credit: Photo: John Autry

Give your family a taste of the Mediterranean with this simple meatless pasta dinner.

"Tasted great as leftovers," said reviewer MeeshMech79. "The second night I tossed in some rotisserie chicken but it's certainly filling as a meatless meal as well."

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Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Shrimp Fra Diavolo recipes can often be very hot, but you can adjust the spice to your preference by adding more or less red pepper. To save money, be sure to use inexpensive medium-size shrimp in this garlicky, spicy classic.

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Sausage, Tomato, and Arugula Fettuccine

This 20-minute recipe has become a favorite among staff and readers alike for its ease to prepare and use of bold ingredients like peppery arugula and savory sausage. A sprinkling of shaved pecorino Romano cheese gives a salty bite.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Smoky bacon compliments the richness of butternut squash in this casserole to create a dish that can be enjoyed right away or prepared ahead for a party or weeknight meals. BeckiSue says, “This was just perfect!! The roasted butternut squash, rosemary, bacon, and cheese complimented each other so well... Will be making again and again!!!”

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Quick-Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce with Spaghetti

Credit: Photo: Gentl & Hyers

Sweet, sun-ripened tomatoes collapse into a beautifully rustic sauce. For the prettiest dish, use multicolored tomatoes from the farmers' market or, if you're lucky, your backyard.

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Peppery Monterey Jack Pasta Salad

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

This 20-minute pasta salad is great as either an entrée or side and is packed with tons of flavor. Readers rave about the dish's versatility; you can customize it easily by using whatever veggies you have on hand. For the pasta, we use acini di pepe [ah-CHEE-nee dee-PAY-pay]: tiny pasta rounds resembling peppercorns. Feel free to use ditalini (very short tube-shaped macaroni) or any other small pasta shape if you can't find acini di pepe in your supermarket.

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Fettuccine with Mushrooms and Hazelnuts

Credit: Photo: John Autry

"Incredible flavor & texture. Simply delicious!" —PROMOGAL

Fresh pasta pairs well with a simple, barely-there sauce that will gently coat each noodle, highlighting the fresh pasta's uniquely soft, smooth texture without overwhelming it or stealing its shine. This dish makes for a satisfying meatless meal that is sure to please your taste buds.

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Greek Pasta with Meatballs

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

This riff on spaghetti and meatballs uses rice-shaped pasta, ground lamb, and tangy feta cheese—a fitting complement to the spiced lamb. To make ahead, brown the meatballs, freeze on a tray, and store in a zip-top bag for up to one month.

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Cavatappi with Bacon and Summer Vegetables

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

A light, flavorful pasta toss, accented with crumbled bacon, is a quick and easy dinner solution for any night of the week. Use whatever veggies you have on hand to add to the colorful dish. Serve with a mixed greens salad.

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