Use This Easy Formula to Make Amazing Pasta Side Dishes All Winter Long
Sure, spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. But for me pasta is also a great side dish for almost any protein, especially in the winter. Better yet, using my four-step pasta formula, I can build all kinds of pasta combos that start with creative shapes and end with surprises on top. It couldn't be easier! Here's how it works.
Step 1: Pick a pasta shape
Choose a shape or style of pasta that works well with the rest of your meal, and plan for six ounces of dried pasta to serve two people as a side dish. Here's my insider's guide to matching shapes to sides:
Braises: penne or cavatappi to capture the sauce or gravy
Light mains like fish and chicken: pappardelle, which eats lighter than some other shapes
Hearty mains like beef or pork: chewier pastas like rigatoni
Step 2: Top with butter
Sure, you can use plain butter here, but if you only have three ways to bring flavor to your pasta, make them all count! For me, this means compound butter. I buy pre-made butters from brands including D'Artagnan, Isola, and Kerrygold, or I make my own and store in small portions in the freezer for ease. You will need one tablespoon of butter for every six ounces of pasta.
White and black truffle butter for super luxurious flavor
Roasted garlic butter for a rustic heft
Black garlic butter for some sweetness
Porcini butter for an earthy meatiness
Smoked paprika butter for both color and gentle smoky heat
Step 3: Add an intense flavor boost
Here's where you tuck in some delicious flavor to make your pasta side dish sing—an item that packs a wallop in a small amount. Depending on how intense the flavor is, you'll need between ½ tablespoon and 1 ½ tablespoons per six ounces of pasta. Use these ideas to get started:
Citrus zest or oil
Crispy bacon or pancetta cubes
And of course, grated cheese
A note: With items like citrus zest, start with ½ tablespoon. Crispy pancetta cubes? 1 ½ tablespoons. In general, begin with less; you can always add more.
Step 4: Top with a fresh herb
Don't skip this step! A fresh herbal hit brings both color and fresh flavor to your dish. Think about using these fresh (not dried!) herbs:
And here's where you can think about pairing with your main dish. If you cook your stew with thyme, put fresh thyme in with your pasta. If your lamb is marinated with rosemary, add fresh rosemary to your pasta. Assume ½-1 tablespoon of chopped fresh herb per six ounces of pasta. More subtle herbs like basil, chives, parsley, or chervil you can use more; woody or intense herbs like sage, mint, rosemary, or thyme, start with less.
Some delicious pasta combinations
This is all about playing and experimenting, but if you want a few to get you started, here are some of my favorite, dinner-tested combos:
Pappardelle with truffle butter, lemon zest, and chives
Cavatappi with porcini butter, pancetta, and sage
Penne with roasted garlic butter, Parmesan, and parsley
Orecchiette with smoked paprika butter, sundried tomatoes, and basil
Secret step 5: crunch!
Want to take this pasta to an even higher place? Add a textural element like toasted nuts or breadcrumbs for crunch.