Sunday Gravy is the stuff of legend. Simmered gently for hours, until tomato and garlic and onion and herbs and meat have melded together, it’s among the most iconic of Italian cooking traditions. But most nights don’t allow for a six-hour sauce, let alone one hour. If Sunday Gravy is on one end of the spectrum, weeknight pasta is on the other. Like buttered toast and fried eggs eaten over the sink at 9:30 p.m., it can seem like a last resort. With a little bit of know-how, though, it’s anything but.

The three recipes below are less hard-and-fast rules and more outlines that welcome improvisation, relying entirely on pantry staples — those items that you use often, or maybe rarely, but which have a long shelf life. Simmering complementary ingredients just long enough for the flavors to mingle (and for the pasta to cook) turns weeknight pasta into something worth celebrating, rivaling Sunday Gravy in spirit (if not in satisfaction).

Easy, Indulgent, Weeknight Pasta for a Near-Empty Fridge

Composed of little more than an emulsion of butter and Parmesan cheese and tossed with al dente pasta, Back Pocket Pasta‘s Fusilli Alfredo is the ultimate in empty-fridge cooking.

How to Doctor Up That Old Can of Tomatoes

A briny, delicious pasta dish that derives its flavor entirely from pantry staples you might already have: canned tomatoes, anchovies, capers and olives. Even better, it takes just a few minutes to prepare.

Italy’s Version of Macaroni and Cheese Is Better, Faster and Easier

As it turns out, this mac and cheese alternative is about as simple to make as the stuff that comes in a box.

This Pasta’s Secret Ingredient: Leftover Beer Malt

Made with spent barley malts, Sfoglini’s BxB Radiators let you eat your beer (kind of). Read the Story

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