Infuse Your Pasta Dish with More Flavor!

During my first year of college, I practically ate at the dining halls every single day. It was a meal plan that was covered as part of my dormitory tuition, so why not? After a long stressful day of class, the moment I enter that dining hall, EVERYTHING looks so good. The burgers, the pizza, tacos, fried chicken, sandwiches, and especially the pasta. It was a complete buffet meal 3 times day. After just a few weeks in, I was already gaining massive weight. Of course with time, my dorm mates and I had access to the school gym so we worked out and we became more wise with our eating habits.

By my 2nd year of college, my friends and I rented out an apartment and we no longer had access to the meal plan so we decided to try out cooking. Pasta is typically a go-to dish that most college kids would cook. It’s pretty easy, just boil some pasta in any form, heat up some pasta sauce, then combine them together and feast! Sometimes, we’ll be tired of cooking and just go out for food. When Olive Garden has the all you can eat pasta deal, chances are, you’ll find my friends and I there. Something about their pasta is just far superior in taste than how I cook it.

Something Seems to Be Missing in My Pasta

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At the very minimum for cooking pasta, you will need: pasta (in any form) and pasta sauce.

     

Of course, a pasta dish with just the noodles and sauce can be quite bland, and it tastes pretty much like a watered down frozen package of spaghetti. Over the years, I started to experiment around and add other things to it. The flavor to my pasta improved with time and became more nutritious, but you can also make it less healthy like for a cheat day too. These days, you’ll find me adding all sorts of meats and veggies to my pasta.

Vegetables

  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes (Fresh and/or sun-dried)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cilantro
  • Artichokes
  • Frozen mixed vegetables package (for healthier pasta)
  • Broccoli

Meats

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Frozen meatball
  • Shrimp
  • Sausage
  • Hot dogs
  • Chicken nuggets

You might have tried adding some of these to your pasta dish. Some of these are out of the blue, but as a college student, well, my friends and I can get creative.

Here is What You Might Not Have Thought of to Boost the Flavor of Pasta

Even after adding all of the ingredients from above, there are still some additional ways to improve your pasta dish.

You can add salt to the water that you boil the pasta with

There used to be a belief that adding salt to the water will speed up the pasta cooking process. It takes about 8 to 12 minutes to cook pasta regularly. If you add salt to the water, you might speed up the process by perhaps 1 minute so I guess that belief may still be true to some degree (but still rather insignificant). But I am recommending adding salt here not so much for the slightly quicker cooking process but more so for the flavoring. As you cook your pasta in the salted boiling water, it is actually absorbing some of that salt which gives it more flavor than plain pasta. A spoon of salt added to the water should be sufficient to flavoring your 3 to 4 servings of pasta.

(Although not as healthy) You can add some sugar to your pasta sauce

Have you ever wondered why Filipino pasta like that from Jollibee taste so amazing? I noticed that their pasta tends to be sweeter than most other cultures and it is exactly that. Sugar just makes pasta that much more flavorful.

Combine the pasta WITH the sauce and cook it all together once again

Just like the salt and sugar concept, by cooking your pasta in the medium in which you will be eating your pasta with, it gives time for the sauce and flavoring to be infused into your pasta. This will lead to a more tasty pasta. In the past, I would cook the sauce and pasta separately and leave it separately. Whenever I am ready to eat, I would then scoop up some pasta into my bowl and then pour the pasta sauce over it. You can say this taste like a more “watered down” version pasta (especially if you haven’t thoroughly drained the pasta after boiling it). Cooking it all together again makes a HUGE difference.

ALWAYS taste test your pasta

This is probably the most critical step when cooking pasta. Beginner cooks like myself used to think it is simply just cooking everything and then eating it. But by tasting the pasta as you are cooking it, you will have a much better idea of the progress and what flavors it could be missing that matches your taste buds. You can then add flavors accordingly.

Add shredded cheese to your pasta

Somehow I have a tendency to forget adding this unless I am at a restaurant like Olive Garden and they ask if I want it. Keeping a bottle of Parmesan cheese nearby at home when you are about to eat pasta will always be a good reminder. It just makes your pasta that much more flavorful.

Lastly, top off your finished pasta product with some type of green, chopped up vegetable

This can be in the form of cilantro, basil, mint, or parsley. I don’t necessarily add those vegetables for the nutritional content but more so for the food coloring. Something about the vivid green color of those vegetables on top of the pasta dish just really makes it look that much more appealing. I also prefer fresh cilantro, mint, or parsley over the dried, flaky bottled kind and again, it is more so for the coloring effect. To some people, it actually adds flavoring.

Also, I do not add that while cooking the pasta. This is because the cilantro, mint, and parsley lose its structural integrity and color as it becomes cooked. It looks a little sad but that’s just me.

Summary

There are many ways of cooking pasta and there is no one correct way to do it. A lot of these strategies came from trial and error. It also keeps things a bit more fun and interesting because you won’t know for sure how your pasta will turn out. My pasta dish will continue to evolve depending on my circumstances. Hope this makes cooking pasta more fun for you and remember to clean up well! Please enjoy cooking and eating your pasta dish!

Did you enjoy these life hacks for making pasta and find them helpful? Did you have other suggestions? Please leave a comment (or your ideas) below!

16 thoughts on “Infuse Your Pasta Dish with More Flavor!”

  1. Let’s be honest here, who can say no to pasta! I love all the carbs and intend to keep eating it without giving it up. I personally love all the umami flavor in my pasta. So, I love to add some tomato, mushroom, Parmesan and garlic in my pasta and I am good to go! It is the simplest thing to cook and it is so cheap to make. I love my noodles andante. Thanks for sharing the tips! You are right that there is no right or wrong way to cook pasta 🙂  

    Reply
    • Hello Nuttanee! I am definitely with you there on the carbs! Will never find me grow tired of it. Pasta is easy to make and definitely very customizable. Tomatoes, mushroom, parmesan, and garlic are some of my favorite ingredients to add.

      Reply
  2. Pasta is one of our favorite dishes too. About 10 years ago (or maybe more) I read a list of the “5 things every kitchen needs” and one was a pasta maker. Well, we never followed through, but now you have me thinking perhaps we should reconsider and get one. Thanks for the tasty reminder!

    Reply
    • Hello Marsha! A pasta maker sounds like an awesome machine to have and seems really fun to use. I would probably be eating pasta even more often too.

      Reply
  3. For us, pasta is a favorite.  We have loved pasta from the first time we tasted it.  Our love for pasta got more amplified when we visited Italy last year and tasted some of the best pasta dishes we have come across.  We also love watching some of the Italian cooking on the food channel and it has encouraged us to do it on our own.  So easy to prepare and when we had our herb garden this summer, it gave us the opportunity to try them out on our pasta.  As you indicated, trial and error is a great way to enjoy pasta cooking.  Thank you for this wonderful article.

    Reply
    • Hello there! Pasta is an amazing dish! I have yet to try it in Italy and now I really want to now that you brought it. Definitely putting that on my bucket list.

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  4. Great ideas on getting our pasta right. I think shredding additional cheese would make it awesome. We are a pasta-loving family and the cheesier the better. In fact, I have found cheese in my rice preparations of late, and I am beginning to think we are carrying it too far. 

    I wonder if you have any ideas on how to add taste to broccoli dishes. Mine come out really flat and I did try to search for some interesting flavourings, but none worked well, so far.

    Thanks and great writing.

    Regards,

    Aps

    Reply
    • Hi Aparna! The shredded cheese is definitely one of the best additions to pasta. These days I’ve been eating more cheese as it is, and also just to taste test the different flavors. 

      I think just like with the pasta, to make a good broccoli dish, it takes a lot of trial and error by experimenting with new seasonings. Particularly ones that haven’t been tried and definitely enjoy the process of it all. Recently, I’ve been testing different seasonings like oyster sauce, garlic powder, rock candy (Buddha brand), turmeric powder, and star anise. Been coming up with different combinations of flavors, though not all are good.

      One of my favorite broccoli dishes is beef and broccoli (Chinese dish) although it comes out a bit too salty when I cook it. Definitely need more experimenting there. Perhaps, I might write a post on that in the future when I come up with a life hack for it.

      Reply
  5. Great to see you sharing healthy cooking on a budget for other young people.

    I’ve worked with many young people over the years, supporting them around independent living, food and budgeting was something always covered.

    Of course spaghetti/pasta was definitely one of the top items on the shopping list, in the UK we love to cook a dish called Spaghetti Bolognese ‘Spag Bol’ for short.

    The spaghetti is cooked and served with ground beef cooked in a tomato, onion and herb sauce and covered in melted cheese, cheap, filling and healthy.

    Keep on doing what you are doing in helping other students out there get through Uni life that much easier.

    Reply
    • Hello there, Mitch! Thank you for your comment! That’s really great to hear that you’ve worked with many young people over the years by supporting them with basic living. I never heard of “Spag Bol” before, but that’s an interesting fact to remember and it sounds really tasty. I will definitely continue to create more posts to help other students.

      Reply
  6. My 3 year old and I love pasta! But the hubby is not a huge fan. But because he is outnumbered, we eat pasta once a week in our household! I will never grow tired of eating pasta. I grew up in a rural area in the Philippines where pasta is only eaten during special occasions, when there’s enough money to buy the ingredients. So, when I came in Europe, i was surprised that people are eating pasta just like any ordinary meal.

    Thank you for all these tips, I’ll incorporate some the next  time I make pasta.

    Reply
    • Hello there Julai! I am the same way where I will never grow tired of eating pasta. I did not know pasta was eaten only during special occasions in the rural parts of Philippines. Hopefully your pasta will be tastier now with these tips.

      Reply
  7. I think most college students could relate to this post! I myself spent my lunch time and dinner time at the university’s caffe due to the hours I spend in campus. Taking 18 credits plus working on the administrative side of the university truly left me little to no time to go home and cook something for myself. Living alone i turned to pasta. At first it was just pasta and Alfredo sauce (my favorite) but later on I started adding onions, black olives, beans and bacon! I haven’t done it in a while but I was truly proud of myself for doing so whenever I could. 

    Reply
    • Hi there, Stephanie! Wow, 18 credits while working is a lot. Were they semester or quarter units? That will definitely keep anyone extremely busy and may not allow enough time to do other things like cook. Pasta is definitely one of the most popular and easiest dishes to cook. It also happens to be one of the most fun foods to experiment with once you get the hang of it.

      Reply
  8. I’m glad you started to cook your own foods!  Of course pasta is a staple in our house and I’m always looking for ways to improve the flavour and the nutrition.  I had forgotten about cooking the pasta in the sauce – that always makes it more tasty!  Thanks for reminding me.  I always try to sneak in some veggies for my kids, especially a good tomato sauce or add finely diced veggies to the lasagne sauce.  Have you tried a simple arrabiata sauce? Throw some chopped chilli into the tomato sauce (from a jar) so it’s very quick and easy.  Thanks for the tips!  Enjoy your pasta adventures.   

    Reply
    • Hi there, Jenny! Thank you for your comment! Sneaking in some veggies sounds like a great plan especially since kids tend to eat based on how appealing something looks! I actually have not tried arrabiata sauce before so I am going to have to try it soon.

      Reply

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