22 Pasta Dishes Every Home Cook Should Know, According to Chefs

Top chefs from Milan to Miami share their go-to pastas.

Ask a chef to name their favorite pasta, and they'll likely narrow down the list to their top three. Often, a go-to pasta is based on nostalgia or heritage, and recipes are derived from regional dishes or passed down by grandmothers, generation after generation.

Since pasta has been so widely adopted and adapted, even the slightest misstep in a sauce can easily be rectified with the addition of another ingredient (or a lot more cheese). Whether you're in the mood for spaghetti with clams, macaroni and cheese, or another comforting pasta, here are the recipes top chefs from Milan to Miami recommend adding to your pasta rotation.

Cacio e Pepe

"Cacio e Pepe is a simple and flavorful recipe I think everyone should know. It falls under 'ricetta povera' or 'poor man's recipe.' It consists of pecorino, black pepper, and pasta ⁠— ingredients most people usually have at home. Like anything else, it's not the easiest to master, but if you mess it up, just add more pecorino and you'll be alright." — Michael Pirolo, chef/owner of Macchialina in Miami

Three Pepper Cacio e Pepe
Victor Protasio


"This is a typical Roman recipe that has seen numerous iterations in centuries past, but I personally love to keep it traditional with a good amount of pecorino cheese and juicy tomato sauce. I love staring at the guanciale (cured pork jowl) as it gets crispy; it's poetic and peaceful for me. The pivotal moment is to remove the guanciale after it crisps up, and pour the tomato sauce in the sizzling fat from the meat." — Gabriele Muro, executive chef of Hotel Vilòn in Rome

Gnocchi Pesto

"Who doesn't love potatoes and pesto? Bake your potatoes the night before, and allow them to cool (you'll peel and rice them the next day). The recipe I learned working in Italy is currently on the Firetower menu. It has three ingredients ⁠— Yukon Gold potatoes, semolina, and salt ⁠— and could not be simpler or more delicious. When making pesto, be sure to blanch your basil to keep the pesto bright green." Joel Werner, executive chef of The Firetower at Blackberry Mountain in Tennessee

Macaroni and Cheese

"I really like macaroni and cheese. It certainly had a moment on every New York City menu in 2007, but it's still a great dish to make at home from scratch with good cheddar, béchamel, roast garlic, and breadcrumbs on top." — Aidan O'Neal, chef and partner of Bar Blondeau, Le Crocodile, and Chez Ma Tante in Brooklyn

Buttermilk Macaroni & Cheese with Baby Kale
Kelly Marshall

Spaghetti with Mussels

"In my region of Le Marche, Italy, on the Adriatic coast, mussels are called moscioli. They are not farmed, but are wild harvested from reefs near the port city of Ancona, off a stretch of coastline known as the Riviera del Conero. The fishermen often cook them right on the beach and sometimes in the boat! In a dish as simple as this one, there is nothing more important than the freshness and quality of the wild mussels. The liquid created in the opening of the mussels is so delicious, there is even a festival every June to celebrate it." – Fabio Trabocchi, chef/owner of Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants, which includes Michelin-starred Fiola DC


"If you do it right, I think gnudi is one of the sexiest pasta dishes to make. It does require a bit of prep to nail the texture of each component, but the bright, clear contrasts of the bite of the pasta against the ooziness of the cheese, and the richness of the beurre monté against the assertiveness of the tomato sauce, are irresistible. The concentrated tomato sauce ⁠— a classic pomodoro base enhanced with estratto (high-quality extracted tomato paste) ⁠— is my secret weapon. You don't need much of this tomato paste; if you've never cooked with it, you'll be amazed at how the estratto thickens the sauce by absorbing liquid, resulting in a thick, hyper-flavorful concentrate that's almost like a roux. This dish doesn't really need anything else, though if you want to gild the lily, add crispy guanciale for crunch and umami." — Scott Conant, two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and author of Peace, Love, and Pasta: Simple and Elegant Recipes from a Chef's Home Kitchen

Pasta Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino (Garlic, Oil, and Chili Pepper)

"Every person should know how to make this simple, three-ingredient pasta dish. The key is to have good quality pasta and great extra-virgin olive oil. At Kimika, we add a Japanese touch to this classic dish by adding some aonori (dried green seaweed) to the pasta, increasing the umami level." — Christine Lau, executive chef of Kimika in NYC

Spaghetti Pomodoro

"I only make this dish in the summer, but once the tomatoes are sweet, it's as easy as it gets. Find beautiful cherry tomatoes and slice them in half (I love to use Sungolds, if you can find them). Toast some sliced garlic in a good amount of very high-quality olive oil, throw in your tomatoes with some fresh basil leaves, and put a lid on the pan until they burst. Buy the best spaghetti you can find (don't be cheap!) and toss the spaghetti together with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano." — Mario Carbone, chef and co-owner of Major Food Group

"A simple pasta al pomodoro is something everyone should have in their go-to dinner repertoire. It's a versatile, year-round pantry staple, but becomes a thing of beauty when tomatoes are in peak season. We recommend starting by cooking spaghetti in well-salted water before going to work on the simple sauce. First, heat a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Throw in some whole cherry tomatoes and quickly blister with small, diced red onion, a ton of shaved garlic, and a pinch of chili flakes. Add some of the pasta cooking water and additional olive oil to the pan, and finish cooking the pasta in the pan sauce. Finish with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand." — Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow, co-chefs of Flour+Water in San Francisco

Sauce-Simmered Spaghetti al Pomodoro
© Christina Holmes

Spicy Sausage and Pepper Sugo with Orecchiette

"A simple and comforting pasta dish that every home cook can prepare is a spicy sausage and pepper sugo with orecchiette. This dish is reminiscent of my childhood family dinners of sausage and peppers and gives you an all-day cooked feeling without the all-day work. The most underrated star of this dish is the pasta water — it allows you to control the viscosity of the sauce. You can make it throughout the season with less water for a lighter sauce with fresh peppers in the summer or a thicker sauce with Brussels sprouts and kale in the winter." — Danny Grant, chef and owner of etta


"This sauce tastes delicious and has a sexy history — what more could you want? Like most classic pasta sauces, puttanesca pairs nicely with any pasta shape and any flour variety you choose. The main ingredients you'll need are anchovies, capers, olives, and garlic, but with pepper season coming to the northeast, I'll certainly be throwing some fresh chiles in mine to liven things up a bit." — Michael Poiarkoff, executive chef of The Maker Hotel in Hudson, New York

"I think everyone should know how to make pasta puttanesca, the origins of which are colorful and highly disputed. This is a pasta that can be made entirely from shelf-stable ingredients. Take the time you save and make your own from-scratch pasta! Pairing tomatoes with a mix of salty capers and olives, and adding the umami of anchovies, produces an unforgettable balance of flavors. Upgrade this dish by using height-of-season tomatoes, roasted garlic, or even Calabrian chiles. This dish started my appreciation for the fine balance between salt, acid, umami, and rich, eggy pasta." — Ian Rynecki, executive chef of Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards in Virginia


"Spätzle is the German answer to Italian pasta. It's something a bit different, but in my (biased) opinion, it's as delicious as spaghetti! My wife, Jennifer, loves her spätzle fried crispy and served with cucumber salad. My personal favorite preparation is the traditional southern German way--with lots of cream, rich cheese, and fried onions. There are just as many ways to prepare spätzle as there are gnocchi or ravioli!" Philipp Vogel, executive chef and managing director of Orania.Berlin in Germany

Fresh Cheese Spaetzle
© Lucy Schaeffer

Pasta al Pesto

"The pasta dish everyone should know how to make is the traditional Italian pasta al pesto. It's very simple, since only six ingredients are needed. Once you gather all of the ingredients, you put them into a blender and the sauce is instantly ready. The secret to this dish is to only use top quality and local ingredients." Fabio Ciervo, executive chef at Hotel Eden in Rome

"It's just a few ingredients, but when made right, and used in the proper proportion, pesto is magic. I love experimenting with different herb combinations, as well as different nuts or seeds, sometimes even adding a touch of miso for added umami. But I almost always revert back to the classic basil, toasted pine nuts, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Perfection!" Michael Schwartz, James Beard Award winner, founder of The Genuine Hospitality Group, and chef/owner of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami

Pasta alle Vongole

"Linguine alle vongole is a fantastic seafood dish that is deceivingly easy. At Rosemary's, we will source smaller clams like Manila clams and let them soak in salty ice water overnight to guarantee the clams won't spit out any sand. My personal favorite way to cook the clams is with chopped garlic, parsley, chili flake, and some good, dry white wine." Michael Han, executive chef of Rosemary's West Village in NYC

"Spaghetti alle vongole is a classic Neapolitan dish of briny clams, white wine, garlic, and pepperoncini. At Extra Virgin, we extract the essence of the clam by steaming them for their briny elixir. We then bring all of the ingredients together balancing the dish with a touch of butter and parsley to finish." — Silvio Berrino, executive chef of Extra Virgin on Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady

Pasta e Fagioli

"Pasta e fagioli is my go-to pasta at home. It is a pasta of endless possibilities. Whether you have chickpeas, white beans, or lentils in your pantry, you can quickly come up with a delicious bowl of pasta. Always begin with aromatics (onions, garlic, pancetta, leeks--you choose), throw in your cooked beans (or soaked beans, but adjust timing), add some flavorful liquid (wine, stock, tomato purée), and cook until beans are soft. To finish, mash up the beans to get a chunky purée or all the way to a smooth sauce, add your cooked pasta (I prefer a short cut, like rigatoni or orecchiette), garnish with herbs and cheese, and you're set." — Felipe Riccio, chef/partner of Goodnight Hospitality, which includes Rosie Cannonball, Montrose Cheese & Wine, and MARCH in Houston


"You can't have an osteria without a pasta Bolognese dish. During my travels in Emilia-Romagna and its osterias, one thing was consistent ⁠— there was always a pasta Bolognese, and no two were alike. The base of Bolognese, or meat ragù, is the combination of soffritto (diced vegetables), ground or chopped meats (like beef, pork, and/or veal), tomato, wine, and sometimes dairy. Each chef or family starts there and makes it their own. In Morini's case, a touch of chicken liver brings a depth of flavor and richness to the sauce. For most, the ideal pairing is with a long, flat pasta like tagliatelle, which we make in-house with premium flour and fresh egg yolks. The ragù can also become a base for other dishes. Combine it with a béchamel sauce and you have a beautiful start for a classic lasagna verde." — Bill Dorrler, corporate executive chef of Morini

"Bolognese is one of my go-tos. It's great for an individual, a couple, or a crowd, easy to assemble, and is healthy and filling all at the same time. In addition to tomatoes and your meat of choice (ground beef, turkey, or chicken), it's easy to toss in whatever veggies and spices you have on hand. I like how flexible and versatile it is, yet I know I'll get something warm and comforting at the end. In addition to mixing it in with pasta, it can also be eaten with bread, put in a baked potato, made into lasagna, and is great to freeze and reheat later for leftovers."Brooke Williamson, co-chef/co-owner of Playa Provisions in Playa del Rey, California

Pasta Bolognese
© Fredrika Stjärne

Spaghetti al Limone

"I happened to spend a season living in Sorrento as a young cook, and fell in love with this pasta. There are a lot of variations; sometimes it will have chili flakes or Parmigiano-Reggiano, or even butter and cream, but for me, less is more. I like it with just olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, tossed with spaghetti and some of the pasta cooking water. (Pro tip: Always reserve some of the pasta water to help create a creamier sauce). Try it with grilled squid or shrimp, or use Meyer lemons when they are in season. We did a version at the restaurant topped with breadcrumbs and lardo that was delicious." — Cody Cheetham, executive chef of Tavernetta Denver

"My lemon spaghetti is one of the easiest pasta dishes you'll ever make, and is great as a light meal or a side to fresh fish. This dish was inspired by a famous pasta in Capri, and it's quickly become a fan favorite both online and in my restaurants." Giada De Laurentiis, Emmy Award-winning chef and owner of GIADA at The Cromwell in Las Vegas


"I think a simple arrabbiata sauce of sautéed onions, garlic, and fresh Roma tomatoes ⁠— plus a little red pepper flake and parsley ⁠— is a great place to start. It's delicious on its own, but you can take it to many places. For example, starting with lightly sautéed pancetta, it becomes sugo all'amatriciana. Add capers and olive to your arrabbiata and you have puttanesca. Pick your pasta, add chicken, shrimp, sausage, zucchini, or broccoli rabe, and you have numerous variations."John Doherty, chef/owner of Black Barn Restaurant in NYC

"I recommend using artisanal pasta from the Italian town of Gragnano. Cook the pasta al dente in boiling, salted water and finish preparing the sauce using a little of the cooking water to adjust the consistency. Do not use butter and don't skimp out on olive oil quality. I recommend using pecorino cheese ⁠— not Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano." — Julian Baker, executive chef of Le Zoo in Miami


"Carbonara is one of the four pasta pillars of Roman cuisine. It's beloved for its luxurious textures and richness. For me, it's without question one of my favorite dishes to put together. Though simple, you must have deft touch and understand temperature and technique to execute. I use Bona Furtuna spaghetti, made in Sicily, to take my carbonara to the next level."Adam Sobel, partner and corporate executive chef of MINA Group

"This is a must know-how ⁠— it is a thing of beauty. Guanciale, egg yolks, pecorino, and black pepper ⁠— it's like having breakfast for dinner." — Michael Hudman, chef/partner of Josephine Estelle at Ace Hotel New Orleans


"Cavatelli is a fresh pasta mostly found in southern Italy that is shaped to soak in sauces perfectly. The pasta uses three simple ingredients: flour, water, and salt. It's slightly time-consuming to make, but it's worth the effort. I suggest making the dough the day before and refrigerating it. I then like to roll it out about 1/4 inch thick, and cut it into ¼-inch squares. You can shape it by hand and your thumb using a fork to create the canoe-like shape. Finish any cavatelli dish with grated or shaved truffle, and it will never ever let you or your dinner guests down." Brendan Collins, executive chef and partner of Fia in Santa Monica, California


"My signature homemade lobster tagliolini is a delicate dish created with minimal ingredients that, once combined, allow the flavors to shine. All that is needed is homemade tagliolini pasta, fresh lobster, steamed and peeled garlic, basil, yellow cherry tomatoes, and olive oil. This delicious dish is perfect to serve as a starter or a main, and I recommend pairing with an Amalfi Coast white wine like Fiorduva di Marisa Cuomo."Christoph Bob, executive chef of Michelin-starred Il Refettorio at Monastero Santa Rosa on Italy's Amalfi Coast

15-Yolk Tagliolini
Greg DuPree


"Mostaccioli is a good pasta to have in your back pocket for a quick weeknight dish or when you're in the mood for something a little bit heartier." Greg Baxtrom, chef and partner of Olmsted and Maison Yaki in Brooklyn

Pasta alla Norma

"Cheese, eggplant, and tomatoes are such a delicious combination of ingredients. This dish is a southern Italian classic that's under-appreciated here in the United States ⁠— and shouldn't be." — John DeLucie, executive chef of Ainslie in Brooklyn and Carroll Place in NYC

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