Real Weeknight Pasta

I can tell you the number of times I have Googled "weeknight pasta." That number is zero.

Why? Because I am a person in the world, I have access to a computer, and I know how these things go. You're either telling me to put something, perhaps even pasta itself, in a crockpot (NO), or you're telling me to prep a barge of fresh vegetables, always including a red bell pepper and baby spinach (why? why always with these??) and creating a bland, forgettable meal and complete waste of the refined carbohydrates that got us here in the first place.

No. Let us not look to the internet to tell us what we, deep down, already know.

When I make pasta on weeknights, it's not an event. In fact, it's probably the most miraculous non-event I can think of. The pasta I make on weeknights is a last resort, bottom of the barrel, cross my fingers and pray there's something not-expired and halfway relevant to a bed of carbs lurking in my pantry to throw in here kind of situation. The miracle of weeknight pasta is that It Always Just Works.

If we're sittin on half a handful of baby spinach, or a few all-but-forgotten cherry tomatoes, so much the better. Did I get too ambitious with the seasonal produce? Fine, toss it in. Fresh or dried mushrooms? Yas! Come git it!

But:  even if I have all of these things, I've long since granted myself permission to not use them. If I know deep in my heart that all I want is a bowl of carbs with cream and bacon clinging to every strand, then dangit, that's what we're having.


So yes, this is my foundational Weeknight Pasta recipe.  It is not particularly healthful.  It is good for the soul, however; it comes together in moments, and I always, ALWAYS have these things in the house.


  • Though the recipe below isn't exactly health-conscious, it is easy to see where you can "health it up" in familiar or exotic ways.  Swap out the pancetta for finely crumbled chicken sausage, or a ton of diced fresh mushrooms, cooked down and sauce-i-fied with a little broth.
  • This recipe is reminiscent of Carbonara, but I assure you it is NOT CARBONARA. Carbonara has eggs, lots more parmesan (parmigiano reggiano if you're nasty real), and is made exclusively with pancetta or guanciale. I go there for special occasions, but that's another post! (Actually, it's a super old post...)
  • Speaking of Not Carbonara, I have been known to add some peas to this in the past. Jack eats them like popcorn, which means any dish containing peas gets instant VIP access to Jack's dinner bowl.
  • If you're not in the habit of keeping packaged diced pancetta in your freezer (or bacon, or whatever), I'd highly recommend it. They come in packages of just a few ounces, so it's not like pork overload to add the whole thing to a dish like this. Since it's diced so small, the pancetta thaws out very quickly in a hot pan, making it a great time-saving and flavor-boosting bang for the buck.


  • 1 pound spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini
  • 6-8 ounces diced pancetta or bacon
  • Splash of cream or half & half
  • Parmigiano reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese, for grating on the top
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional:  garlic, halved grape tomatoes, red pepper flakes, spinach, mushrooms, whatever is lying around


Prepare a pot of boiling water for the pasta; cook according to package directions.

While the pasta cooks, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta, breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until it's just barely starting to crisp, then turn the heat to low and add the cream. Stir to combine, and cook gently to reduce the cream a bit.

When the pasta is finished, remove it from the water with tongs and put directly in the pancetta cream sauce. Stir vigorously to coat the pasta and keep the sauce combined. Add a tablespoon or more of pasta water if you need to thin it out; add a bit more cream if you'd like it thicker. Add a generous amount of black pepper and taste. If it needs salt, you can add it here (you may not need to since the pork is rather salty anyway).

Serve in bowls (or eat it out of the pan... who am I to judge?). Top with grated cheese and additional black pepper.

What's your mega-basic weeknight go-to meal?  Leave a comment!

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