How To Turn 1 Box Of Pasta Into A Week's Worth Of Weeknight Dinners

We get that not everyone enjoys cooking. And more importantly, not everyone feels comfortable in the kitchen. But if there's one thing even the most culinary-challenged can master, it's following the boiling instructions on the back of a package of pasta. And if you can master that, well then a world of easy dishes is your oyster. Pasta is our go-to comfort food meal in any and all situations (busy or not, at a restaurant or cooking at home). One box of the stuff is affordable, customizable, and can even generate enough leftovers for a week's worth of easily reheat-able meals.

In order to prove that one box of the shelf-stable stuff can stretch into five, separate, dishes, I did just that. Starting off Sunday with a pot of simple spaghetti and red sauce, I hit the kitchen floor running Monday through Friday whipping up five fast and delicious leftover twists. And it only took me a few extra grocery ingredients (full shopping list ahead) and well under an hour of prep and cook time (combined) for each. So scroll on to see how you too can easily turn Sunday's sauce into everything from a spaghetti grilled cheese to mini spaghetti soufflés and much more. Hey, you may even have enough leftovers from that one box to feed a roommate or two.

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Dish

For my base dish, I started with simple spaghetti with red sauce. Spaghetti is not only an affordable and shelf-stable ingredient to keep on hand during comfort food season, but it's also easy to elevate (once you've mastered the basics). And most importantly, it's a blank canvas for great leftovers material.

Spaghetti With Red Sauce
Makes 1 pot

1 (16 oz.) box of spaghetti
4-6 large garlic cloves, smashed and diced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
4-6 tbsp olive oil
2 (28 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
1/3 cup raisins
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté garlic and red pepper flakes until just beginning to brown. Then add in both cans of crushed tomatoes, red wine, and raisins, mixing well and bringing to a boil.

3. Bring the sauce down to a simmer, cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Then adding in ample amounts of salt and pepper to taste before mixing in cooked pasta to the sauce pot. (*Spaghetti and sauce can also be stored separately, if preferred and limited space is not an issue.)
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

Leftover Meal 1

Leftover spaghetti usually tastes pretty fantastic on it's own — the sauce deepens and sweetens, and perhaps too al dente noodles seem to soften a bit. But if you're looking to take things past a simple reheat, then you actually only need a few easy pantry staples to do the trick.

Best Leftover Spaghetti
Serves 2

2-4 cups of spaghetti with red sauce
2-4 tbsp olive oil
2-4 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded
2-4 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
1-2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/2 tsp pepper
Flaky sea salt to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add in spaghetti with sauce until reheated and softened (about 5-8 minutes).

2. Remove from heat and add in parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, and pepper — tossing to coat completely.

3. Plate spaghetti and finish with an additional sprinkle of cheese, pepper, and flaky salt.
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

Leftover Meal 2

Decadent? Yes. Ridiculous? No. A spaghetti grilled cheese may seem like a novelty mash-up, not a weeknight dinner, but here us out: it's a fantastically delicious way to use up pasta that's a bit past it's textural prime. Plus, serving it up with a nice arugula side salad adds in an extra splash of sophistication.

Spaghetti Grilled Cheese
Serves 2

1-2 cups of spaghetti with red sauce
2-4 slices of sourdough bread
2-4 slices of mozzarella cheese
2-4 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded
1-2 cups of arugula
1-2 tsp parsley, roughly chopped
1-2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic glaze (*optional)

1. Heat butter in a pan over medium heat and add in 1-2 slices of sourdough bread, layering mozzarella cheese on top of each half.

2. Meanwhile, re-heat spaghetti with red sauce either in microwave or on a separate stovetop pan — once heated, add on top of mozzarella covered sour dough slices. Then sprinkle with parmesan cheese and sandwich off with another slice of sourdough.

3. Cover pan with lid to aid cheese melting process. Once bottom half of bread has browned and mozz has begun to melt (3-5 minutes), carefully flip sandwich over adding in more butter if necessary.

4. Once both sides have browned and cheese has melted, remove the sandwich, slice and plate with side of arugula. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, chopped parsley, and serve with a balsamic glaze.
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

Leftover Meal 3

Another easy way to dress up those spaghetti leftovers is by repurposing them into another pasta dish entirely. This baked spaghetti lasagna adds more flavor and texture with layers of creamy ricotta, mozzarella, and sautéed ground beef.

Spaghetti Lasagna Bake
Serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil
2-4 cups of spaghetti with red sauce
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
4-6 slices of mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup of ground beef, sautéed
4 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tsp parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to tase

1. Preheat oven to 375° — meanwhile, heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat and sauté ground beef until just browned.

2. In an oven-safe bake dish, layer spaghetti, ricotta, mozzarella, and then top off with browned beef, parmesan cheese, and chopped parsley. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in preheated oven until cheese has melted and begun to bubble (about 8-10 minutes).

3. Remove, let cool slightly, and serve as you would a lasagna!
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

Leftover Meal 4

Part spaghetti pie, part muffin-tin soufflé — mini spaghetti soufflés are as easy as adding a little ricotta and egg to your already made pasta and popping it in a muffin tin to bake.

Mini Spaghetti Soufflés
Serves 3

2-4 cups of spaghetti with red sauce
2-3 eggs
1/3 cup ricotta
2-4 slices of mozzarella
2-4 tsp parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tsp parsley, roughly chopped
2-4 cups of arugula
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic glaze (*optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Meanwhile, whisk ricotta and eggs into bowl until well combined. Then add in spaghetti, tossing to coat well. Twirl spaghetti mixture on a fork and set into muffin tin, topping with any additional liquid from the ricotta-egg mixture.

3. Top spaghetti filled muffin-tin with slices of mozzarella, sprinkles of parmesan, parsley, and additional salt and pepper to taste.

4. Place tin in oven for 10-20 minutes (or until firmly set and cheese has melted and bubbled). Remove from oven, let cool, and then serve atop a bed of arugula with balsamic glaze.
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

Leftover Meal 5

For the final meal, I wanted to use up any and all leftover ingredients from the initial pot of pasta to the repurposed recipes, so I threw everything together for a soup situation. Adding in chicken or beef stock, along with a little more red wine, the remaining ground beef, parsley, and ample amounts of cheese made for a savory final show.

Spaghetti Soup
Serves 2-4

All remaining spaghetti with red sauce
All remaining ground beef from earlier recipes
2-4 cups of chicken/beef stock (depending upon amount of pasta left)
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2-4 tbsp of ricotta cheese (for serving)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 slices of sourdough bread (*optional)

1. Place your pot with all remaining spaghetti and red sauce on the stove and bring to a medium-high heat, adding in chicken/beef stock, red wine, and all remaining ground beef until just starting to boil.

2. Bring down to a low simmer and mix in parsley and parmesan cheese — remove from heat and serve into bowls topped with dollops of ricotta and salt and pepper to taste (*with a side of toasted sour dough, if desired).
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Shopping List

Spaghetti With Red Sauce & Repurposed Dishes (assuming you already have olive oil and salt & pepper)

1. Parsley
2. Garlic
3. Arugula

1. Spaghetti
2. Can of crushed tomatoes (2)
3. Sourdough bread
4. Beef/chicken broth
6. Raisins
7. Red wine
8. Red pepper flakes
9. Pine nuts
10. Balsamic glaze

1. Eggs
2. Ricotta
3. Mozzarella
4. Parmesan
5. Ground beef
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