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Cooking Tips

Hot Take: It’s OK to Not Use an Entire Box of Pasta in One Recipe

You can keep leftover dried pasta in the pantry for last-minute meals.
By Published Sept. 27, 2022

Although it has never bothered me, I have come to learn that it is infuriating to some people when recipes don’t call for an entire 1-pound box of dried pasta. They get seriously bent out of shape about it. Are you one of those people? If so, I have to ask, what is so wrong about having partial boxes of pasta hanging around?

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I don’t mind if I have 8 ounces of orzo and 4 ounces of spaghetti and 6 ounces of elbow macaroni in my pantry. All these odds and ends make for quick meals. You just need to be a little creative.

If I have orzo on hand, I’ll make an orzo salad. I can boil up any quantity of orzo, drain it, rinse it in cool water, and toss it with some olive oil and whatever vinegar or other acid I’m feeling that day. Sometimes it’s balsamic. Sometimes it’s lemon juice. And sometimes it’s both. 

Then it’s simply a matter of tossing in whatever odds and ends I have on hand: sliced cucumbers, chopped tomatoes, some basil. If I’m lucky enough to have some olives hanging around, those go in too. A little chopped arugula or baby spinach can add a bit of green and lighten up the pasta. And lastly, I can use up whatever cheese is hanging out in the fridge by cubing, shaving, or crumbling it and throwing that in as well.

Orzo is also a great addition to many soups, as are other small pasta shapes.

Extra elbows? Those are just crying out to be made into mac and cheese. I simply boil them and then make a small batch of béchamel (melt butter, whisk in a little flour, slowly whisk in some milk or cream). To that I add the cooked pasta and a few handfuls of cheese. Voilà.

Any other small amounts of pasta are easily bolstered with vegetables (squash, broccoli, tomatoes, peas . . . you get it), a protein (crumbled sausage, leftover chicken, bacon, or pancetta), herbs, cheese, etc., for an easy weeknight pasta dish or clean-out-the-fridge lunch.

Let’s all agree to start embracing those half-empty (or are they half-full now?) boxes of dried pasta in the pantry.

Why Not Just Call for a Full Box of Pasta?

And if you’re wondering why some recipes call for, say, only 12 ounces of pasta, there are reasons. Maybe that’s all that fits comfortably in the pot. Maybe 1 pound of pasta plus all the other ingredients in the recipe would make way too much to serve the intended number of people. Maybe too much pasta would throw off the balance of ingredients in the recipe. Like I said, there are reasons.