3 Easy Pasta Dishes When You Have No Idea What to Make For Dinner

We all have those nights where we haven’t made a plan for dinner, haven’t gone grocery shopping, and don’t really FEEL like cooking…before reaching for the phone to order a pizza, I’m saving you with 3 easy pasta dishes that use ingredients you should already have in your pantry. Dinner? DONE!

Recipe 1: Pasta in Tomato and Onion Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 Onion, cut in half

  • 5 Tbsp Butter

  • 1 28-oz can of imported tomatoes (or 2 smaller cans is fine) (crushed or petite diced is best)

  • 1 lb Pasta such as Spaghetti or Penne

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  • Optional: Grated Parmesan Cheese and Crusty Bread

Directions

  1. Add the crushed tomatoes, butter and onion to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and simmer VERY slowly for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season as you see fit with salt and pepper to taste.

  2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.

  3. When the sauce is done, add the pasta to the saucepan and stir. Serve with optional grated parmesan on top and crusty bread on the side.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese, Chianti, or Barbera


Recipe 2: Pasta in Cream and Butter Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Pasta such as Linguine or Fettuccine

  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream, divided

  • 2/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese, divided plus more for serving

  • 2 Tbsp Butter (make it good quality for best result)

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  • Optional: freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.

  2. Add 2/3 Cup of the heavy cream and all of the butter into a large saucepan and turn the stove to medium heat. Cook and stir together until the butter has just melted and the cream has thickened up. Turn off the heat.

  3. Add the drained pasta to the butter and cream and turn the heat to low. Toss the pasta until thoroughly coated. Add the remaining 1/3 Cup heavy cream, the 2/3 Cup Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. If you have nutmeg, grate just a pinch over the pasta.

  4. Serve with grated Parmesan on top.

Wine Pairing: Oaked Chardonnay


Recipe 3: Lemon-Garlic Spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Pasta, such as Spaghetti or Angel Hair

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, more to taste

  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced

  • Juice of 1 Lemon

  • 1/2 Cup reserved cooking liquid from the cooked pasta (feel free to substitute chicken stock or white wine)

  • a Handful of Spinach

  • Grated Parmesan Cheese for serving

  • Optional: Lemon Wedges for serving

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.

  2. Add the olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.

  3. Add the cooked pasta, the lemon juice, the reserved cooking liquid, and spinach. Stir until the spinach wilts

  4. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese on top and lemon wedges for extra acidity (optional)

Wine Pairing: Unoaked Chardonnay (like Chablis), Pinot Grigio, Sparkling Wine

pasta dinner pin.png

Scallops in Lemon Cream Sauce Paired With Chardonnay

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you might agree with me that Valentine’s Day is hands down the WORST night of the year (hello too many reservations and 2-tops! #restauranttalk).

So ever since I’ve began dating, I’ve never bothered to go out on Valentine’s Day. Instead, Andrew and I cook a nicer-than-usual meal at home, open up some wine, and enjoy our night together.

This year I’m sharing with you an incredibly easy date-night meal you can make at home whether its V-day or not! These scallops in lemon cream sauce come together in under 10 minutes and take hardly any skill at all (in case you’re new to cooking!). They also require minimal ingredients so overall, compared to going to a restaurant, you’ll be saving lots of money.

Remember to complete the meal with mashed potatoes and a salad!

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

  • 1 pound scallops

  • 5 large garlic cloves, minced

  • salt and black pepper to taste

  • 1/4 Cup dry white wine

  • 1 Cup heavy cream or half and half

  • juice of 1/2 lemon

  • chopped chives for garnish

Directions

  1. Prepare side dishes and measure out ingredients prior to beginning since this meal comes out FAST!

  2. Thaw frozen scallops in cold water and pat dry with paper towels right before cooking.

  3. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Make sure the pan is well heated, the add the scallops. Sear for 3 minutes on one side until golden brown, then flip and sear for another 2 minutes. Transfer scallops to a plate.

  4. Turn the heat down a bit, then melt 2 Tbsp of butter into the same pan and scrape up any browned bits. Add in garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

  5. Add the wine and simmer until the wine reduces by about half.

  6. Turn the heat to low, then add the cream and stir until well thickened. Add the lemon juice, stir, then add the scallops back into the pan.

  7. Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Swordfish Wine Pairing: Make it Broiled with Lemon-Butter Sauce

Ever wonder what wine to pair with swordfish? There are many to choose from, actually; it depends on how you want to cook this dish. In this pairing, I broiled swordfish steaks and served them with a delicious lemon-butter wine sauce...perfect with a crisp, acidic white wine.

Its no secret that I really, really, really like lemony dishes. (Here are two of my favorites: lemon chicken and easy peasy lemon spaghetti.) God help me if I run out of lemons in the house. They add so much character to the simplest of meals.  Squeeze a lemon over anything and its instantly brighter. So guess what I did to this swordfish? Gave it some zip with a lemon-butter sauce.

The Pairing

The number one thing to consider when pairing lemony dishes with wine is: are there lemon flavors in the wine? If the answer to that question is "yes", you'll most likely have a great wine pairing. Of course this means that white wines totally reign over reds for this one. The ideal wine I want with this dish is a medium-bodied, refreshing white wine with high acidity and plenty of lemon and citrus flavors. I chose Principessa Gavi from Banfi to eat with this dish and it was perfect! Gavi is a DOCG in Piedmont (northwestern Italy) for white wines made from the cortese grape. Naturally, its got a dry, crisp, refreshing character with high acidity and plenty of those lemon flavors that  I was looking for (and olive, which also went great with this dish).

However, if you don't find a Gavi, that's okay. This pairing is where you can have some fun, friends. Find a cool, weird varietal that you may have never heard of before. As long as its bright and acidic, it'll work.

Dani's Picks for Wines to Pair with Broiled Swordfish

  • Gavi
  • Verdicchio
  • Picpoul (a lemony varietal from southern France)
  • Pinot Grigio (make it from Italy)
  • Sauvignon Blanc (but stay away from New Zealand or America which may overwhelm this dish)
  • Chablis: always yummy

As you can see, I have a lot of suggestions and am barely scratching the surface. Have fun with this pairing, its an easy one! Just make sure not to buy a wine that is too weighty or aromatic. Stay away from: oaked Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Torrontes, and Viognier.

The Recipe

We call swordfish steaks "steaks" because its a pretty meaty fish. It can be made many different ways, but it was a great way to celebrate the weather getting warmer by broiling this one and lightening it up with a lemon butter sauce with dill. Leave the skin on the swordfish as it helps keep the fish moist (ew, I hate that word). Recipes adapted from finecooking.com and ehow.com.

Broiled Swordfish Steaks with Lemon-Butter Sauce

Author: Dani (CaretoPair.com)

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 20 mins

Total time: 25 mins

Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup dry white wine (use whatever you're pairing your dinner with)
  • 1/4 Cup minced yellow onion
  • 4 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Swordfish steaks, about 1 lb total
  • small amount of butter (about 1/2 Tbsp)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced very finely

Instructions

  1. First, make the sauce. In a small saucepan, add the onion and wine and simmer over medium-high heat until the wine has reduced to 1/3 of its size, stirring occasionally. (About 10 minutes)
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and add a few cubes of butter, whisking them into the wine until fully melted. Repeat with the rest of the butter cubes.
  3. Stir in the dill, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper if desired (I didn't).
  4. Next, heat the broiler to high and let warm up for about 5 minutes. Brush the swordfish steaks with a thin layer of room-temperature butter and season with salt, pepper, and minced garlic on both sides. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil (to encourage browning) and place under the broiler about 5 inches away from the heating element.
  5. Cook for about 5 minutes until the swordfish begins to brown. Remove from the broiler and flip the fish with a spatula. Place back under the broiler and continue to brown for an additional 5 minutes .Meanwhile, reheat the lemon-butter sauce if necessary.
  6. Serve the swordfish over rice and pour the lemon-butter sauce all over it. Sqeeze a lemon over everything for an extra boost of acidity.

Thirsty for More?

What Wine to Pair with Popcorn

Have you hit that point in your life where there's nothing more you'd rather do on a Friday night than sit in front of the TV in your jammies, cuddled up in a blanket, with a big bowl of buttery popcorn? Because I have definitely hit that point in my life. My friends, let's add a bottle of wine to that scenario. Your Friday (or any night, who are we kidding?) has just gone from great to positively kick-ass. So what wine goes best with that big, buttery bowl of popcorn? A bottle of big, buttery Chardonnay. Butter + more butter = bliss, after all. And the good news is, the buttery flavors in Chardonnay don't ACTUALLY come from added butter, so your diet doesn't have to take that extra hit! (But seriously who goes on a diet that eliminates butter? Butter makes everything better.)

Why Does Chardonnay Sometimes Taste Like Butter?

There's a little thing called malolactic fermentation that Chardonnay can go through when its transforming from grape juice to wine. Malolactic fermentation (let's call it "malo" for short) is a naturally-occuring, secondary fermentation where sour malic acids (like the flavors you get in a sour apple) are turned into lactic acids (like those found in butter and cream). Almost all red wines go through malolactic fermentation because their flavors need to soften out. Whites, on the other hand, have a choice. Chardonnay doesn't always have to go though malo, but when it does, you get a heavier-bodied wine with those classic butter and cream flavors. If the Chardonnay ages in oak before going into the bottle in your hands, you'll have an even more rich, creamy wine. A perfect pairing with popcorn.

How to Pair Chardonnay with Popcorn

So we want three things when we're pairing Chardonnay with Popcorn: weight, oak and buttery flavors coming from malolactic fermentation. A heavy-bodied wine will coat your mouth while the buttery flavors will naturally compliment the corn kernels. When it comes to Chardonnays with some weight and oak on them, I go to California--Napa, in particular, although there are great examples from many parts of the state. For this post I wanted to feature one of my favorite weeknight-drinking Chardonnays from Napa Valley: Franciscan Estate. It has an amazing balance of acidity and weight, giving some incredible cream and butter flavors that went amazing with the popcorn I whipped up. If you can't get your hands on a bottle, however, don't worry--many Chardonnays will pair with popcorn so feel free to be adventurous.

Other Recommended Chardonnays to Pair with Popcorn

I don't want to get too fancy on you since we're just enjoying a lazy Friday night in front of the TV with a bottle of wine and a bowl of popcorn, so let's pick all Chardonnays under $20, most of which you can find at your local grocery store. Score!

  • Franciscan, Napa Valley (the wine featured in this post)
  • Napa Cellars, Napa Valley
  • Francis Ford Coppola, Monterey County
  • Ferrari-Carano, Sonoma County
  • Chloe, North Coast

Other Food Pairings With Chardonnay on this Blog:

Lemon Chicken and ChardonnayPork Loin with Mustard Basil Cream Sauce

**All opinions on this blog are my own; I did not receive compensation from any of these brands...I just love supporting their wines because they are delicious with popcorn!

Wine Pairing: Pork Loin with Mustard Basil Cream Sauce

In this wine pairing, let the sauce take the center stage: no matter how you prepare the pork, the sauce will be the star of the show.

Its time for my first featured pork wine pairing! I only know that because my only 2 previous pork pairings were with beer (figures). I realized this while making my fancy shmancy new food pairings page. And I'm super proud of this, by the way. Last week I changed up my menu (see above for "wine pairings","beer pairings", and "food pairings") so now you can easily search for what wine or beer you should pair with a meal based on what food you are having, or vice versa. You know what else I noticed while making these menus? I have to start posting A LOT more pairings! I've had this blog over a year now and I've only counted 20 recipes/pairings. If you have any dish you'd like to see paired with a beer/wine, please share below in the comments!

The Pairing

Ok so imagine this: Mustard. Basil. Sour Cream. Smothered over pork. With a glass of chardonnay. Yes, yes, my love for chardonnay is showing again. This is such an easy, no frills pairing if you pick the right chardonnay. I'd go for one from a cooler climate that is relatively acidic, oaked-but-not-a-butter-bomb chardonnay, such as something from Burgundy, Oregon, or North Coast California. The reason a chardonnay like this works is in the texture. The mustard and sour cream in the sauce give the dish a pungent, tangy component that an oaked chardonnay will complement. If you picked a fruitier wine like sauvignon blanc to go with this, it would be overwhelmed by the weight of the sauce and the bright fruit would be too contrasting. Chardonnays usually have a citrus/lemon flavor to them, which complements the tang from the sour cream. And the basil? That's just the finishing touch to wrap this pairing up into one delicious meal.

The Recipe

As you may have noticed, I did not mention anything about the pork being a great pairing with the chardonnay above. That's because this dish is all about the sauce! It doesn't really matter how the pork is prepared to make this a great meal.  So grill it, roast it, do whatever you prefer. This sauce can also be paired with other cuts of pork if you want (such as pork chops, pork roast, etc) or doesn't have to go with pork at all! Try it on filet mignon, grilled or fried chicken, or even lamb. All of these meats can also be paired with chardonnay as long as you're serving it with the sauce!

Last note: use high quality, smooth (not course) dijon mustard for this sauce to yield the best results. I always use Amora mustard which is commonly used in France. I buy it specially online!


Mustard and Basil Cream Sauce

Author: Dani (CaretoPair.com)

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 10 mins

Total time: 15 mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 Cup dry white wine (chardonnay would be perfect!)
  • 1 1/4 Cup sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp spicy dijon mustard (do not use course mustard)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh basil

Instructions

  1. To make the pork: Please see note above on different ways you can serve this dish. The quickest way is to grill the pork tenderloin in indirect heat for about 40 minutes or until the pork reaches 150 degrees. Let the pork sit for 15 minutes before serving.
  2. To make the sauce: Heat the oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and let simmer until reduced by about half.
  4. Slowly add the sour cream, little by little, and the mustard. Continue stirring and cooking until the sauce has thickened, making sure it does not come back to a boil.
  5. Once the sauce has thickened to your liking, remove from heat and stir in the fresh basil. Serve immediately over the pork.

Roasted Pork with Mustard Basil Cream Sauce Wine Pairing | CaretoPair.com
Roasted Pork with Mustard Basil Cream Sauce Wine Pairing | CaretoPair.com

Happy Pairing!

What Wine to Pair with Lemon Chicken

What Wine to Pair With Lemon Chicken | CaretoPair.com

This is one of my most favorite, easy, and low-cost pairings to suggest to friends. And I don't know if its just me, but lately I've been finding a ton of lemon chicken dishes on pinterest. And I've pinned them all...why wouldn't I? Most recipes are usually quick and easy--add a squeeze of lemon to whatever you're making--and voila! Done! And lemons are accessible, chicken is cheap, so lemon+chicken recipes make for great weeknight dinners I've been seeming to make a lot lately.

The Pairing

Pair Chardonnay with any lemon chicken dish, my friends. Chardonnay is my go-to for anything lemon-flavored, actually.  Why? Because one of the top flavor and aroma descriptors us wine geeks use to describe Chardonnay is lemon. Unless a Chardonnay has been completely over-oaked (meaning it has gone through malolactic fermentation and sat in a barrel made of brand new oak for a long long time), it should have citrus/lemon flavors and aromas present. The good news is that most wine producers have gotten away from the big, buttery, oaky chardonnays we all love to hate, so if you are trying a new chardonnay, it more than likely will go with this dish.

Now for your wine pairing lesson of the day...so I don't want to get too nerdy here, but the technical reason why chardonnay goes so well with lemon dishes is because it has high acidity, just like lemons. Just what is acidity? If you suck on a lemon (which I don't suggest actually doing), the sourness you feel in the side of your mouth that makes your mouth water is acidity. Some foods are really high in acid, others not. But regardless, food and wine with high acidity make your taste buds salivate, so the two pair really well together.

Now, there are other grapes that have high acidity that could also potentially go well with this dish (see below under "Pairing Suggestions"), but none quite have the body like chardonnay to stand up to a chicken dish that might be a bit heavier. Body is equivalent to the weight of the wine--chardonnays are usually medium to full-bodied, so they are the absolute best match.

Pair Chardonnay with your favorite lemon chicken dish. Details inside! | CaretoPair.com

Pairing Suggestions

  • Chardonnay
    • Californian (just stay away from big oaky, buttery examples like Rombauer. Try something from Sonoma Coast to be safe)
    • Oregon--some incredible chardonnays are coming out of Willamette Valley right now, like Domaine Drouhin's "Arthur" chardonnay
    • White Burgundy
    • Chablis--this unoaked example of chardonnay will give you the highest acidity, best for super lemony dishes!
    • Sauvignon Blanc
      • best with a grilled lemon chicken dish, not this one I used for this blog post
      • Riesling
        • if you want to go down this route, make sure you're picking a completely dry example of riesling, nothing sweet
        • Beer
          • Saison
          • Belgian Wit
          • German Hefeweizen
          • American Lager
What Wines and Beers to pair with Lemon Chicken | CaretoPair.com

My Favorite Lemon Chicken Recipes

Here are a few of my favorite lemon chicken recipes:

Slow-Cooker Roasted Lemon Garlic Chicken via No. 2 Pencil

Baked Honey Lemon Chicken via the Cooking Jar (recipe used for the pictures in this post)

Lemon Butter Chicken via Damn Delicious

One Pot Greek Chicken and Lemon Rice via Recipe Tin Eats