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


  • 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


  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


  • 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


  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


  • 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


  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

Sweet Buttery Sauerkraut Noodles with Sausage and Festbier

Here's a new recipe for tonight--these sweet, buttery sauerkraut noodles are a great change to your typical pasta dish. They're ready in under 30 minutes! Serve with some sausage and a big glass of festbier to celebrate Oktoberfest at home!

Sweet Buttery Sauerkraut Noodles with Beer Brats and Oktoberfest--this is a super-easy weeknight meal that is a good change from your usual pasta! Serve with any kind of sausage and a big glass of Oktoberfest beer to make it a complete meal | CaretoPair.com

Somehow its the end of September, Oktoberfest is over in 2 days, and I haven't shared any beer pairings for the occasion yet. Where. does. time. go??

You may or may not know this already, but Oktoberfest beers, recently somewhat changed to be called "Festbiers" are my favorite beers of all time.

Big statement, I know.

But it's true, and why? Because Festbier is the absolute best beer to pair with food. Seriously. 

Festbier, formerly known as Oktoberfest, or Marzen, is the best beer to be in your fridge this fall. It pairs with everything, including this recipe for sweet buttery sauerkraut noodles and sausage! | CaretoPair.com


Festbier, Oktoberfest, and Marzen are the three styles of beer commonly associated with the Oktoberfest celebration held in Munich every year. They are all pretty similar, but can still have some differences. For example, the "Oktoberfest" style that is actually served at Oktoberfest seems to be getting lighter and lighter every year. Marzen is the traditional style that Oktoberfest beers derived from, and festbiers are what we call any beer commemorating those beers served at the festival. Confusing!

What these three beers mostly have in common is their color and maltiness. Festbiers can be light or dark, but in general we like to see them the color of this beauty in my pictures today...golden with some amber highlights. The flavor is exactly what you'd expect from this color as well. Festbiers are the perfect balance between malty, biscuity sweetness supported by a crisp, clean hopped finish. They go great with everything...literally...because they stand up to most foods but won't overwhelm them. Any food you associate with Germany will pair excellently with Festbier (like pretzels, sausage, mustard, cheese...) but these also go great with bar food like burgers, sandwiches, and even salads. If there's one beer to have in your fridge this season, it's Festbier!

Sweet Buttery Sauerkraut Noodles with Beer Brats and Oktoberfest--this is a super-easy weeknight meal that is a good change from your usual pasta! Serve with any kind of sausage and a big glass of Oktoberfest beer to make it a complete meal | CaretoPair.com

My Favorite Oktoberfest/Marzen/Festbiers

  • Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen
  • Firestone-Walker Oaktoberfest
  • Victory Brewing Festbier
  • Brooklyn Brewery Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest (I was pleasantly surprised by this one, amazing)
  • Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen

The Recipe

Where did this recipe come from? My momma! Since I grew up in the midwest with a Polish heritage, these kinds of dishes are the ultimate comfort food for me. I'm pretty sure these buttery, sauerkraut noodles originally came from the traditional Polish dish called Haluski that uses cabbage, but personally I prefer the tang that sauerkraut gives the dish (It's quicker to make, too!).

This dish isn't much to look at but oh-is-it-good. I served it with brats that I simply boiled in beer, but you can serve it with any sausage you prefer or just alone. My mom usually brings them to potlucks and family gatherings because it can easily feed a crowd. All of the ingredients are pantry-staples (or am I the only one that readily keeps sauerkraut at home?) so you can easily whip this up on a night where you just don't feel like trying too hard. Within 30 minutes you'll have a beer in your hand and food in your tummy.

Side note: I used artisan-type wide-and-flat egg noodles for this dish, but if you can't find something like that, any egg noodle (including the curly kind!) will work just fine.

Sweet Buttery Sauerkraut Noodles

Author: Dani 

Prep time: 3 mins

Cook time: 20 mins

Total time: 23 mins

Serves: 6 big servings


  • 1 lb wide egg noodles
  • 8 oz butter, plus more to taste
  • 1 medium onion, quartered and sliced (not chopped)
  • 1 14.5 oz can of sauerkraut (bavarian-style, if available)
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the egg noodles. Cook until the noodles are soft, then drain. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile in a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and stir. This will essentially become the "sauce" for the noodles. Cover and cook the butter and onion over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are nice and soft (about 10-15 minutes). If you wish, you can raise the heat of the pan for the last few minutes to brown the butter and onions a bit, but make sure the butter doesn't burn or evaporate.
  3. Once the onions have finished cooking, pour the drained sauerkraut and noodles into the pan. Stir until noodles are coated and add more butter if needed. Season generously with salt and pepper to your liking.
  4. Serve with beer brats or any kind of cooked sausage and a stein of festbier!
Festbier, formerly known as Oktoberfest, or Marzen, is the best beer to be in your fridge this fall. It pairs with everything, including this recipe for sweet buttery sauerkraut noodles and sausage! | CaretoPair.com

Wine Pairing with Spaghetti and Meatballs

There's nothing quite like a homemade bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. But to make this meal even better, serve a hearty glass of Italian Wine along side it! Here are a few of my favorite wines to pair with this dish.

Oh, pasta, how may I proclaim my love for you? So many people try to tell me you are bad for me, but I don't care.

Homemade pasta and sauce is my ultimate comfort food. I worship my favorite Italian Cookbook (that I didn't even buy--it randomly came with the All-Clad pots and pans I bought a few years ago). But guess what? A recipe for spaghetti and meatballs isn't in there! GASP!

It is funny that this dish isn't Italian at all: I'm pretty positive that spaghetti and meatballs was an invention of Italian-American restaurants. Authentic or not, I'm in love. Sweet sauce and spicy meatballs? What more do we need in life?

The Pairing

Even though Spaghetti and Meatballs may not completely be an Italian dish, Italian wine is its best friend. If you've read my other favorite pasta-and-tomato-sauce posts like Garlic Basil Tomato Sauce and Spaghettini and Eggplant Parmesan, you might be familiar with my theory: dishes with tomato sauce love red wines that contain a lot of acidity. You know that sour sensation your mouth gets when you eat something that is very lemony? Your mouth may even start to water? That is acidity, and tomato sauce has a lot of that going on in it. The best red wines will also have high acidity to match the tomato sauce. Couple that with some earthy funk and red fruit flavors in the wine and you've got yourself a match made in heaven.

Suggested Wines to Drink with Your Spaghetti and Meatballs

Italian Reds have the best acidity of any red wine I've ever had, so they are a no-brainer when it comes to choosing what to accompany my spaghetti and meatballs. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Sangiovese
  • Chianti (learn more here)
  • Tuscan Red Blends
  • Barbera
  • Aglianico
  • Nero d'Avola
  • Merlot (preferably a super-fruity, high-acid version)
  • Primitivo or Zinfandel

Wines to Avoid

  • Pinot Noir: although this wine may have the high acidity to match spaghetti and meatballs, it usually is too light and will clash with the dish. I actually tried this pairing last night--it didn't work.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, and Bordeaux Blends: frankly I just think these wines are too big and will overwhelm this dish. But remember, pairing wine is not black and white: there may be some versions of these wines that would pair decently with this dish.
  • White Wine: just stay away. Red wine is the winner in this pairing.

The Recipe

Use any spaghetti and meatball recipe you love for this wine pairing but make sure its not too spicy. This was my first time making spaghetti and meatballs from scratch (I know--what is wrong with me?!) so I made the meatballs based on a recipe from one of my favorite blogs and accompanied them with my favorite homemade tomato sauce. It turned out pretty amazing. Enjoy!

Wine Pairing with Spaghetti and Meatballs

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 1 hour 15 mins

Total time: 1 hour 30 mins

Serves: 4

Meatball recipe adapted from Natashaskitchen.com


  • 1 Cup of white bread, crusts removed and torn into little pieces
  • 2/3 Cup cold water
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb sweet ground Italian sausage
  • 1/4 Cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 Cup flour to dredge the meatballs
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Cups crushed canned Italian tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • salt
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta
  • fresh basil, torn into pieces


  1. In a small bowl, combine the bread pieces and flour. Set aside for about 5 minutes, then mash with a fork.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef, sausage, parmesan, garlic cloves, salt, black pepper, egg, and mashed bread crumbs. Mix until combined.
  3. Using your hands, take a handful of the mixture and roll into a meatball, about 1 1/2 inches round. Then dredge in the flour. Set aside and continue until all of the meatballs have been formed and dredged.
  4. In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Working in batches, add enough meatballs to fill the bottom of the dutch oven and saute all sides until brown. When they have browned, set them aside and continue with the remaining batches. I actually only used 1/2 of the batch of meatballs and froze the others for later.
  5. Once all of the meatballs have been browned, start the sauce: In the same saucepan once all meatball have been removed, add the canned tomatoes, butter, onion, and salt. Heat to a simmer, then add back in the meatballs. Cook at a very low simmer for about 30 minutes, then cover and increase the heat a bit to cook the meatballs all the way through (about 15 additional minutes).
  6. Meanwhile, make boil the pasta and drain.
  7. Once the sauce is finished, taste and add any salt (if needed). Remove the onion and add the pasta. Stir completely so the sauce and meatballs are integrated, then serve. Sprinkle basil over finished plated dishes.

Oktoberfest Beer Pairing: Homemade Pierogi

Although pierogi are Polish and it may be considered a sin to pair with German beer, I'm doing it anyway! These babies are filled with potato, garlic, and cheddar and are just begging for an amber lager like Oktoberfest to accompany them.

I just spent the entire afternoon making pierogi. Yep, an entire afternoon. And I'm not going to lie that besides it being time consuming, it also took a lot of elbow grease. This is not meant to discourage you though!  The good news it that I now have about 60 pierogi nicely packed away in the freezer for future dinners.  So the next time I'm too lazy to cook, I'll have plenty of homemade freezer meals! I will gladly take one afternoon of hard work for that!

Bonus: This is one of the most budget-friendly meals I have ever made. All it really cost me were a few potatoes and a block of good cheddar cheese.

The Pairing

These Pierogi could honestly go with any beer. After all, potatoes and cheddar are pretty accommodating ingredients--they're really not going to overwhelm any beer nor be overpowered by one either. Since its the end of September (already!) and I've got my mind on all things Oktoberfest and...German??...whatever. I really had a hankering for making these!

So, why pair these with an Oktoberfest lager? Oktoberfests, being German, are very malty lagers. This means  they have a great "breadiness" to them. You won't find any hoppiness in these beers my friends, as the bitterness is there  to just balance out the beer. German Oktoberfests are tending to get lighter and lighter each year whereas American Craft versions are a bit darker and maltier. Since the pierogi are packed with potato and cheese filling, they are a natural accompaniment to the caramelly toastiness of the beer. And the sour cream makes this pairing even better.

My favorite Oktoberfests

German Oktoberfest

  • Paulaner
  • Spaten
  • Weihenstephaner (almost drinks like a pilsner. Try this one if you're weary of darker lagers)
  • Ayinger
  • Erdinger

American Oktoberfest Styles

  • Brooklyn
  • Victory "Festbier"
  • Sam Adams
  • Tenaya Creek (local Las Vegas brew)

Don't have access to this seasonal style yet? Fear not, as I said pierogi go with almost any beer. They're especially great with German Pilsner and Vienna Lager.

The Recipe

Pierogi can often be an accompaniment to a meal or a meal in itself--its all up to you! I put together a delicious sauce for these cheddar-potato pierogi so they can shine on their own as a main course. Think sour cream in a garlic-sauce form... its absolutely amazing and worth the 5 extra minutes rather than putting a dollop of plain cold sour cream on top.

Can I mention again how CHEAP this recipe is to make? I didn't intentionally make it for that reason, even though I'm on this ridiculous $30/week grocery budget goal, but check out the ingredients to make these...my wallet is super thankful!

Pierogi dough adapted from Martha Stewart's basic pierogi recipe


For the Dough:

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • 1 Cup water
  • 5 Cups all purpose flour, plus more for surface dusting

For the Filling

  • about 5 lbs (or 11) yukon gold potatoes (substitute floury potatoes okay)
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3/8 Cup milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 C sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 Tbsp butter

For the Sour Cream Sauce

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 Cup dry white wine (or chicken broth if you don't have one open!)
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard (do not use a grainy mustard)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh chives

To Make the Pierogi

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and sour cream. Stir in the water and milk. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, whisking into the mix fully before adding more. By the 5th cup, the dough will be very thick.
  2. Place the dough onto a floured surface and start kneading. To knead, push very hard into it with the palms of your hands. Fold the dough in half then turn a quarter to the right. Knead again, then repeat the folding and turning steps for about 8 minutes, until the dough is no longer sticky. Add flour to your work surface as needed throughout this process.
  3. Place the cough back in the bowl and cover with saran wrap. Let sit for at least 1 hour before using again.
  4. While the dough is resting, make the filling: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel and quarter the potatoes and place in the boiling water. Add the smashed garlic cloves to the water as well. Cook for about 18 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.
  5. Drain the softened potatoes and garlic. Add them to a large bowl along with all the remaining ingredients for the pierogi filling. Use an electric mixer to blend everything together. A kitchenaid comes in really handy for this part!
  6. After the dough has sat for an hour, break it up into about 4 pieces. Roll one piece out onto a floured surface and roll until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Take a mason jar, large cup, or 3" round cookie cutter and stamp circles closely to each other in the dough.
  7. Take each circle of stamped dough and place about a tablespoon of filling in the middle. Fold the dough in half and pinch the outside edges together, making a half-moon-looking dumpling. Repeat this with all the remaining dough (this is the time-consuming part!). After your dumplings are created from each batch of dough, be sure to store them on a cookie sheet or platter covered in saran wrap. Do not pile them all together or they will clump together (as I unfortunately learned).
  8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and submerge about 10 pierogi at a time in it. The pierogi will sink to the bottom for a few minutes, then rise to the top. Let them float at the top for 2 minutes, then remove. Continue this step with all the pierogi until completed.
  9. If you are intending to freeze your pierogi, this is the time to do it. Place pierogi in a single layer on a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Place in the freezer for about 10 minutes, then remove and place in a freezer bag. This ensures that the pierogi will not stick together.
  10. If you are intending on eating some of the pierogi immediately, you can either eat them as-is or pan-fry them (which is my favorite). Just put some oil or butter in a skillet over medium heat, then place the pierogi in a single layer. Fry for a few minutes until browned, then flip and do the same.

To Make the Sour Cream Sauce

  1. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and stir until fragrant for about 1 minute. Be careful not to brown the butter or garlic.
  2. Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until reduced about half. Mine reduced very quickly, taking about 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly add the sour cream, little by little, along with the mustard. Stir continuously until the sauce has thickened. Make sure the sauce does not come back to a boil.
  4. Once thickened, turn off heat. Stir in the fresh chives and serve over the pierogi.

Happy Pairing!

What Wine to Pair with Eggplant Parmesan

Ahhh September, the glorious month when so many fruits and vegetables are harvested and available to our bellies. This would include my favorite "weird" veggie, eggplant. For the last three weeks they've been on sale for $1 each!

Now, given my current crazy budget of trying to only spend $30 a week on groceries, I just had to buy a couple. Last night I made a Thai Basil Eggplant Tofu dish, but it wasn't anything to write home about. I also found a great eggplant salad recipe I'll be making later in the week. But besides these recipes, I haven't had much luck with eggplant. What do you DO with them?

Queue eggplant parmesan. Is it safe to say this is the dish for our beloved eggplants? Is it probably the only thing most of us cook with eggplant? Unfortunately I think that's the truth...if you have a great recipe for eggplant, I'd love to hear it!

The Pairing

So naturally, the first week I bought a few eggplants I had to make the classic staple, eggplant parmesan. I have been absolutely in love with every recipe I've made from this cookbook "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" so had to try this one! Of course, it came out beautifully. And also of course, I paired it with Italian wine.

Like all the other Italian dishes I have prepared, Italian wine is plainly a natural match. Most Italian dishes we consume in this country include tomatoes, including this Eggplant Parmesan. Tomatoes have high acidity (acidity is the sourness you get from things like lemons that make the sides of your cheeks water). Most Italian wines also have high acidity. Acidic wines pair wonderfully with acidic foods, so its a match made in heaven.

I paired a Chianti with this dish--not Chianti Classico or Chianti Classico Riserva (to learn more about the different Chianti's, check out this guide I posted). Eggplant parmesan is a mix of earthy, crispy eggplant, rich cheesiness, fresh basil, and vibrant, fresh tomatoes. It begs for a light, acidic wine that won't overwhelm it. I believe most Chianti Classicos or Riservas would overpower this dish. I actually tried to serve Cabernet Sauvignon with the eggplant parmesan leftovers....bad mistake. Don't do it, its way to heavy for the dish.

If you don't have Chianti available to you, there are other options. Chianti is a Sangiovese-based blend so that's the other natural option. I would also love to have a good Italian or Californian Barbera with this dish. If you're at the grocery store and they don't have any of these wines, go visit a wine shop. Just kidding. Pick up a Pinot Noir and it will also pair decently.

The Recipe

As  I mentioned above, I highly suggest you pick up this cookbook if you're interested in Italian Cuisine...I randomly received it when I bought my All-Clad pots and pans set, and it has been the best cookbook to come to my house by surprise! I changed a few things around in the recipe and my eggplant was to die for. My biggest advice with this dish: buy really good canned tomatoes or use fresh from your garden. I swear by canned tomatoes imported from Italy as they have the highest acidity and best flavor of any canned tomatoes I've had.

Eggplant Parmesan

Author: Dani

Prep time: 50 mins

Cook time: 30 mins

Total time: 1 hour 20 mins

Serves: 4


  • 2 large eggplant
  • vegetable oil
  • flour
  • 2 Cups canned tomatoes, preferably imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut into small pieces. Save the juices
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • 3/4 pound fresh mozzerella
  • 8 to 10 basil leaves
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 Cup freshly grated parmesan cheese


  1. Cut off the top and bottom and peel the skin from the eggplant.
  2. Cut the eggplant across its width, creating slices about 1/2 inch thick that look like cylinders.
  3. Line the slices on the sides of a colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Layer more slices on top and sprinkle again with salt. Continue until no more slices remain, sprinkling salt on top of each layer.
  4. Place a dish under the colander to catch water that will be expelled from the eggplant. Let the eggplant sit for at least 30 minutes.
  5. After the last step has been completed, pat each eggplant slice thoroughly dry with paper towels; set aside.
  6. Fry the Eggplant: In a large frying pan over high heat, pour enough vegetable oil in to come 1 1/2 inches up the sides.Dredge the slices of eggplant in flour, coating them on both sides. Then place them one by one into the hot oil. Only put as many eggplant slices into the pan that will fit in one single layer. Once the bottoms of the eggplants slices are golden and crispy, flip each over and repeat on the other side. Remove from the fryer when done and place on a cookie rack or paper towel over a plate. Continue frying the remaining pieces.
  7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  8. Put the tomatoes and olive oil in another large skillet. Turn the heat to medium high, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cook the tomatoes down until reduced by half, stirring occasionally.
  9. Slice the mozzerella into very thin slices. Wash the basil and tear each leaf into tiny pieces.
  10. Smear the bottom and sides of the baking dish with. Place a layer of fried eggplant slices on the bottom. Spread a little bit of the cooked tomato over them, then sprinkle a layer of mozzarella, parmesan cheese, and basil over. Top with another layer of fried eggplant and repeat the procedure until all ingredients have been used. I had three layers of eggplant in my dish.
  11. Place the dish in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes or until the top is a little crispy. Let it sit for a few minutes before bringing to the table!

Easy Lemon Spaghetti Paired with Wheat Beer

This lemon spaghetti is a recipe my husband concocted when we were searching for something to eat from our very low stocked pantry. It stuck and has become a staple! Bonus: it goes REALLY well with wheat beers.

Andrew and I are about to embark on the 3rd week of our "mega-raging grocery budget". If you missed my last post, we have made it our goal to only spend $30 a week on groceries in order to super-save for a down payment on a house. And I'm not going to lie, friends, its tough. We are so close, but it is really hard not go out or even splurge on fancy meals at home. But it will be all worth it. I've got the first week's progress posted here if you'd like some inspiration to do some budgeting in your weekly meal planning. And today's lemon spaghetti recipe is featured on the meal plan for week 2.

Since this meal is so budget-friendly, I see us incorporating it into our weekly plan many times in the future. Its also great for one of those we-don't-have-anything-in-the-pantry kind of dinners.  Don't have fresh Parmesan or spinach? Not to worry! Just omit them or substitute something else. Just make sure you have a fresh lemon...

The Pairing

Wheat beer is my pick for this week's beer pairing. Did you know the traditional accompaniment to a wheat beer is actually not an orange slice, but a lemon wedge? Need I say more on why this beer pairs well with this dish?

There are wheat beers coming from all different parts of the world these days. The granddaddy of them all, however, would be our friend hefeweizen from Germany. Also referred to as weissebier, weissbier, and weizenbier, weizens  are generally unfiltered beers made from wheat with a special yeast strain that gives them flavors of banana, clove, or even bubblegum. The fruitiness of the beer gives it a refreshing character that lemon flavors accentuate.

Wheat beers that come from America generally have a little less banana and bubblegum flavor to them while accentuating more of a lemon or citrus note. They are often lighter in character than their European counterparts and have higher acidity, also making them a great match for this lemon spaghetti dish.

Craving wine with this lemon spaghetti? Check out my previous post on what wine to pair with lemon chicken...the same wine will work great with this too!

My Wheat Beer Suggestions

From Germany

  • Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (used in this post)
  • Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse
  • Paulaner Hefe-Weizen
  • Hacker-Pschorr Weisse

From America

  • New Belgium Snapshot Wheat
  • Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
  • Harpoon UFO
  • Widmer Hefeweizen
  • North Coast Blue Star
  • Alaskan White

Be adventurous...the possibilities are endless with this pairing!

The Recipe

This dish keeps everything simple. Feel free to substitute some reserved cooking liquid from the pasta or chicken broth if you don't have any dry white wine. Add chicken if you need some protein!

Easy Lemon Spaghetti with Spinach

Author: Dani (CaretoPair.com)

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 15 mins

Total time: 20 mins

Serves: 2


  • 1/2 lb of spaghetti
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (from fresh lemons)
  • 1/4 Cup dry white wine (or reserved cooking water or chicken broth)
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1/2 Cup loosely packed fresh spinach leaves (optional)
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.
  2. After, heat the 2 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the drained pasta to the skillet, the lemon juice, and a pinch of black pepper. When the oil has almost disappeared from cooking, add the 1/4 cup of white wine, chicken broth, or reserved cooking water from the pasta.
  3. If adding the fresh spinach, add it now. stir the pasta constantly until the spinach has wilted completely.
  4. Serve the spaghetti in individual bowls and top with grated parmesan cheese. Garnish with a lemon wedge (to squeeze over while you're eating!) and serve.

Happy Pairing!

Wine Pairing: Garlic Basil Tomato Sauce and Spaghettini

This recipe for garlic basil tomato sauce is so quick and simple, it eliminates any need for store-bought tomato sauce ever again.

I'm going back to the basics with wine and beer pairings. Yes, I think you should totally make beef carbonnade and pair it with a delicious Belgian dubbel, but let's be honest here--no one is making beef carbonnade on a daily basis. But I bet you have spaghetti and tomato sauce at least, say, once a month? Once a week?

In my quest to stop buying pre-made, packaged food, I can't tell you the last time I bought a jar of prepared spaghetti sauce. The thought of being able to just open a jar and heat it up on those lazy weeknights is somewhat appealing, but nothing beats making your own sauce, especially when its so easy! Especially this one that uses minimal ingredients and can be whipped up in 30 minutes. Too easy!

The Pairing

I said I was going back to basics on these wine pairings, so here goes: the winning wine with spaghetti and tomato sauce is, Chianti! "Womp Womp" you may think. But let me tell you that it is, and always will be, a winning match. Chianti has unfortunately received a bad reputation in the last few decades thanks to cheap bottles on tables of Italian restaurants. But Chianti, a very traditional, sangiovese-based blend from central Italy, can be one of the best wines to pair with food. Sangiovese is a grape with very high acidity which makes it incredible with high-acid foods (like tomatoes). Chianti can be light and easy-drinking, or rich with great depth, allowing it to stand up to a variety of dishes from basic sauces to meat-filled lasagnas. This particular sauce I made was very simple, using only garlic, basil, and tomatoes to create. The chianti I chose somehow successfully melded with all the flavors while also bringing each flavor out into the spotlight. Want to learn more about Chianti (and Chianti Classico, Rufina, Riserva and Superiore) and why its so great with tomato sauce? Find out more here.

Other Wines to Pair with Tomato Sauce

As I pointed out in my info-post on Chianti, its one of those bottles you should always have at your house because, well, you're probably going to have spaghetti and tomato sauce sometime soon. And Chianti will dress up the meal so easily. But if you don't have any on hand, don't panic, because there are some other great wines that will pair with Tomato Sauce nicely.

  • Other Italian Sangiovese: Chianti is predominantly sangiovese which is why it pairs so well with tomatoes. But other areas of Italy also make it, so look for a bottle that says "sangiovese" or many of the other wines listed below that are actually the same grape.
    • Brunello di Montalcino (a much more expensive and bigger example of sangiovese)
    • Rosso di Montalcino
    • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
    • Carmignano
    • Domestic Sangiovese: lots of great examples are coming out of the Sierra Foothills of California
    • Canaiolo
    • Barbera

The Recipe

I used spaghettini, a form of pasta thinner than spaghetti but thicker than angel hair, in this recipe. Any of your favorite pasta shapes will do just fine though. Also, don't feel compelled to use my recipe in making a tomato sauce and Chianti wine pairing! This wine pairing should work with most tomato sauces, even the store-bought kind (if you're feeling lazy!).

Garlic Basil Tomato Sauce

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 25 mins

Total time: 30 mins

Serves: 4


  • 2 cups of canned imported Italian tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces if needed (or use any good quality canned tomatoes)
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil
  • 1 lb pasta


  1. Bring a large salted pot of water to a boil. Place pasta in the pot and cook 8-10 minutes or until al dente (note: if cooking spaghetti, fettucine, etc, do not break apart the noodles if they don't fit! Just wait for them to soften and fall into the pot themselves). Drain and rinse.
  2. In a large saucepan, empty the tomatoes with their juices, the minced garlic, olive oil, salt and a pinch of pepper. Heat the pan with all ingredients to medium high. Bring to a decent simmer, then reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, rinse the basil and pat dry with paper towels. Tear the basil into small pieces (consult my pictures for a good sized-basil).
  4. When the sauce is done, remove from heat and stir in the basil pieces. Combine the pasta into the sauce mixture, stir, and serve immediately.

Happy Pairing!

Pasta Bolognese Sauce Paired with Barbera

Confession: I am in love with Bolognese sauce. I don't really think that needs to be a confession, it is more of a proclamation. Of love. Yes its that bad. I'm not really even sure of the first time I had it, or the "aha!" moment I had when I decided I love it, but I just know that if I'm at a restaurant and its on the menu, no other dish stands a chance.

What makes bolognese sauce so good anyway? When I made this recipe that I'm about to share with you, it all came back. For me, its the ground beef. So simple and familiar, but in this sauce it is turned into a celebrity. And the tomatoes. I bought special Italian canned tomatoes, and it really made the dish. So flavorful, my mouth is watering while I write this.

Now, lets talk about Barbera...have you ever even heard of this grape varietal? Its not too popular with us Americans, but grows really well in Amador County, California. I recently went there on a trip (its about an hour south of Sacramento...total gold rush area, very historic) and barbera was all the rage. Amador is known for its zins, but barbera was a refreshing alternative. My friend that went with me quickly decided this was her new favorite grape varietal, and I don't blame her!

The Wine

Barbera is a high-acid, relatively light bodied grape indigenous to Italy. It is from Piedmont, a region in northwest Italy that is more famous for its big Barolos and sweet moscato d’asti. Compared to these infinitely better known wines, Barbera is kind of looked over to us Americans, especially since we don’t see them available in the grocery stores or even in liquor stores. As I was looking for a bottle of this at Total Wine, I counted 3 from America and 5 from Piedmont…not too much of a selection in a sea of other Italian wines.

But barbera deserves some recognition—it’s a great little grape, it works hard to produce some incredible flavors, and it is relatively affordable to us consumers! When I said it was high-acid before, that means it makes you salivate after your first sip, making you immediately want more. This makes this wine incredibly good with food, which for purposes of this blog, makes it my friend.

The Pairing

Ohhhh Bolognese sauce. I must admit, before this first attempt, I had never made it before. I was so excited to try this recipe from a pretty legit Italian Cookbook I recently came across, and I cannot believe the outcome after my first try. YUMMMMMMY!

This is a no-brainer pairing. When I first tried the Bolognese sauce, I couldn’t believe how much acidity there was from the Italian tomatoes I used. Every bite I took, my mouth was just salivating for more. See a commonality? I had to match this high-acid dish to a high-acid wine. Mhm. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Beyond that, I can’t really explain much more, you are just going to have to buy a bottle of barbera, find 4 hours out of your day to make this sauce (its completely worth it, I promise), and see for yourself!

Pasta Bolognese Sauce 

Author: Dani (CaretoPair.com)

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 3 hours 30 mins

Total time: 3 hours 45 mins

Serves: 4


  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 Cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 Cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 Cup chopped carrot
  • 3/4 ground beef chuck (make sure the meat is not too lean)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • whole nutmeg
  • 1 Cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 Cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juices
  • 1 1/2 pounds pasta (tagliatelle or rigatoni is best. do not use spaghetti as this isn't traditional!)
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve


  1. Heat the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Cook and stir the onion until translucent, then add the carrot and celery. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the ground beef, a pinch of salt, and a dash of black pepper. Cook and stir until all of the raw redness in the meat is gone.
  3. Reduce the heat lower and add the milk; stir and let simmer until almost all of the milk has evaporated. Add about 1/8 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg; stir.
  4. Add the wine and let simmer until it too has evaporated. Then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly. Turn the heat to the lowest setting possible so the sauce cooks at the "laziest" of simmers.
  5. Cook, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, stirring from time to time. Make sure the sauce is barely bubbling at any time. If the sauce begins to dry out while cooking, add 1/2 cup of water when necessary. The sauce is complete, however, when no water is left and the fat is separated from the sauce.
  6. Toss with cooked and drained pasta and add a tablespoon of butter. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Happy Pairing! 

Hawaiian Mac Salad Paired With Mana Wheat Ale

I told my friend from Illinois I was going to do a post on my blog about Hawaiian Mac Salad. She asked me what that was. WHAAA?!?!! Then I realized—oh, I didn’t know what Hawaiian Mac Salad was before I moved out here either. I guess Hawaiian Mac Salad is kind of exclusive to Hawaii, and uh, Las Vegas. That and ABC stores. Thank you Hawaiian population :) We are so lucky to have both of these things out here.

There is only one thing you need to know about Hawaiian Mac Salad: MAYONNAISE. Seriously. That is what makes the Mac Salad Hawaiian. And it will always be a little sweet. I went to a party last weekend for my Hawaiian friend (it was so legit, they had an entire pit-roasted pig sitting on the counter) and had some of their mac salad—sweet mayo-y heaven. And luckily, it was very close to the recipe I’ve made below. Mmmm. I may have gotten 2nds...or 3rds....of it.

The Pairing

I went on a limb for this one, trying to find a good beer to accompany the sweetness of the salad. As I was browsing the enormous beer selection at the store, I couldn’t really find anything I liked, so I grabbed a Maui Brewing Company Mana wheat ale to go with the whole Hawaiian theme. It wasn’t until I got home and popped a top that I realized it had Pineapple juice brewed right in with it…ohhhhh man, what a pairing!

This beer goes with the salad like peanut butter and jelly. The beer is sweet, the salad is sweet. The carbonation of the beer lifts all that delicious mayo fattiness off your tongue. And the chicken recipe I’ve also paired with the salad has pineapple juice right in the marinade. There couldn’t have been a better match. I’m so proud of myself.

The Maui Brewing Company Mana Wheat is a unique beer…as I said, it is sweet, and the pineapple juice in it is very prominent. Look at the picture below...doesn't it look like a glass of orange juice?! It’s a great beer for a hot day as it is light and spritzy. It almost drinks like a sauvignon blanc (similar tropical fruit notes in it) if you’re a wine fan and want to venture out. Or it’s a great beer to give to your friends that only want a “sweet” beverage. I think this beer is best drank on its own or with other sweet foods. It would also go well with barbecued foods with sweet sauces or even with ice cream, like an Orange-Julius.

The Recipe

The recipe I’ve provided was adapted from I Believe I Can Fry—check out her site for a little background on Hawaiian Mac Salad! Her recipe makes a great base and I added some seasonings for added flavor. You can add whatever you want to this salad to make it your own…tuna and olives seem to be common additions, but not my thing. You can serve this with my Hawaiian Chicken recipe or at your next BBQ, or heck, just to have it on its own! But I’m warning you, you will probably be hooked after your first bite and soon enough will be dreaming about the next time you can have it.

Sweet Mayo Hawaiian Mac Salad

Author: Dani

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 2 hours

Total time: 2 hours 15 mins

Serves: 6-8


  • 1 lb elbow macaroni noodles
  • 1/2 Cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Cups Hellman's (aka Best Foods) mayonnaise, divided
  • 2 Cups whole milk, divided
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1 stalk celery, minced very small
  • 2 green onions, heavily chopped


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Put macaroni in pot and bring back to a boil. Let cook for 12-15 minutes, until VERY soft. Drain and place back in pot.
  2. Immediately pour apple cider vinegar over the macaroni. Stir to combine evenly. Let cool for about 10 minutes
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 Cups of the milk and 1 Cup of the mayonnaise. Add brown sugar, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  4. After the pasta has cooled for approx. 10 minutes, combine the mayonnaise mixture with the macaroni. Cover pasta and place in the refrigerator until it has cooled completely.
  5. When completely cooled, add the final 1 Cup of Mayonnaise and 1/2 Cup of Milk. Stir in the carrots, celery, and onions. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
  6. **Salad gets better with time! If you can resist eating it, let the flavors meld overnight before serving!**