TASTE
03/13/2012 03:26 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

Quick And Easy No-Cook Pasta Sauce Recipes

When we're out of ideas for dinner, what do we do? Most of the time we look for scraps of leftovers in the back of the fridge or check the freezer for TV dinners. But there are better options for dinner, one excellent choice being pasta (and we don't mean opening a jar of marinara sauce and pouring it over pasta). It's actually possible to make a quick pasta dinner in only 10 minutes when you've got an easy recipe formula to work with -- and we've got three great formulas to share.

Homemade pasta sauces don't have to be complicated or take hours to make. When you want dinner in a jiffy, you don't want to be simmering a pot on the stove for hours. In the same amount of time you can cook a box of pasta, you can create any of these simple sauces -- and the best part is none of these sauces require cooking.

Here are three formulas that you can fall back on when you're pressed for time (some use a food processor or blender to make prep super fast). Scroll down to get a list of must-have ingredients to keep in your pantry and fridge for the next time you want to make a no-cook pasta sauce for supper.

All the following formulas are designed to go over 1 pound of pasta and serve at least four people.

Basic Pesto Formula

The classic basil pesto from the northern Italy is fresh-tasting and very easy to make. It can easily be adapted to suit your cravings.

What you need:

  • 2 cups herbs, such as basil, parsley or cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup nuts, such as pine nuts, walnuts or almonds
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil (use less oil for creamier pesto)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or red-wine vinegar

Don't forget to season with salt and pepper. Use a food processor or blender to make the pesto.

Optional swaps or additions:

  • Swap the herbs with spinach for a nutritious option
  • Swap the herbs with arugula for a spicy flavor
  • Swap half the herbs with fresh peas or edamame
  • Swap half the herbs with avocado for a creamy option (you may want to reduce the amount of oil)
  • Add 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Fresh Tomato Sauce Formula

You don't have to wait until summer to experience the flavor of tomatoes. When you don't have vine-ripened tomatoes, turn to canned, diced tomatoes -- they have all the taste of fresh tomatoes and you don't have to do any of the chopping.

What you need:

  • 2 (15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes in juice (or 2 diced fresh tomatoes, when in season)
  • 1/4 cup torn herbs, such as basil or parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or red-wine vinegar

Simply combine the ingredients in a bowl and toss with hot pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

Optional swaps or additions:

  • Add 1/4 cup black or green olives, pitted and chopped
  • Add 2 tablespoons capers
  • Add 1 to 2 anchovy fillets, mashed
  • Add 1 can of tuna, flaked
  • Add 4 to 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped (it will melt slightly from the hot pasta!)

Parmesan Sauce Formula

If you love cheesy noodles, you'll love this dish of pasta with buttery Parmesan cheese sauce. The formula can easily be changed to suit your specific cravings.

What you need:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Use a food processor to mix together the butter and cheese and toss with hot pasta. Season with salt.

Optional swaps or additions:

  • Swap the butter with 1/2 cup olive oil for a healthier option
  • Swap the butter with 1/2 cup creme fraiche for a creamier option
  • Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice for bright flavor
  • Add 1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns (it's like a riff on cacio e pepe)
  • Add 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Add 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Add 1 to 2 anchovy filets

The Basic Ingredients To Stock

  • Pasta
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, cilantro
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Garlic
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned anchovies
  • Olives
  • Capers
  • Lemons
  • Red-wine vinegar

What's your favorite no-cook pasta sauce? Let us know in the comment.

WATCH: How to Make Simple Pesto Sauce

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