Sesame Teriyaki Noodles makes a satisfying, saucy late-winter meal. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Stirs: In a rut with marinara and macaroni? Try these quick, unique and palate-pleasing pastas

BUCKHANNON – Pasta – what other dish is so cherished across the board?

In my humble opinion it registers second – only to bread – as the best culinary blank canvas. Oh, the countless possibilities one may create with this versatile and affordable pantry staple! A single ingredient with many faces, such as: semolina, egg, rice, or quinoa. Available shades of pasta allow the cook to explore dishes beyond traditional spaghetti.

First, I would like to address the “pasta is bad for you” stereotype. I have no formal nutrition training, but my motto is moderation and balance are key. I do not believe deprivation leads to success. With this being said, I find pasta to be an excellent avenue for flooding a meal full of nutritious herbs and vegetables, in addition to countless protein add-in choices.

A wonderful characteristic of pasta is the speedy cooking time, making it ideal for a weeknight meal. A bonus – since typically only a few dishes are used – is that cleaning up is a breeze. In fact, one-pot pasta recipes are cropping up all over. The most basic dinner – pasta with olive oil, flaky salt, crushed red pepper and freshly grated Parmesan (fresh parsley to guild the lily) – could not be tastier. Fresh herbs are a perfect match made for pasta and having an herb garden at home provides luscious flavor for minimal to no expense; this is simplicity at its finest. Crunchy toppings such as toasted nuts or seasoned breadcrumbs elevate even the plainest dish to fine dining quality.

I would like to stress, that when cooking with limited ingredients, quality is of the utmost importance. Noodles have a varying array of qualities. When shopping for an Italian pasta, I look for import verification along with a chalky appearance as opposed to smooth and shiny. Pasta produced in Italy is regulated and must contain 100 percent hard grain (normally semolina). Hard grains contain a higher protein content and a lower glycemic index making this a healthier choice than soft grain (for example, white flour) often used in domestic pasta production.

For a baked, cheesy, saucy pasta these details hold less importance in regard to taste. Fortunately, the internet provides many outlets for foreign groceries that local stores may not stock. A staple in my house is a wedge of high-quality Parmesan. I encourage grating your own (there is no comparison to pre-grated), and to buy what fits your budget and area availability. You will also discover the better the cheese, the less you will use.

Olive oil-based pastas are my favorite, and they are uncomplicated. The base is extra virgin olive oil, available to become infused with endless flavor combinations. My go-to infusions include fresh and dried herbs, garlic/shallots, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Another infusion I adore is anchovy, and before you sign off and say, “no way,” hear me out. A single anchovy filet sautéed in olive oil will dissolve leaving you with a nutty decadent flavored oil that is not fishy especially when cooked with garlic. You now know my secret to pasta sauces, so give it a try.

Pasta dishes are one of the few foods that frequently taste better the next day making them superior leftovers, guaranteeing a little extra dinner is not going to go to waste. The sauce flavors will intensify with time. Lastly, I love to entertain with pasta. With limitless ingredient combos, it is no problem to create a meal everyone will enjoy. From rustic to absolute elegance, I am certain there is a pasta for every occasion.

Although the pandemic has put these events on hold, I look forward to the days when I am able to dress my table with pasta dishes for sharing. In the meantime, I will continue my pasta explorations. I ask you to step back from traditional loves such as macaroni and cheese, alfredos, and marinaras to allow room for olive oil infusions. While you may keep the classics near, I hope you explore noodles around the globe.

I leave you today with two recipes; one is a sun-dried tomato and basil pesto olive oil-infused linguine that is compiled of mainly pantry staples making a fantastic late winter dinner. The second is a spicy saucy Asian stir fry noodle. Protein such as chicken, shrimp (pork and beef for the Asian) could be added to either.

I encourage you to find beautiful simplicity in pasta and beyond. Happy cooking. Peace.

Basil Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta (Recipe for 2-3 servings)


  • 1/2 lb linguine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 2 anchovy fillets (or 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste)
  • 4-6 finely chopped tablespoons oil packed sun-dried tomatoes (use more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Lemon juice and flaky salt for finishing


In a deep skillet over medium low heat, warm olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, sun-dried tomatoes, and anchovy and allow flavors to infuse oil while the pasta cooks. Keep the heat low enough so the garlic and lemon cook slowly and do not burn.

In the meantime, cook pasta in heavily salted water.

Add drained pasta, Parmesan, pesto, and parsley to infused oil off the heat and toss to combine. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and flaky salt.

This sun-dried tomato and basil pesto olive oil-infused linguine is compiled of mainly pantry staples, making it an easy go-to main dish for week nights or when you haven’t made it to the grocery store in a few days. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sesame Teriyaki Noodles (3-4 medium servings)


  • 8 oz egg noodles
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons dried ginger, or 1 1/2 in. fresh grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 1 bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 red onion sliced thinly
  • 2 serranos or jalapeños sliced thinly
  • 6 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Black pepper


Boil water and cook noodles according to package.

In a small bowl whisk together soy, sugar, orange juice, ginger, sriracha, sesame oil and corn starch, set aside.

In a large skillet/wok sauté all veggies (season with desired amount of black pepper and red pepper, no salt because of the soy sauce) in a tablespoon of oil over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until just tender (this leaves some texture).

Add drained pasta to noodles, reduce heat to low. Pour in sauce and toss for a minute.

Garnish with any fresh herbs: mint, basil, cilantro, chives…sesame oil drizzle, and sesame seeds.

Sesame Teriyaki Noodles makes a satisfying, saucy late-winter meal. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

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