32 Easy Italian Pasta Side Dishes For Every Occasion

I think we’ve all been there before. You’re cooking dinner and all of a sudden you find out there are some unexpected guests showing up.

Do you have enough food prepared? Maybe you have some pork chops in the oven with roasted potatoes. The main course looks like it’s going to be enough for your family and the people who just let you know they are on their way … but is it?

Don’t worry about it. This is easy.

In situations like this, pasta sides are there to save you. There are so many easy recipes you can put together really fast. You’ll probably have most of the ingredients you need in your pantry already. I’m sure you have olive oil, fresh garlic and some kind of dried pasta.

If you need something else, make a quick run to the grocery store.

Table of Contents

The best pasta dishes to turn into sides

I’m about to give you a list of some pasta dishes that will make a great addition to any meal. These are some of the best sides and they all can be used as a main course as well.

So get a large pot of salted water boiling on the stove and let’s go!

Pasta Pomodoro

This simple pasta dish is really easy to make in a pinch.

You can use any pasta shape you like. Try it with angel hair pasta which is a really thin spaghetti.

Heat some olive oil in a pan with garlic, a can of tomato puree and fresh basil. In no time at all you’ll have a really delicious tomato sauce.

Toss it with your pasta and add some grated parmesan cheese.

Cacio e Pepe

This simple pasta dish is originally from Rome.

It doesn’t get much easier than this. You need to boil your pasta. Make sure it’s al dente. Then you want to toss it in grated Pecorino Romano cheese and fresh cracked black pepper. Add a little bit of the starchy water that you boiled the pasta in to make it nice and silky.

This is a really easy dish that you’ll start making all of the time. Try using our recipe

Carbonara

This is another recipe that originated in Rome… or so they say. All I know is that it’s in every restaurant in Rome and it’s getting more and more popular here in the United States.

They say if someone puts cream in their Carbonara it’s not legit. This easy side dish only calls for guanciale, but you can use pancetta or bacon if that’s what you have, eggs and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

There isn’t much cooking involved in this dish. Give it a try!

Although here it is presented as a main course, carbonara can also be a very easy pasta side dish!

Puttanesca

The legends say this quick pasta dish was invented by the prostitutes in Naples because they needed to eat fast before their next client arrived.

Is it true? Who knows.

What I do know is that to make this dish all you need is olive oil, garlic, anchovies, olives, capers, red onions and tomatoes. You should have everything in your pantry ready to go. Get it going in a large skillet and add in your cooked pasta.

This is good with just about any shape of pasta. I like it with spaghetti. Don’t forget the grated Parmesan cheese.

Arrabbiata

This is a spicy pasta dish.

It translates to “angry pasta”, because when you get mad you can act a little spicy I guess.

It’s really easy to put together and once again, you probably have most of the ingredients in the kitchen already. You want to toast up a little garlic in a frying pan. Add some red pepper flakes for heat. I like using Calabrian chili peppers. In Italian they call these hot peppers “peperoncino”.

Add a simple tomato sauce and maybe some capers. Toss the sauce with your favorite pasta and you have a quick and easy pasta side dish.

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

This is one of the best pasta side dishes because it’s so easy.

Heat up some olive oil in a pan with sliced garlic, peperoncino, and parsley. Toss in your al dente spaghetti and let it soak up all of the flavors of the garlic and olive oil.

This is a great main course when you’re short on time also. I like adding a ton of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese to my spaghetti aglio e olio.

It is also a great dish for when you come home late at night from the bar and you need to eat! You definitely have everything in the cabinet to make this at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Pasta all'Amatriciana

This is by far one of my favorite pasta dishes to eat and to make. I love it as a main course and a side dish.

I’ve had it in Rome many times and I can’t say enough good things about this dish. It’s so easy to make, but the flavors make you think it’s been simmering for hours. All you need to do is saute some garlic, onions, and guanciale in a frying pan. If you can’t find guanciale, pancetta or bacon will do.

Add some crushed tomatoes or even a tomato sauce if you have one already prepared. Toss it with you favorite pasta and add some grated cheese. It’s awesome!

Pasta with Basil Pesto

Summer is the best time of year to be making this dish.

Fresh basil is abundant and there isn’t much cooking involved so it’s nice to make in the heat. The sauce requires no cooking and can be done in the blender.

All you need to do is add a bunch of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, grated cheese and olive oil to the blender and let it rip! If you can’t have nuts, just leave them out. Blend it until it makes a nice paste and toss it with hot pasta. Check our recipe!

Pasta with Broccoli

This quick broccoli pasta dish is great. You can add chicken or shrimp if you want to make it a main course.

Just saute some broccoli florets in garlic and olive oil. Sometimes I add a little chicken broth and white wine and let it reduce. Add your pasta and toss it with grated parmesan cheese.

When I was a kid I loved this dish. The key is lots of garlic!

Pasta alla Norma

This is a Sicilian dish made with eggplant and tomatoes. Sebby’s father is from Sicily and he asks for this dish everytime we go to a restaurant. 

When I make it, I cut the eggplant into one-inch pieces and fry them in olive oil. I add garlic and tomato sauce and let the eggplant simmer for a little bit. Here’s the recipe I use.

The flavor of the fried eggplant and olive oil mixes in with the tomatoes and creates a sauce that is light and fresh, but rich and oily at the same time. It sounds weird, but try it.

Add some fresh basil and ricotta salata to finish it off.

Pasta and Peas

I like to make this pasta dish with prosciutto and a creamy garlic sauce.

In a frying pan, I add diced prosciutto and onions and let them cook for a couple of minutes. Then I add garlic, heavy cream, and a lot of grated cheese. When it starts to thicken up I add peas and the cooked pasta. I like using frozen peas for this dish. They are a lot fresher than peas in a can.

For this dish, you can use a short pasta like ditalini.

Pasta with Prosciutto and Artichokes

This is an easy and delicious side dish. Chop up some prosciutto and cook it down in a frying pan. Add garlic, olive oil and artichoke hearts. Feel free to use canned artichoke hearts. Add some white wine and chicken stock and turn up the heat.

When it starts to reduce, put in your cooked pasta and grated cheese. Toss it and squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. This is a dish your company will love.

Spaghetti al Limone

You may have seen our recipe on how to make this easy side dish.

All it takes is olive oil, garlic, a lemon and some parsley. Toss it with cooked spaghetti.

Make sure it’s cooked al dente. This is very important. Add some grated parmesan cheese and you have a really nice side dish that goes with just about any main course.

Pasta with Carrots

I never knew about this dish until recently.

I have a friend who lives in Augusta, Sicily and he called me recently while he was cooking lunch. He was making a sauce from carrots, onions, garlic and olive oil. He explained that the carrots created a really sweet sauce that was delicious with a sharp grated cheese. I decided to try it myself and I loved it. I grated the carrots and cooked them down until they were really soft.

I added some white wine and reduced it before throwing in a small piece of butter. I tossed it with spaghetti and grated parmesan cheese and it was great!

Pasta Primavera

This is a pasta dish that is pretty easy to make and you really don’t have to follow many rules.

Primavera” means “spring” in Italian, so I guess you are supposed to use vegetables that are in season during the spring. Artichokes, asparagus, and peas are things that come to mind. But you can use any vegetables that you have on hand and you’ll get a really nice vegetarian pasta dish.

Just saute your veggies with olive oil and garlic. Toss them with the cooked pasta and grated parmesan cheese and you have a great side dish.

Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

This dish is most common with the orecchiette pasta, but it is fine with ziti or penne.

Get some good Italian sausage and fry it up with garlic and olive oil. The broccoli rabe can be roasted in advance or cooked in the pan with the sausage. Broccoli rabe is a nice bitter green that goes great with the rich and fatty pork sausage.

I like adding a little white wine and letting the sausage and rabe cook in it for a few minutes creating a delicious sauce. Toss it with the pasta and grated cheese and serve. This is also a great main course.

Spaghetti with Zucchini

If you have a garden you might not know what to do with all of the zucchini you harvested. This dish is a great way to use it up.

Cut your zucchini into small pieces and cook it with olive oil, onions and garlic. When it gets nice and soft, add it to a blender and make a zucchini cream. Put it back into the saute pan with your cooked pasta and grated parmesan cheese.

This is a great Summer side dish, but it’s also something you can make all year round in a pinch.

spaghetti with zucchini pasta side dishes

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes

This is another great dish to make in the summertime.

It requires hardly any cooking and is about as fresh as you can get. Take some ripe tomatoes and dice them up. Mix them in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh basil. Boil some spaghetti and add it to the bowl of tomatoes.

The heat from the spaghetti will cook the raw tomatoes just enough to bring out the beautiful bright flavors of summer.

If you want to get fancy, throw in some small cubes of fresh mozzarella cheese.

Orzo with Pomodoro

Orzo is a really small pasta that is shaped like rice. I like it because it really soaks up the flavor of whatever sauce you serve it with.

For this dish, I make a simple tomato sauce with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and basil. I take my cooked orzo and add it to the tomato sauce with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. I slowly stir the orzo in with the tomato sauce so it absorbs all of the beautiful flavors.

This dish is good served hot or at room temperature.

Orzo Salad

This is a great side dish to serve at a cookout or barbecue. It’s an Italian pasta salad that is really easy to make.

Boil your orzo, drain it and let it cool down. Add it to a big bowl with fresh spinach, olives, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, red onions and any other vegetables you like. Then dress everything with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs.

Toss it all together and let it marinate for an hour. Just before you serve it, add some feta cheese and give it another toss.

Fusilli with Butter and Cheese

I’m going to be honest. This is a dish that you mostly see served to kids because it’s so quick, easy and simple. But that’s also a reason I am adding it to this list.

How can you go wrong with these ingredients?

Take your cooked fusilli while it’s still hot and put it in a bowl. Add a bunch of butter, extra virgin olive oil and a ton of grated parmesan cheese. If you want to make it more suitable for adults, throw in some fresh herbs and give it a good toss. Easy and delicious!

Linguini and Clams

Ok. You might get a little upset with this dish because I’m not suggesting you use fresh clams. But keep in mind this is a list of quick side dishes so we’re using canned clams.

These chopped clams in a can are perfect when you need them in a pinch. I suggest you always have them in your pantry.

Here’s what you do. Start out with olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper in a pan. Toast the garlic and add them clams. Splash in a little white wine and let it reduce by half.

Toss in your linguine and some fresh chopped parsley. If you want to break all the rule sprinkle on some grated parmesan cheese. I do!

Pasta with Tuna

Here’s a simple dish that tastes like it was hard to make.

Cook some garlic in olive oil in a pan. Add some capers and tomato sauce. Season it with salt and pepper. Add a can of tuna and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Add some cooked spaghetti and let it get coated by the sauce.

Put it on a plate with fresh parsley and grated cheese. You’ll love it and people won’t believe how easy it was to make.

Sausage Cacciatore

This is a dish that I like to serve as a main course. But, it’s so easy that it can be a side dish as well.

Fry up some Italian sausage in a pan with onions, peppers and mushrooms. When the vegetables are soft, add some tomato sauce and white wine. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes and throw in your cooked pasta. Any shape works for this dish.

Toss in some fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese and you’ll love it!

Shrimp Scampi

This easy dish is also usually served as a main course, but it’s so easy I use it as a side. I like it with a big rib eye steak as a main course.

Cook your shrimp with olive oil and lots of garlic. Add some butter, white wine and fresh parsley. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes and add fresh squeezed lemon juice. Toss in some spaghetti or linguine and let it soak up the sauce.

a pasta side dish made with spaghetti and shrimp scampi on a plate

American Chop Suey

I bet you’re wondering why this dish is on the list.

It’s not really an Italian pasta dish, but it’s a New England classic. It’s been made for so many pasta dinners that I can remember at friends’ houses when I was a kid.

It’s made by frying up some hamburger meat with onions, bell peppers and a can of diced tomatoes. Add enough tomatoes to make it really saucy.

You need elbow macaroni for a proper American Chop Suey so make sure you have them ready. Add your cooked elbow macaroni to the meaty sauce and serve with grated cheese. This brings back lots of memories as a kid.

Pasta with Beans

You probably heard of pasta e fagioli before.

It’s pasta and beans and it has many variations. They are all pretty easy to make so it’s a perfect dish for this list.

Use a small pasta like ditalini. Make a simple tomato sauce and add some cannellini beans. Let them simmer for a while. You can add pancetta or prosciutto for extra flavor. Add in your cooked pasta and serve it in a bowl for lots of grated pecorino Romano cheese.

This is a great dish when it’s cold outside.

Fettuccine Alfredo

This legendary dish is rich, creamy and so easy to make.

Who doesn’t love Fettuccine Alfredo? You need butter, garlic, heavy cream, and lots of grated cheese.

I remember the first time I had it at some Italian-American restaurant when I was a kid. It’s a great side dish, but can also be turned into a main course by adding chicken or shrimp. It takes no time to make so it might end up on your regular rotation.

Kids and adults really love this dish with a nice creamy sauce.

Pasta with Green Beans

This dish is basically just what it sounds like, only better. I take fresh green beans and simmer them in a tomato sauce made with olive oil, garlic and thin sliced onions. When the beans become soft I toss in some rigatoni and lots of grated parmesan cheese. It is so easy and so good. It’s a great summer dish. It can be served hot or at room temperature.

Lasagna

This is one of the best pasta side dishes.

Everyone knows we love lasagna at Mortadella Head. It seems like a dish that takes hours to prepare, but it really isn’t if you have a few simple ingredients at hand.

You need a good tomato sauce, some ricotta cheese, provolone or mozzarella and some lasagna noodles. I always keep some lasagna pasta on hand in case I need to put a quick pan together. Just layer everything and pop it in the oven. Have some extra tomato sauce on hand.

Mac & Cheese

This is such a great side dish, just about every high-end steak house has it on their menu.

Make a simple cheese sauce with flour, butter, milk and lots of your favorite cheese. If you want to add some garlic you can.

Use elbow macaroni or shells because they are good at trapping in all of the delicious cheese sauce. Stir together the pasta and cheese sauce and put it in a baking dish.

Add bread crumbs and more cheese and pop it in the oven.

There’s nothing like taking the first bite of those crunchy, creamy garlic shells when they are right out of the oven.

Greek Pasta Salad

Here is another great dish for a summer cookout.

Use any pasta shape you like. I like using corkscrew-shaped pasta.

Toss the pasta in feta cheese, tomatoes, celery, red onion, Kalamata olives and spinach. Make a dressing with extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and oregano. Serve it at room temperature.

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