Created by: Julia Mueller, The Roasted Root
While my siblings and I all have very different personalities and hobbies, we always agreed on what we loved to eat for dinner: pasta. When celebrating National Family Meal Month, a DIY pasta bar is the perfect way to get the whole family together for an easy evening of delicious eats and great company.
While some folks have no preference when it comes to noodles, there are certain individuals in my family that are crazy about certain shapes, and not so into others. For this reason, we always cook up at least two pasta shapes, and/or spaghetti or angel hair pasta. Because there are a couple people in my family who are sensitive to gluten, I always make at least one type of gluten-free pasta.
When it comes to sauces, my family loves them all. My brothers and I love meaty red sauces, while the kids in the family enjoy plain marinara sauce without meat or pesto sauce, and my sister loves alfredo sauce. Because everyone enjoys massive quantities of sauce, but opinions vary on which ones are the tastiest, I always offer at least two options: typically, basil pesto sauce and turkey Bolognese using store-bought marinara sauce and ground turkey. We always pick up an extra jar of marinara sauce so that those who want meatless sauce can simply drizzle the sauce on their noodles.
In my carnivorous family, having multiple meat options at a DIY Pasta Bar is just as important as having multiple sauce options. Grilled chicken and turkey Bolognese are always family favorites. Both are so simple to prepare. For grilled chicken, simply marinate boneless chicken breasts in olive oil, herbs and vinegar for at least an hour (up to 12 hours), then grill the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Chop the chicken into cubes, or cut into slices and place the chicken on a serving plate. To prepare turkey Bolognese sauce, pick up your favorite jar of red sauce from the grocery store, brown up some ground turkey meat, then add the sauce and allow it to simmer for 30 minutes (or longer for more flavor). Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl, and you’re ready to go! Other meat options would be baked salmon, grilled pork or sautéed shrimp.
In order to lend some freshness to a pasta dinner, I recommend steaming, roasting or sautéing seasonal vegetables so that those who are craving greens can easily add them to their bowl of pasta. Broccoli is always a winner in my family, and you can also sauté kale, spinach or chard, and/or grill or roast zucchini or even winter squash.
Topping pasta with freshly grated cheese is a brilliant way of making the meal extra comforting, and infusing it with additional flavor. At a minimum, I always recommend having a hunk of fresh Parmesan that can easily be grated over every plate or bowl of pasta. I also like having a bowl of ricotta cheese on hand, and even cheddar cheese for the kids who enjoy plain noodles with cheese. It’s hard to go wrong with multiple options!
And that’s it! Simply arrange all of your pasta bar ingredients on a table in bowls with serving spoons, and set out plates and bowls so that everyone can serve themselves buffet-style. Once the evening is over, each person is almost guaranteed to have sampled and mixed and matched various types of pastas with sauces, meats, cheeses and veggies. And of course, everyone goes to bed satisfied!