Noodles a few days old are well worth an easy rescue.

By Chris Malloy
Updated February 05, 2020

One of the best things about pasta is how fantastic it tastes right out of the pan. Pasta is at its peak the very moment it’s ready. As it leaves the pan and cools, flavor wanes fast, almost at a freefall. Even four minutes out of the pan, a simple pasta like one with pesto might drop from great to good, or from good to just okay. What chance, then, could day-old noodles possibly have?

Actually, a pretty good one. The key is to get creative. Starting with two ways to transform leftover pasta and finishing with two ways that make the most of what you have, here are four ways to elevate leftover pasta.

Cook a Pasta Frittata

With just a few eggs and minutes, you can make a pasta frittata. This isn’t a new creation, but a dish with deep roots in Italy. People have been thinking about creative ways to reuse pasta for a long time, partly for saving money, partly to make leftover pasta as good as can be. Pasta frittata is one that has lasted. It’s one, too, that makes sense with how we approach eggs in the U.S. If you think about a breakfast of egg and toast, or a breakfast burrito on a flour tortilla, a frittata with pasta—pasta being a food of wheat and water, just like bread or a tortilla—isn’t all that different. (Pasta frittata, though, is typically eaten at later meals.)

Because your pasta has already been sauced and seasoned on the first go-around, you’re already steps into the flavor-building process when making a frittata. In terms of flavor combination, pasta and egg are a natural match. Some pastas already contain egg in the noodle itself. Some sauces make use of egg, like carbonara.

To make a pasta frittata, simply pretend you’re making a non-pasta frittata. You just add your leftover pasta to the eggs, toss them together, and add a few sun-dried tomatoes, some cheese, or anything ready-to-go that you think would improve the frittata. Next: add the mixture to the pan, and follow standard frittata procedures. A pasta frittata tends to work better with more reserved, leanly sauced leftover pastas. Bolognese or cream-sauced pastas won’t be as good a fit as your simple spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, or pasta with pesto.

Bake a Pasta Pie

If you’re up for a small project, consider baking your pasta into a pie. Not something sweet—we mean a savory pie. If you take a close look at the regions of Italy, you will find a surprising diversity of pasta pies. Some are tied to holidays, others are tied to noodle shape. All make for a different kind of pasta experience.

When making pasta pie, a casual approach goes a long way. When starting with old pasta, you’re already in leftover territory. This isn’t about shooting for a perfect pie crust, but rather a simple one that does the job. You could get away with using a frozen pie crust.

The idea is a simple crust to support the pasta and cheese you’ll add to the middle. (Ricotta and mozzarella are good options.) If rolling your own dough for a pasta pie, including a tablespoon or so of polenta or cornmeal could add another layer of bite. Keep the pie shallow. Start with the noodles cold. The aim of both is to keep pasta from overly softening. When starting with old noodles, your final pie will cook past al dente, but with a flaky pie slice oozing melted cheese, that’s not a bad thing.

Make a Noodle Sauté

Warming pasta in a hot skillet rather than a microwave can give you better flavor and texture. Start with olive oil. You can add a garlic clove or two to the oil, or a few leaves of sage, creating some extra flavor that will help a pasta a day or two past its prime. Though the hot pan and oil will work to soften the pasta, they will also create some crisp laciness on the exterior. Much more than a microwave—which only works to soften. You can eat the noodles as is, but I personally love to stir in a little peanut-ginger sauce for homemade pad thai.

Add a Drizzle of [Insert Any Sauce, Butter Is an Option]

Even if you use a microwave (or, hey, even a skillet!), there are ways to supercharge reheated pasta. If you hit your pasta with a glug of good olive oil, you’ll let your pasta and sauce better express themselves. (This is also a great move for pasta that isn’t leftover!) Depending on the pasta, stirring in compound butter before eating can bring a new dimension of creaminess and flavor. Also, if you like fish sauce as much as some Southern Italians, a sprinkling of an Asian-style brand or Italian-style Colatura can bring a mild but galvanizing touch of the sea. And of course, a dollop of pesto or extra cheese can go a long way.