Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta only takes a microwave and a microwave-safe pasta cooker. The no-cook sauce is made right in the pasta cooker.
Inspiration for Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta
People, I have to level with you: today's post is bittersweet.
Our daughter moves into her college dorm room this week.
Party of me is crazy-excited for the fantastic, new world she'll experience in college.
The other part is incredibly sad because I know that Phil and I will miss her terribly.
I have been thinking of this move for months—nice things we could do to make the transition easier, to make her dorm room more homey, to stay in touch and let her know we're thinking of her.
This emotion is huge and new for me, folks: we're talking about a woman who—literally overnight—went from having zero kids to THREE.
(Confused? I tell the story here).
Anyway, I never imagined that I'd feel this way after becoming a stepmom. But here I am! [choke, sniff]
Our daughter's dorm is equipped with a mini-fridge and a microwave, so in the weeks running up to the big move, I made it my mission to figure out a simple, go-to meal that conformed to two rules.
- All ingredients had to be either stored on a shelf or take up as little space as possible in the mini-fridge.
- The meal had to be completely microwaveable.
Thus, Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta.
It's so incredibly easy that you'll be making it at the office.
Another fun dorm room meal would be my Chicago Style Hot Dog recipe. Easy to make and tons of flavor.
My dorm room memories
This post is also very nostalgic for me, because I remember moving into MY dorm room.
It DIDN'T have a mini fridge or microwave (but I brought my own).
Later, I remember being a graduate student with very little time to devote to anything but lab work.
To me, a meal's value was judged by its expedience rather than its nutritional value.
(Hello, Taco Bell!)
In fact, the bowl of pasta in the photo above was set atop some of my actual, super-geeky notes from grad school and postdoc.
OK, labbies, I know: you don't eat IN the LAB.
You eat in the communal lunch room, of course.
Specifically, at a table next to:
- the microwave that perpetually smells of rotten fish or burnt popcorn and
- the refrigerator packed with little plastic food containers. (These were usually labeled with something along the lines of "Michelle's! Hands OFF!", habitually ignored by starving undergrads).
But I digress.
Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta is equally amenable to an office setting.
These also likely have a stinky communal microwave and lunch-container-packed refrigerator.
Since Phil and I both work from home, I frequently make this pasta for lunch.
It's just so easy and yummy!
The basics of Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta
For anyone who might sniff in disdain at the idea of cooking pasta in the microwave, I got the initial idea from an Italian postdoc who worked in a neighboring lab while I was in grad school.
He was famous in our department for the authentic Italian dishes he brought for get-togethers.
If he can do it, so can I.
Basic vs. fancy
This simplest, most dorm-room-friendly version of Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta involves decent-quality extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and plenty of black pepper.
This version requires no refrigeration, and can be done in about 7 minutes (at least for al dente).
Since this IS a very simple pasta, the flavors are very simple as well.
You want a good-quality, fruity olive oil and PLENTY of black pepper.
If you did have a mini-fridge, and that mini-fridge happened to have some Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (or a vegan alternative) in it, adding a few tablespoons to a half cup would be AWESOME.
This pasta becomes a humble version of the Italian classic, Cacio e Pepe.
If said mini-fridge ALSO happened to contain some fresh ingredients like, say, cherry tomatoes (as in the picture up top) or arugula, this pasta would go from simple-but-good to fairly sophisticated and really, really good.
Arugula is a special favorite of mine because it brings its own earthy, peppery flavor that pairs very well with the black pepper.
The sauce for Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta is beyond simple.
It comes about, in part, from the pasta cooking liquid. For each serving of pasta, I use only a cup of cooking liquid and a pinch of salt.
The pasta, in turn, mostly sucks that water up during the 7-8 minute nuke.
After that time, there should be very little water left: I keep no more than about a tablespoon and drain the rest.
Then I add in some EVOO and freshly ground black pepper—and, preferably, Parmesan or Romano cheese—and give the pasta a quick toss right in the cooking container, along with any fresh ingredients I might want to add in.
The bit of remaining pasta cooking liquid contains starch, which helps binds the sauce together.
This pasta has a very mild flavor, which is traditional.
If it's too bland for your taste, add in ½ tsp. of dried Italian herbs.
In fact, since this IS dorm-room pasta, you could scratch the sauce altogether and add your favorite jarred tomato sauce.
I won't tell anyone.
Simply toss the pasta in a little bit of the sauce, add to a microwavable serving bowl, and add more sauce on top.
Microwave for an additional 20 seconds or as needed to heat the sauce through (cover your dish so it doesn't spit).
Now, a caveat: for this particular dish, I only use flat pastas like spaghetti, angel hair, or linguine.
Tube pastas require more water because the pasta will not be completely submerged in the small amount we use.
I particularly like Dreamfield's low-glycemic index spaghetti, but you could use gluten-free pasta, whole wheat pasta, or any other "healthier" pasta you can find.
Just realize that you'll have to experiment with the cooking times, as they will vary between pasta types.
Factors that make Healthy Dorm-Room Pasta "healthy"
- This is an easy vegan/vegetarian meal. To make it truly vegetarian, make sure that you use a vegetarian-friendly Parmesan or Romano cheese. Use a substitute to make the pasta vegan.
- It's far lower in calories than a Taco Bell run, that's for sure!
- The sauce is made with extra-virgin olive oil: EVOO contains antioxidants and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have preventive effects against oxidative damage and cardiovascular disease, respectively.
- Pasta already has a low glycemic index when compared to high-GI foods like, say, a bagel. This means that it won't cause the spikes in blood sugar—followed by energy crashes—that are typical of high-GI foods. Using an even lower-glycemic index pasta, especially one that's enriched with fiber, protein, or both, is an even healthier choice. Of course, if you have celiac disease or a sensitivity to glutens, you'll want to opt for gluten-free pasta.
- Finally, if you've got that mini-fridge, adding in some fresh greens or other vegetables provides even more antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients.
Warning: USE CAUTION while you're making Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta!
Keep in mind that you're dealing with boiling liquids and steam.
Use extreme care when you handle the pasta cooker!
Don't boil the pasta with the lid on, as this will cause the liquid to boil over.
Although this shouldn't be a problem, just in case: if boil-overs do occur, turn off the microwave and open the door—but don't grab the container!
Let the liquid settle down for about 30 seconds, and then resume cooking.
When the cook time is complete, I always let the pasta sit in the microwave with the door open for about 30 seconds before I reach for it.
Final thoughts on making Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta
These microwave pasta cooker things?
I have to admit that I've used a DIY microwave pasta cooker for many years.
It consists of a deep, narrow, microwave-safe, BPA-free plastic storage container.
I usually just pull my pasta out with a fork and dump the water in the sink.
But an actual microwave pasta cooker has a lid that is specially designed not only to safely drain pasta, but also to measure out pasta servings.
That's brilliant, in my book, even though you won't need the pasta-draining feature for this recipe.
One more thing: not all microwaves are created equally, so you will likely have to experiment a bit with yours.
About 7 minutes did it for me and yielded the slightly-past-al-dente texture that I prefer—but the Fasta Pasta cooking chart specifies 10-11 minutes.
To be safe, check at 7 minutes and at every minute thereafter until the pasta is the perfect texture for you.
I've written the recipe below for one serving with dorm rooms and office cubicles in mind.
You can adjust that as needed—up to the limit stated on the pasta cooker (I think that the general rule is no more than 4 servings).
And that's it! This pasta has been a go-to of mine for lunch at the lab, at the office, or at home for many years.
I'll be making this with our daughter the day before she embarks on her great college adventure.
My hope is that she'll make it in her dorm room and remember her loving family at home.
For more microwave and one-pot dinner ideas, be sure to check out Mastering Easy One-Pot Meal Recipes, a how-to article with lots of great tips for basic techniques that you can easily riff on to create your own one-pot meals!
I am linking this recipe up with #CookBlogShare and #BrillBlogPosts: click the links (or the banners below) for some great recipes and reads!
Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta
Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta takes 4 ingredients, a microwave & microwave-safe pasta maker. It's a 10-minute lunch or dinner that couldn't be simpler. The perfect office lunch: add in some greens or cooked vegetables to make it even healthier.
- 2 oz. spaghetti*
- 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp. salt (or to taste)
- ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, (about 15 grinds)
OPTIONAL ADD-IN IDEAS
- ¼ tsp. dried Italian herbs
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (or vegan alternative)
- ½ cup total of any of the following:
- torn arugula leaves
- cooked asparagus or broccoli
- cooked chicken (or vegan alternative)
- canned tuna, drained well (or vegan alternative)
- Break the bunch of pasta in half and lay flat in the bottom of the pasta cooker. Add the salt and 1 cup of water; shake gently from side to side to mix.
- Microwave uncovered for 6-7 minutes, watching carefully to be sure that the pasta doesn't dry out (add another ¼ cup of water if it does). Stir after 3 minutes to break up any clumps of pasta.
- After 6 minutes, check the texture of the pasta to see if it's done to your liking: after the microwave has turned off, open the door and let the pasta cooker sit for ~10 seconds. Carefully remove the cooker from the microwave using the handles of the pasta cooker. Use a fork to remove a single strand of spaghetti; check its texture. Return the cooker to the microwave, if necessary, and continue cooking as needed until the spaghetti reaches your desired texture.
- When the spaghetti is slightly past al dente, there should be only about a tablespoon of cooking liquid left.** Don't drain it! Add the pepper, extra-virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese (if using), and any additional optional ingredients.*** Toss the pasta with a fork to completely coat the spaghetti. Serve.
*To measure the pasta, make a ~½" circle with your index finger and your thumb: cook the pasta that you can fit into the circle! OR use the center hole in a pasta spoon: this was specifically created to measure servings!
**If there IS a lot more liquid than about a tablespoon, carefully drain the excess. You can also microwave for an extra 30 seconds, which will allow the pasta to absorb some of the remaining liquid. If there's LESS than a tablespoon left in the cooker, don't sweat it: the pasta will still be great!
***If you are adding tuna or cooked chicken, you may want to cover and microwave for 20 seconds after you add it to the pasta.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 1 Serving Size: 2 oz basic pasta recipe
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 805Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 174mgSodium: 575mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 5gSugar: 5gProtein: 75g
Nutrition data provided here is only an estimate: if you are tracking this information for medical purposes, please consult a trusted external source. Thanks!
This was delicious! I was craving pasta but did t feel like dirtying a pot, strainer etc. I added parm, pancetta cubes and parsley. Would never know it was made in the microwave! Will remember this when I’m finally back to work. I wish I could post pictures to show how it turned out ?
Wow, Lisa! Your customized version sounds scrumptious, so of COURSE I have to try it this way. I'm so glad that this turned out well for you!
I’m all about making office lunches more interesting. An office lunch you assemble on the spot? What a great idea! I had to try it. The night before, I grated the cheese, prepped some tomatoes and arugula, and measured out the pepper, salt, olive oil, and pasta noodles. I packed it all nice and neat for work. I was much more excited for lunch than usual and my coworkers were intrigued (and jealous). The cooking was a breeze, but I think I’m getting a reputation as the office gourmet. The final result was simple and delicious! It felt naughty without being really unhealthy. I’ve made this multiple times already and this is a go-to recipe for when I’m just not feeling my freezer leftovers. Thank you!
Oh my gosh, this story makes me so HAPPY! I’m SO glad that you enjoyed the recipe—and made it your own!
Elaine @ Dishes Delish says
I could have used a microwave in college when I went way back when! I can just imagine how heart-wrenching it is when a child moves out and goes to college! Pretty soon it will seem normal. Your microwave pasta looks fun and delicious! Great idea!
Thanks so much, Elaine! It's amazing, but we're adjusting to our "new normal" already.
Nicola @ Happy Healthy Motivated says
What a great post for anyone cooking without a kitchen! When we were renovating our kitchen a couple of years ago, it took me forever to learn how to cook things like pasta and rice in the microwave. I so could have done with your post back then!!
Thank you, Nicola! I didn't even think of that application for this pasta: cooking during a kitchen reno! Of course! 🙂
Oh how well I remember those goodbyes..... But, try to think of it as a new adventure for you both. The pasta will be easy for her and make her think of you when she makes it. Sounds delish!
Thanks, Pam! Yes, it will be a great adventure for sure!
This would be good in the office when don't have time for a lunch! (which happens a lot for me) It's perfect for on the go and best of all healthy!!
Thanks, Deanna! It is a great option for busy office days. I hope you enjoy it!
sue | theviewfromgreatisland says
I want to devour that bowl of pasta, I LOVE pepper! And I wish I could tell you that the off the college thing gets better, over time...but I still miss my girls and they've been out of college for a few years!
Aw, thanks Sue! Yes, she's only been gone one day and I miss her so much!
Mayuri Patel says
A great quick recipe not only for college kids but also for the 'we are adults now kids' whose lives are overtaken by work! Simple and healthier than ready made food.
Thanks so much, Mayuri! ????
This is a great idea for next year when my son will be heading for college. Been half Italian he likes his pasta, yes every day. We still don't know where he will be going, but certainly not Italy of France . So he better practice this technique.
Thank you, Laura! I hope that he finds it super-easy and delicious!
Best wishes to your daughter as she moves to collage. I hope it turns out to be all that she hopes and that she does well in her studies. I kick start i needed for my blog came about when both my boys were away one at uni one the other side of the world, and they started to miss home cooking and wanted to cook for themselves, and so were asking for recipes. They are both back home now but for how long I do not know.
Thank you for linking up this great simple microwave recipe to #CookBlogShare and I hope you will link up some more that you want to share with your daughter in the future
Thanks so much for the good wishes and for sharing your blogging inspiration, Jacqui—how perfect!
Nadja | Nashi Food says
What a great idea! I think I'll make some just now, I'm not in the mood to turn on the stove to make me some lunch! I'll let you know how it turned out.
Thank you, Nadja! I hope you love it!
Lovely simple pasta dish. I hope your stepdaughter settles in well! I've got a long time to go till my children leave home but I imagine I'll find it just as hard one day.
Thank you very much, Corina! I'm dreading move-in day. I'll have to pack plenty of tissues!