17 Canned Ingredients That Can Seriously Upgrade Your Pasta Dishes

creamy mushroom pasta
creamy mushroom pasta - Cook Shoots Food/Shutterstock

Pasta is a store cupboard staple but most of us don't just want to eat dry pasta, so what canned ingredients can you use to make a delicious dish? There are plenty of canned goods that can upgrade your pasta dishes, whether you're looking to make a meal out of what you already have in the pantry or you just want some inspiration for new recipes to try.

With common canned ingredients such as olives, artichokes, corn, and chickpeas to hand, you won't have to go more than a few steps to make a brilliant meal. The beauty of pasta lies in its simplicity and versatility, so it pairs well with a range of canned ingredients. We're not saying that you can mix together a drained can of lentils and some cooked pasta and call it a day. But, with some planning and creativity, you're never more than a can-opener away from something delicious.

Read more: 6 Canned Meats You Should Buy And 6 You Shouldn't


artichoke hearts on cutting board
artichoke hearts on cutting board - Mironov Vladimir/Shutterstock

Canned artichokes make a brilliant addition to pasta dishes. And, in fact, some argue that canned artichokes are superior to fresh ones due to their convenience -- compared to fresh artichokes, which can be a nightmare to prepare. These tasty veggies are popular in Italian cuisine, making them an obvious addition to a pasta dish. Because they're not everyday vegetables, they can also elevate a recipe, making it feel fancy, even if you're only using basic ingredients.

Canned artichokes are a key ingredient in our antipasto pasta salad recipe, along with olives, tomatoes, banana peppers, and loads more. However, you can sauté them and add them to basically any pasta dish. They're even great with something as simple as olive oil, garlic, and a squeeze of lemon. What's more, you can blend them up to make a creamy sauce for your pasta — great news if you're lacking ingredients and you want to make something with what you've got in your pantry.

Hearts Of Palm

hearts of palm
hearts of palm - Juanmonino/Getty Images

Since they aren't as common as some of the other ingredients on this list, you might be wondering what hearts of palm are and what they taste like. As the name suggests, they come from the center of a palm tree or plant. They have a crunchy texture and a fairly mild flavor that works well with a range of other ingredients.

While they aren't typical in Italian food, we maintain that they go well in pasta dishes, taking on the other flavors of the dish. You can sauté them and have them with a fairly traditional Italian pasta dish, with a tomato sauce and lots of garlic. Or, since they're common in the cuisines of Central and South America, you may want to go for more of a fusion vibe. You could make a pasta dish flavored with spices like cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika, and finish it off with some chopped avocado and a dash of hot sauce.


bundle of asparagus
bundle of asparagus - Tonya Polezhayeva/Shutterstock

While fresh asparagus is undoubtedly great with pasta — like in this summer veggie pasta salad recipe — there's also a place for canned asparagus in pasta dishes. The main difference between canned asparagus and fresh asparagus is the texture. Canned asparagus is much softer, so it makes sense to use it in dishes where a soft texture isn't an issue. For instance, there's a traditional Venetian dish that involves blending asparagus to make a sauce for pasta. In this instance, the softer texture would actually be beneficial.

But this isn't your only option when using canned asparagus in pasta. Sautéing it adds some color and flavor that can be lacking in canned veggies. And, it's great paired with other green vegetables, such as broccoli and peas. What's cool about canned asparagus is that you can also buy the white version, which is less commonly found fresh. White asparagus is a little sweeter with a more delicate flavor.


canned green olives
canned green olives - Olgakr/Getty Images

Sure, olives and pasta are an obvious pairing, but that's for a reason — they go well together. So, if you have an old can hanging around at the back of your pantry, this is your sign to use it up in a delicious pasta dish. Saltiness and an umami kick make olives a fantastic addition, turning recipes that lack flavor into something worth remembering.

While you can upgrade virtually any pasta dish with this divisive Italian ingredient, olives make a great addition to basic spaghetti sauce. They bring a complexity of flavor that simple tomato spaghetti sauce can lack. They also add some texture, whether you slice them, mince them, or throw them in whole (but pitted). You can also make an olive tapenade and stir it through pasta as a sauce. What's great is you can use whatever olives you have on hand. Black, green, kalamata — they all work well with pasta.

White Beans

white beans in bowl
white beans in bowl - Elena Pavlova/Getty Images

White beans taste amazing with pasta. Although their flavor is fairly mild, they pick up notes nicely from other ingredients in a dish. Garlic, herbs, spices, and other seasonings all pair well with white beans. And, you can use any white beans you might find in your pantry, including navy beans, butter beans, and cannellini beans. White beans are not just a great upgrade because of their flavor, they're also rich in protein. This can turn your meal into a more filling and satisfying main.

There are some pasta recipes that traditionally contain white beans, such as pasta e fagioli. However, you can throw some beans into any pasta recipe -- they just need to be heated through. While you can toss them in the cooking pasta for a minute or two before draining, they'll pick up more flavor if you cook them in with the sauce. You can also partially blend or mash them with the sauce to give it a creamier consistency.


bowl of chickpeas
bowl of chickpeas - milart/Shutterstock

Chickpea pasta — or pasta e ceci, as it's known in Italian — is a dish in its own right, which is why we've kept chickpeas separate from white beans. You can upgrade a plain tomato pasta dish to pasta e ceci by cooking them with the tomato and aromatics. Like with white beans, they bring protein to a dish, along with a pleasant nutty flavor.

Pasta e ceci tends to use either ditalini or anellini pasta. Ditalini is a small tube-shaped pasta, like a short macaroni, while anellini is little hoops that you probably recognize from cans of SpaghettiOs. However, you're not limited to only making a traditional pasta e ceci. You can give any pasta recipe a chickpea upgrade. They're great with creamy pastas, pesto pasta, and simple pasta dishes with olive oil and garlic. You can also use them mashed as a vegetarian alternative to tuna in a pasta bake, with sweetcorn or peas and a béchamel sauce.


pumpkin puree in ramekin
pumpkin puree in ramekin - Oksana Osypenko/Getty Images

You might not expect it, but pumpkin is the key to a delicious creamy pasta. Some recipes use fresh roasted pumpkin but you can always use canned pumpkin in its place. Many pumpkin Alfredo recipes are also dairy free, which is great news for vegans and the lactose-intolerant.

While it's good to follow a recipe for the best results, most follow a similar structure. The pumpkin is blended with other more liquidy ingredients to make a sauce. This might be broth, milk, cream, half-and-half, or cashew cream. There are normally aromatics, such as garlic and onion, in the mix, and some also involve wine -- although this needs to be cooked into the sauce just right to meld the flavors.

The beauty of a creamy sauce made from pumpkin is that it's deliciously sweet. It's great with herbs that have a heavily savory flavor, such as sage or oregano. Another alternative is to balance the sweetness with acidic ingredients, such as lemon juice or vinegar. It's also great with chili and bold spices or spice blends, such as smoked paprika or garam masala -- although, this will give you a flavor profile that's not typical for pasta.

Roasted Red Bell Peppers

roasted red peppers in pan and on cutting board
roasted red peppers in pan and on cutting board - Rudisill/Getty Images

Roasted red peppers go brilliantly with pasta. They're sweet and have a slightly smoky taste from being roasted. But, sometimes you don't want to spend the time roasting fresh peppers. And, then there's the fact that firing up the oven during the warmer seasons can turn you into a sweaty mess. That's where canned roasted peppers come into play. We prefer red, due to their sweetness, but yellow peppers or a mix of red and yellow also works nicely.

The most common way to add them to a pasta dish is simply by slicing them and sautéing them or mixing them through the sauce to heat up. They're already cooked, so they really just need to be warmed. However, you can also blend them to transform them into a tasty roasted red pepper sauce. If you're lacking other pasta sauce ingredients in your pantry, canned roasted peppers come to the rescue. It's worth noting they're often found in jars, rather than cans, but both are shelf stable and play the same role.

Fire Roasted Tomatoes

canned tomatoes in bowl
canned tomatoes in bowl - Jupiterimages/Getty Images

If you generally use regular canned tomatoes in your pasta dishes, switching to fire roasted tomatoes is an easy upgrade. The name of these tomatoes is fairly self-explanatory — they're roasted and charred over a flame before being canned, and they can be whole or diced. The fire roasting process adds a smoky flavor, as you might expect. However, what you might not realize is that they have an even more tomatoey flavor. This is down to water evaporating during roasting, which concentrates the flavor.

But, how do you use them in recipes? It's simple, you just replace them like-for-like with regular canned tomatoes in a recipe. So, you could throw them in a classic marinara, a ragù, a lasagna sauce, or anywhere else you usually use canned tomatoes. It might not seem like a significant upgrade but the flavor speaks for itself. You may never go back to regular canned tomatoes again.

Cream Of Mushroom Soup

can of cream of mushroom soup
can of cream of mushroom soup - Deutschlandreform/Shutterstock

Looking for an easy, creamy upgrade to boring pasta dishes? Try cream of mushroom soup. Sure, you could make your own creamy mushroom pasta sauce from scratch — and it would probably be delicious — but you won't always have the time, inclination, or ingredients on hand to do that. Instead, all you need is some canned cream of mushroom soup.

If you want the dish to be as simple as possible, just heat the soup, add the cooked pasta, and stir together. However, you may want to add some milk or cream to dilute the flavor somewhat — and, depending on the consistency of the soup, you may choose to simmer it to make it thicker and saucier. It's easy to make this dish taste even better by adding cheese and fresh herbs, such as parsley or thyme. You could also mix the soup in with a tomato pasta sauce or simmer it with canned tomatoes and aromatics -- this will give you a creamy tomato sauce.


open can of anchovies
open can of anchovies - Duckycards/Getty Images

With their deep umami flavor, anchovies can upgrade a basic pasta dish. While some people are anti-anchovy, when they're cooked with enough other ingredients or used in small quantities, the flavor melds in, so most people would never guess their presence in a dish. You can use them to upgrade any of your favorite pasta dishes. We'd recommend cooking them down with the aromatics — onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and so on — before adding other sauce ingredients.

Plus, anchovies are a key ingredient in pasta puttanesca. It's a recipe that also uses capers, olives, and canned tomatoes, so it's a great meal to make just by raiding a well-stocked pantry. Anchovies go well with lemon, chili, and olive oil in a simple pasta dish. But, of course, you can also use them in richer and more elaborate recipes. They're versatile enough to pair well with most of the flavors you might find in a classic Italian dish.

Preserved Lemons

jar of preserved lemons
jar of preserved lemons - Lena_zajchikova/Getty Images

Found in cans or jars, preserved lemons are pickled in salt and their own juices. Although they're usually found in Middle Eastern cuisine, their complex, intense lemon flavor tastes incredible in pasta. So, if you're making a pasta dish that you think is lacking depth or is in need of a punchy flavor, this is where you should call on preserved lemons.

You can chop them and mix them through any pasta dish in place of lemon juice or another acidic ingredient. This instantly brightens a dish and brings a more nuanced flavor than fresh lemons, turning a just fine meal into something memorable. However, there are also some pasta recipes that feature preserved lemons as one of the main ingredients. These generally involve stirring chopped preserved lemons through pasta with other basic ingredients, such as butter or olive oil, grated hard cheese, and sautéed garlic. This is a simple but delicious way to make an incredible pasta dish.


canned corn
canned corn - Gordonbellphotography/Getty Images

Most people will have a can of corn in the pantry — and it's all you need to level up a pasta dish in a pinch. The sweetness of corn is a nice contrast to rich, creamy sauces and umami flavors. It's great in pasta with a cream-based sauce and a grating of pecorino. Or, you can mix it into a mac and cheese or other similar cheesy pasta dishes.

Alex Guarnaschelli makes a delicious corn pasta with sundried tomatoes, if that's your bag. The sweet crunch of the corn kernels balance out the intense sundried tomato flavor. You can also toast corn in a pan to char it slightly and add some smoky notes to the equation. This works well with spicy ingredients and Mexican-inspired flavors, such as in this smoky chipotle and toasted corn pasta recipe. While that recipe uses frozen corn, canned corn also works well here.


sliced canned potatoes
sliced canned potatoes - Merrimon/Getty Images

While it might seem counterintuitive to add starch to your starch, potatoes and pasta are a perfect pairing. In fact, there are many traditional Italian dishes that pair potatoes and pasta. Although these dishes usually use fresh potatoes, you can absolutely switch it up and use canned potatoes instead. Not only does this reduce the cooking time or prep time, but it can help you make use of what you already have in your store cupboard.

Some recipes call for cooking the potatoes in with the pasta and others involve cooking them with the sauce. There are also some one-pot recipes where the pasta and sauce cook together. And, what's cool about canned potatoes is that they're already cooked through. So, you can easily slice them and fry them in olive oil until crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. These crispy pieces make a delicious topping to upgrade your pasta.


capers in bowl
capers in bowl - Avocado_studio/Shutterstock

Capers are the kind of ingredient that people buy when they're trying to branch out, but then have no idea what to do with it. But, these little brined flower buds can instantly liven up a pasta dish with their lemony tang and floral notes. They bring a similar briny flavor as green olives but with a brightness that olives lack. And, they're ready to go straight out of the can or jar, which is why capers are perfect for improving a quick pasta dish.

You can use capers to upgrade all kinds of pastas. They work well with simple garlic butter or olive oil based sauces. But, they also bring extra depth to tomato sauces. Plus, they can be used as an alternative to bacon in a vegetarian carbonara, bringing a similar level of savoriness and saltiness. They even excel in creamy dishes, offering a contrast to the richness of a cream sauce.


canned mushrooms
canned mushrooms - Handmadepictures/Getty Images

We all know that mushrooms are a brilliant addition to pasta dishes. However, you might not think to bring canned mushrooms to the table. While fresh mushrooms have a more intense flavor and slightly meatier texture, canned mushrooms still do nicely if you have them on hand. Plus, some canned varieties come pre-sliced, which cuts down on prep time and means you'll be eating pasta even sooner — which is always what we want.

Mushrooms really shine in creamy pasta recipes. Sauté them with onions and garlic, add heavy cream and seasoning, and you're ready to roll. A fresh herb, such as dill or parsley, doesn't go amiss, either. However, you can really upgrade any type of pasta recipe with a healthy dose of mushrooms. The thing about canned mushrooms is that they can be a little watery, so sauteing them for a bit longer than usual cooks off the water and intensifies the flavor.

Brown Or Green Lentils

bowl of brown lentils
bowl of brown lentils - Timolina/Shutterstock

With the help of canned green or brown lentils, you can easily upgrade a tomato pasta sauce to a vegetarian or vegan Bolognese. The lentils stand in for ground beef, adding protein, flavor, and texture. All you need to do is raid your pantry, which is great for those days when you just don't want to get up and go to the store.

While some people might see a lentil Bolognese recipe as a subpar alternative to meat-based Bolognese, we think it has a lot to offer in its own right. The lentils bring an earthy taste on their own, and they also do a good job at absorbing the flavors present in the sauce. So, they're rich with tomatoey garlicky goodness from the rest of the sauce. What's more, the texture is on point. These lentils are small and regular with a bit of bite to them, but they're still soft enough that some of them slightly melt into the sauce.

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