1. Let Butter Be Your Friend. Melt butter in a bowl. Add a spoonful of Parmesan, a smattering of garlic powder, a shake of red pepper flakes, a drizzle of olive oil, and a serving of pasta. Mix, adding more Parmesan as you go.
2. Add Some Greens. Take a large handful of spinach a from the salad bar. Add a spoonful of water. Microwave until the spinach is wilted. Add salt, pepper, olive oil, and pasta. Top with parmesan.
3. Use the Salad Bar. Crumble walnuts on top of your pasta. Toss with just a tad of your favorite salad dressing
4. Pasta Pomodoro. Add tomatoes and any crumbly cheese you can find (feta, blue). Toss with olive oil and pasta. Serve room temperature.
5. Reinvent a Classic Pasta Salad. Mix a little spoonful of mustard with a bigger spoonful of mayo. Dice some celery, carrots, and apples as well as you can with a butter knife. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with short pasta (cut up spaghetti or linguine if that’s all that’s on hand).
6. Make a Tangy, Spicy Red Sauce. Spoon marinara sauce over your pasta. Add a splash of red wine vinegar and as much hot pepper as you can stand. Toss. If your dining hall has a grill, top with a sunny side up fried egg. Pop the yolk and mix the egg with the pasta.
7. Be a Harlot. Tweak the above tomato sauce with black olives from the salad bar and capers (if you can find them) and you have a classic Puttanesca.
8. Do as the Sicilians Do. Take a spoonful of plain tuna—not tuna salad. Drizzle with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add a handful of something green—spinach or anything else you can find. Mix in your pasta, and eat.
9. Add a Little Alchy. Smuggle a water bottle of vodka into the dining hall. Combine a few tablespoons with a ladle of tomato sauce. Microwave, stirring occasionally, for a minute or two, until the vodka taste burns off. Slowly drizzle in heavy cream until the sauce turns pink. Add pasta and Parmesan and mix up your Penne Ala Vodka.
10. Microwaveable Mac ’n Cheese. Warm milk in the microwave, letting it bubble and reduce slightly. Add shredded cheese—cheddar or jack or Swiss—and mix to melt the cheese. Put in a tiny dab of mustard, then stir in the pasta. Microwave again to get the sauce to coat the pasta. Microwave Mac ‘n Cheese!
Cara is the co-founder of Small Kitchen College and Big Girls, Small Kitchen