I really like making pasta, but I've found that most of my recipes have these sorts of ingredients:

  • Pale yellow pasta
  • Brown mushrooms
  • Brown tempeh or tofu (or ground beef if you prefer)
  • Spices that make things even more brown (generally allspice, garlic, oregano, and thyme)

What I noticed is that it always ends up all brown. It tastes great, but I'd like to make things more exciting looking. Obviously I could add tomato sauce, but I'm not always in the mood for that. The other ideas I have a spinach or basil. I'll probably start adding some spinach, but basil is pretty expensive here.

Is there anything else I can add to my pasta to add different colors? Cheap is definitely a plus in this case, but any ideas would be interesting (there's always special occasions).

  • 3
    In response to the expensive basil: You might consider buying a small basil plant. I bought one from a grocery store for $4 and it probably provided close to $20 or $30 worth of basil. Plus, I didn't have to use it all at once since it stayed alive on the plant. You just need to water it every other day depending on the weather. I just kept mine in a window sil.
    – Chad
    Jan 9, 2011 at 11:56
  • I don't even spend $4 for basil ... I buy a packet of seeds each spring, sprout some, and then give lots away to friends & co-workers. Last year, it even came back in the container where I grow it, so I didn't even buy seeds.
    – Joe
    Jan 9, 2011 at 14:04
  • My parents used to grow insane amounts of basil for me in their garden, but all of my attempts to grow it myself have failed miserably :( Jan 9, 2011 at 19:21
  • I just wanted to comment that I've been adding asparagus recently. Mar 2, 2011 at 2:46

4 Answers 4


For cooking in with the pasta, consider red or yellow bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower or other vegetables that hold their color well when heated. Also, you can help this problem a lot with good, flavorful, beautiful garnishes. Even a simple shower of minced parsley goes a long way. Lemon or orange zest is nice too.

Check out this peppery red-wine capellini from my blog, you'll see how the quick, fresh garnish of cherry tomatoes and parsley turns a brown pasta bright (and maybe learn a new way to cook pasta too).

  • That dish does look nice. Garnishes are definitely a great idea that I somehow didn't think of. Jan 9, 2011 at 5:49

I think Michael already covered a lot of good ideas if you're sticking with wheat/egg pasta. If you want to change the color of the pasta itself - to give yourself a new canvas to paint on - you could:

  • Try squid ink pasta. Though, I'm not sure the best ways to find it.
  • Try thin rice noodles or glass noodles that I assume you can get at big grocery stores or Asian grocery stores.

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Besides vegetables, which have already been mentioned (I'm partial to brocolli myself, and peas in primavera, or even some julienned raw bell pepper at the end for extra crunch, not all spices are brown --

A dusting of paprika when serving could add some extra color. I'd go with a sweet paprika if you're not a fan of heat, but I typically use hot, as not everyone I cook for likes heat, so it's something I can add on at the end.

If you don't mind bursts of heat, a sprinkle of crushed red pepper could add some interest.

For a completely non-brown sauce, you can make pesto with other nuts or herbs. Look online for either a flat-leaf parsley pesto or spinich pesto recipe, and consider walnuts or pistachios rather than pine nuts.

Also, vegetables don't have to hold up then cooked, if you add them at the end -- halve some cherry or grape tomatoes, or as cheap's an issue, diced roma or other tomato.


And, if you have the time and patience (lot of time, if you don't have a pasta roller or extruder), you can also make your own pasta in different colors.


I recently found a great way to deal with this. For each pound of pasta, I add a full bowl of frozen vegetables (brocolli, peas, asparagus, etc.). That way I get something delicious and filled with bright green color. It looks and tastes much better.

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