Use your noodles for fast meals and friendly flavors.

Pasta may be the time-stressed cook's ultimate secret weapon. How many other foods offer a relatively foolproof start-up in nothing more demanding than boiling water, yet also give you such a choice of cooking times that you can simultaneously prepare a wide range of meats, seafoods, or vegetables? The result is not only a quick meal, but one chock-full of nutrition and flavor.

Practically the only way you can lose any time at all with a pasta dish is trying to decide which kind to use each night. Marketing, technology, and culinary artistry have come together to offer you a remarkably wide selection, from the familiar spaghetti, macaroni, and lasagna to slightly more esoteric formulations such as orzo or couscous.

But don't dawdle too much; pretty much any choice will do. And if you think it cooks up quickly, watch how it disappears at your dinner table.