Pasta

The Late Night in Puglia That Gave Us Martha Stewart's One-Pan Pasta (+ 7 New Ones)

August 26, 2015

Every week, Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The one-pan pasta that took over the internet (and changed the way we think about cooking pasta)—plus 7 new spins.

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This genius pasta makes its own sauce, all in one pan, in 9 minutes—you've probably already cooked it (or at least thought about it). After Martha Stewart Living magazine published the recipe in June 2013, it splashed all over the internet (including right here, sploosh), and got a lot of people out of their weeknight cooking ruts. It meant that cooking pasta no longer had to start with waiting for a big pot of water to boil, or end with trying to meld plain noodles with a cohesive sauce. One pan. 9 minutes.

The magazine had precious little space to detail the recipe's origins—explaining simply that an editor had picked up the tip in Puglia. But here in the Wild West of Food52, there's nothing to stop me from giving you the full scoop. So where did the recipe really come from? How did the minds behind Living come to abandon all the rules of proper pasta cookery? And are there more ways we can do it?

Like lots of recipes, before this one was published in a magazine, it was tasted and honed in a test kitchen, and before that pitched, and before that sparked from somewhere. This particular somewhere just happened to be the back of a restaurant in a tiny town in Italy, a few glasses of wine deep.

When I met the recipe's developer Nora Singley for coffee to hear the story, she handed over a memory card full of photos from her trip, which she couldn't get to open on her computer at home. They magically loaded on my laptop, and the details started coming faster.


Nora Singley with Matteo Martella, the Italian cook who showed her the ropes of one-pan pasta.

 

In 2011, Singley—a longtime TV chef, recipe developer, and food stylist for Martha Stewart—was visiting a small former fishing village called Peschici in the north of Puglia, approximately where the spur would be on the boot that is Italy (Zahra Tangorra, the chef-owner of Brucie and a former guest on The Martha Stewart Show, had urged Singley to go there).

One night, Singley and her Martha colleague Sarah Mastracco stumbled into a local restaurant and their server Matteo Martella (who was also the cook and owner's son), started telling the two about the speedy way his mom cooked pasta. "I was thinking, 'What do you mean all in one pot?'" Singley told me. "We were aghast. Sarah and I, with all our years of cooking experience—it just completely belied our formal training."

 
Left: The pasta so simple you can call your mom while you cook it; Right: Singley's colleague Sarah Mastracco with the goods.

 

He took them back into the kitchen to prove it, piling everything—tomatoes, onions, dry spaghetti, basil, salt, and a small amount of water—into a very small skillet. (As you can see from the photos, he did this so casually that he was able to talk on the phone at the same time.)

About 9 minutes later, they were eating pasta, the unofficial last course of the night. "It was perfect—and perfectly starchy," in the same way that restaurants have a leg up on us with the creaminess and emulsifying power of extra-concentrated, extra-starchy pasta cooking water, Singley told me. "And it was this beautiful moment of learning."

 

Back home in New York, Singley developed the technique into a complete recipe and made it for Martha herself, who was vetting recipes for her TV show.

The recipe didn't make it on the show at the time, but its next stop was at Living, where Singley offered it up for a developing pasta story. Executive Food Director Lucinda Scala Quinn loved it so much that she turned it into its own feature. The internet went wild. Three people sent it to me for Genius Recipes, and by the following summer, I'd shared it with all of you

"I think it's such an awesome template—you can take it away and do it with anything," Singley later wrote to me. So I asked her to share the ways she'd suggest spinning off of this technique with other ingredients, and she sent me the seven below. These are meant to be triggers for your own inspiration and haven't been tested and honed yet—that's the next chapter. Tell us the ones that excite you most (or your own variations!) and we might just test and turn them into a full-fledged genius recipe.

7 New Visions for One-Pan Pasta from Nora Singley

  • Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe: Brown the sausage first, then add the rest of the ingredients: pasta, water, broccoli rabe, olive oil, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes. Finish with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • Rotelle (or cavatelli, or mini conchiglie) with corn, shallots, lemon zest, butter, salt and pepper. Finish with mascarpone, tarragon, and basil.
  • Spaghetti alle vongole: Start with spaghetti, garlic, chopped fresh chiles, olive oil, salt and pepper, sprigs of parsley (remove them later, as with basil in the original recipe). Add clams a few minutes before the end of cooking, then finish with chopped parsley, lemon juice, and additional olive oil.
  • Rigatoni (or rigatoni corti, or casarecci), balsamic vinegar, capers, olive oil, eggplant, garlic, salt, and pepper. Finish with mozzarella or ricotta salata, toasted pine nuts, parsley, and Parmesan.
  • Cacio e Pepe: Pasta, water, salt, and cracked black pepper, and grated Pecorino. Some would add butter, too. Finish with additional Pecorino.
  • Bolognese: Brown off the meat first, then add wine to deglaze and the rest of ingredients—carrots, onions, and celery (all minced super finely in a food processor), sprigs of thyme, bay leaf, a can of tomatoes (or keep it white and add milk), salt and pepper, a Parmesan rind.
  • Miso ramen with ramen noodles or soba. Dried shiitakes, ginger, garlic, miso, scallions, napa cabbage, and crack an egg into it at the last two minutes; finish with sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, and fresh scallions or cilantro. If you reduce the cooking liquid as with the others, this would be a dry ramen, a mazeman style.

Note that cooking times and liquid amounts will vary with the pasta shapes, bonus ingredients, and pans you use, so it's better to err on the side of too little liquid at first, then add more as needed to finish cooking the pasta. Look to the original recipe for guidance and pasta box for cook times, flex those not-recipe muscles, and have fun—then report back to us!

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Want to know the origin of another Genius Recipe? I want to hear that too!

Photos by James Ransom and Nora Singley

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27 Comments

Anthony A. August 30, 2017
I been looking the recipe of Matteo Martella and I can't find it.Can you help me. thank you
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 3, 2017
Hi Anthony—here's the recipe that was inspired by Matteo's technique, developed by Nora Singley for Martha Stewart Living: https://food52.com/recipes/30147-martha-stewart-s-one-pan-pasta
 
vschwager April 29, 2016
P.S. Cooking pasta into a simmering sause has been a trick known for sometime, and it works particularly well with certain typew of pasta like, say, spaghetti alla chitarra, or spaghettini, or fresh pasta. Nothing new under the sun. Good cooking.
 
vschwager April 29, 2016
Certain ingredients work well in certain contexts. This recipe certainly does. Carbonara does not. The right match and timing works the same as clothes: it takes taste and a bit of savoir faire. If you haven't got either then you end up with that horrible Carbonara concoction, or whatever you might call it. You can certainly cook good spaghetti along with a simmering tomato sauce. But putting all carbonara ingredients into one pan and then pretending it tastes the way it ought to makes as much sense as putting all spare parts of a car into a box and then pretend to drive it.
 
Vincent April 24, 2016
I started cooking some pastas this way back in the '80s when I read a similar recipe for Pasta with Broccoli in NY Times 60-Minute Gourmet book by Pierre Franey & Craig Claiborne. There is also a quick skillet lasagna from Cooks Country that's good in a pinch.<br />
 
Sharon W. March 5, 2016
I am always curious as to the mixed reviews. For me, a successful recipe is made over and over with consistent results. As for leftovers? If you make just enough for the amount of people eating, there should be no leftovers to be concerned about. This is not a dish meant to last the week. I'm guessing the mixed results are based on there not being a recipe, per se. <br />I might suggest making the pasta al dente and tossing it with a small amount of olive oil. You can keep it in a sealed container in the frig for a few days. Then, you can toss it into the pan along with your fresh ingredients and actually have several different meals. I know it blows the one-pan theory, but it's still pretty quick eats and offers diversity. Just my 2 cents.
 
John November 25, 2015
What a colorful dish. And it's looking gorgeous. I have to make it tomorrow.
 
Lisa August 31, 2015
I love coking pasta this way! Like some others, I reserve some of the heated liquid and add it as needed so that the consistency is perfect. Sometimes I start with a cup of white wine like you would with a risotto. Pasta primavera is so good prepared this way using vegetable stock!
 
Jennifer W. August 31, 2015
CFrance - good point! The amount of onion in the recipe was too much, but that could be fixed, it was the consistency, which was starchy, gluey. It made for a heavy dish, and a lump in the stomach. I do think I could tweak somewhat, but doubt It will ever be to my taste. I don't think it's an improvement in the way to cook pasta.
 
Margaret L. January 15, 2016
I had a similar experience. Followed the recipe but was really put off by the texture of the final product, which was gluey. And the leftovers the next day were even worse! Pasta made the traditional way makes good leftovers when warmed in a casserole. The leftovers from this recipe were inedible and got dumped out.
 
CFrance August 31, 2015
@Jennifer Wilson, can you say what it was that you didn't like? The taste, or the condition of the pasta, or something else? It would be helpful if you give some more detail.
 
Jennifer W. August 31, 2015
Truly terrible. I tried this tonight and followed recipe as closely as I could, tended it the entire time. I loved the concept, but it's really hard for me to imagine what would make this come out better. I'm a fairly skilled cook.
 
CFrance August 30, 2015
I used to make a pasta from either Bon Appetit or Gourmet back in the '90s. It had oregano, white wine, sausage, canned tomatoes, and eggplant. Our boys scarfed it up, never recognizing the wine or eggplant. It was made with angel hair, but I bet I could figure out how to recreate this with a longer cooking pasts.
 
Katherine S. August 30, 2015
Finally got around to trying this with a great result, and was definitely improvising. I think the trick is to get the timing+liquid equation correct. Whatever the pasta cooking time is supposed to be "old school" for al dente is about the point that all the liquid in the pan is gone, whether from water or tomatoes or whatever else started the journey. So I like the tip of keeping some liquid aside if you are not sure (maybe keep it hot so that it does not cool down the pan?) to add at the end to hit the right cooking time. THANK YOU!!! My superpower of making dinner in 15 minutes out of anything just got a boost!
 
Allie S. August 27, 2015
any suggestions on cooking this using fresh pasta instead of dried?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 28, 2015
The pasta cooks much faster and requires much less liquid (since it's already hydrated), so keep both of those in mind! Just a splash of liquid with some very quick-cooking ingredients would do it.
 
witloof August 26, 2015
Anyone tried this with rice or quinoa pasta?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 28, 2015
Unfortunately, the original recipe's commenters have reported poor results with gluten-free pastas—the extra stirring seems to make it go gluey and/or disintegrate.
 
greg T. August 29, 2015
Rice pasta yes, but my corn and thicker gluten free fettuccini noodles got through the process just fine
 
Jamie August 26, 2015
I did this as the dreaded "play on" French onion soup -- beef broth, red wine, pasta, onion, and finished with Gruyere.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 28, 2015
Love it. And really love French onion soup.
 
Melanie August 26, 2015
I do this with shallots and sausage. Just enough broth/wine/water to cover the pasta. Towards the end I dump as much spinach in as I can fit into the pan to wilt, and top with freshly grated parm.
 
Meg F. August 26, 2015
In Ed Biobbi's book, Eat Right, Eat Well--The Italian Way Hardcover – April 12, 1985, he provided the same technique. He wrote that he learned this technique from a cab driver. So he predates all this current hoopla, and I've been disappointed that he has never received credit. I've been cooking my pasta this way ever since.
 
Alev E. April 18, 2016
You are correct that this has been around for a long time. My mom in Turkey cooked pasta using this method 30 years ago.
 
Cori August 26, 2015
I like doing this with any pasta (a whole wheat version tastes good) stock, onion, garlic, pureed pumpkin, kale/spinach/whatever green, sausage slices (or cooked bacon at the end) then finish with a dry cheese like parrano or parmesan.
 
Caroline L. August 26, 2015
brilliance!! i can't wait to try these.
 
Riddley G. August 26, 2015
wow wow wow, great story! i'd love to see one-pot miso ramen. also, how about pasta (cavatappi, spaghetti, etc.) with anchovies, capers, garlic, chiles, and kale (finished with Parmesan and lemon)!