What to CookPasta

Make This Bucatini, Remember the Virtues of One-Pan Pasta

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Sometimes catchy modifiers say it all. Sometimes they don’t. “One-pan,” for instance, simply tells you the number of dishes you’ll be doing. It doesn't tell you anything else. And if you, like me, are late to discover, say, the one-pan pasta phenomenon, you may have forgotten about its other virtues. These are the ones you read about so long ago, the ones left out of the two-word descriptor. 

Three cheers for one-pan pasta!
Three cheers for one-pan pasta! Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Just a few weeks ago before embarking on my own one-pan pasta journey, I re-read Kristen's post on Martha Stewart's well-known method, then made bucatini with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. As promised, the pasta cooked in just about 9 minutes and left me with one pan to clean. But moreover—and also as promised—the starchy cooking water emulsified with the olive oil, reducing into a silky, spicy, aromatic sauce that tasted creamy without cream and rich without any enrichment. As I twirled and slurped my saucy noodles, I regretted having not tried the method sooner, wished I had remembered the many compelling reasons to unite pasta and water at the get-go, and even found myself resenting the recipe's short, memorable name. (Is “One-Pan, 9-Minute, Super Delicious, Rich-but-Light Pasta" not catchy enough?)

For this pasta, slice leeks into pasta-like strands.
For this pasta, slice leeks into pasta-like strands. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

I’ve since made several variations of this simple bucatini, adding olive-oil crisped bread crumbs one time (making it a two-pan wonder) and minced anchovies, olives, and capers another (which tasted like a tomato-less puttanesca). Most recently, I’ve been loading the pot with leeks sliced into long, thin strips. Just before serving, when the liquid has reduced and coated the tangle of green and blonde ribbons, I shower it with lots of parsley and lemon zest. Without any additional butter or olive oil, the sauce tastes complete, and while a shaving of parmesan over each plate doesn’t hurt, I’ve never missed it when it’s not there.  

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

A few tips:

  • Preparing the leeks: Leeks are essentially layers of concentric circles. When you cut them lengthwise through their core several times (as opposed to crosswise into half moons) you end up with long, thin strands. I find cutting the leek into eighths is usually enough to get most of the leek into “noodle” form. Once the leeks are cut, they likely will need to be soaked in cold water to allow the dirt to settle to the bottom of the bowl—and therefore not in your finished pasta. This can be done hours ahead of time, if you need.
  • A large pot with high sides: During the 9-minute cooking period, you will be stirring and rearranging the ingredients, often with tongs. You want to use a pan that will contain the ingredients and prevent the water from splashing over the sides. Moreover, you want the bucatini to lay flat or nearly flat at the start so that it's submerged beneath the water, which will ensure it cooks evenly. In the 10 1/2-inch diameter pot I use, the bucatini lays nearly flat to start, and as soon as the noodles begin to soften, they fit snugly in the pot and drop beneath the water.
  • Noodle-to-water ratio: It may take some trial and error to determine the ideal amount of water for the specific noodle you choose. When I use smaller shapes such as rotini or bowtie, I find I need less water
One-Pan Bucatini with Leeks and Lemon

One-Pan Bucatini with Leeks and Lemon

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 4
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds leeks
  • 12 ounces bucatini, see notes above
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving, optional
Go to Recipe

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

Have you made (and riffed on) one-pan pasta before? Let us know in the comments below!

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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Vegetable, One-Pot Wonders