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

November  2, 2016

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! 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. 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.  

Photo 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

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.

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Chana Miller Heath
    Chana Miller Heath
  • Josephine
  • brokensaucer
  • Gloworm46
  • Cassandra McGrath
    Cassandra McGrath
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Chana M. November 30, 2016
I was so excited to try this but was a little disappointed with the results. I used the same Barilla bucatini and 4.5 cups of water and by the time the water had sufficiently evaporated (closer to 15 minutes than 10) the pasta was way overcooked. The flavors were great but the pasta was mushy! Any suggestions? Your recipes are usually a home run for me!
Alexandra S. November 30, 2016
I'm sorry to hear this, Chana! I'm not sure how to advise because I've found it sometimes takes closer to 15 minutes for me as well but the pasta is never overcooked. This one-pan pasta is a mystery for me—people seem to either have great success or total failure. My only thought, if you are up for giving it another go, is to turn the heat up—maybe if the water is going at a more rapid pace, the pasta will cook faster? Just a thought. Again, I'm sorry to hear this, Chana!
Josephine November 22, 2016
I tried this recipe with great success using De Cecco bucatini. I didn't believe it would work. I first sautéed the garlic lightly in the olive oil before adding the remaining ingredients. And a Roma tomato sitting on the counter begged to be diced and included in the mix. Yes, all the water was absorbed; it was lovely, not starchy. Several days later, I re-heated the leftovers with a small can of chopped clams and their juice--another success. It's a keeper.
Alexandra S. November 23, 2016
An everlasting meal! I love it. Thanks so much for writing in. So glad you had success with this one. And good to know re DeCecco bucatini. I love their pasta, too.
brokensaucer November 7, 2016
I am completely on-board with the one-pot pasta. It started with a rich milk and chicken broth recipe I found on Damn Delicious, and then I tried the Lottie and Doof riff on Martha Stewart's cherry tomato basil recipe. I love them both! I can't wait to try yours, since I love leeks! My only issue is that I'm always trying to add veggies into the pot to make it a more nutrient dense one-pot. It stops being one-pot if I have to make a salad too. Do you think this recipe would work with any more veggies in particular as far as the flavor profile goes?
Alexandra S. November 7, 2016
Oh wonderful! I love leeks, which is why I probably love this one, too. As for other vegetables here, it's hard to say. I had a ton of spinach from my CSA that I thought about throwing in one night, but refrained because I like the simplicity of the flavors here. But that might be a nice option: some sautéed greens with garlic or just adding the greens in at the end until they wilt.
Gloworm46 November 6, 2016
Do you use the tops of the leeks as well? If not what DO you use them for?
Alexandra S. November 6, 2016
No, just the white and light green parts. If you are feeling up for it, you can stash the darker green stems in a bag in the freezer. I recently added them to a pot of beans, and the "pot liquor" was so tasty — leeks add such a nice flavor. I used the bean cooking liquid to cook some farro. The addition of those leeks essentially turned the bean cooking liquid into a vegetable broth —so nice to have on hand!
Cassandra M. November 6, 2016
How would you make this with anchovies and breadcrumbs? That sounds delicious!
Alexandra S. November 6, 2016
It was so good! So, I just minced a few anchovies and threw them in at the beginning with the olive oil, garlic, pasta, water, pepper flakes, etc. Then, in a separate skillet, I toasted fresh bread crumbs in olive oil until they were golden brown, crispy, salty, delicious, etc. Then, I tossed the crumbs into the bucatini pot once the liquid had reduced sufficiently.
2tattered November 6, 2016
I made Martha's one-pot pasta a year or two ago. I could not get past the viscous mouth-feel from all that starch left in the sauce. Yes, it emulsifies, yes, it's silky. I hate being a buzzkill, but my husband and I couldn't eat it. I deeply wish it worked for us.
Alexandra S. November 6, 2016
What kind of pasta did you use? Lots of people have shared your experience but I'm wondering if the kind of pasta makes a difference. I have been using Barilla bucatini, and it comes out beautifully every time, even when I just use water, garlic, oil (or butter), and salt. I think you should give it another go! I've made it half a dozen times now, and I'm always amazed by how tasty it is. Let me know if you have any other questions! There is a photo of the pasta on the recipe page:
2tattered November 6, 2016
I used Ronzoni thin spaghetti, if I remember correctly. I'll give it a try with the Braille bucatini, and hope we live it. Thank you!
2tattered November 6, 2016
Barilla - curse auto-correct👿
Alexandra S. November 6, 2016
Please do! I'd love to hear how it turns out. I love the thickness of the barilla. And I made a note of it in the recipe, but it's Barilla's Collezione line, which is their fancy pants line but it's not expensive — should be around $2 a box. I love it, and I hope you do too!
Patsy November 5, 2016
I made this tonight. I will admit I was skeptical. But it turned out perfectly and was very good! It even looked like the picture. It is a keeper for me.
Alexandra S. November 5, 2016
Wonderful! So happy to hear this, Patsy.