A Wildly Simple Pasta Trick for the Easiest Weeknight Noodles

File under: make tonight.

February 14, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

The trick to the creamiest-possible pasta is trying less hard.

As in, fewer pots, less water, zero straining, and virtually no worrying about why, oh god, why sauce emulsification continues to be an elusive creature, rearing its head at will. Yes, I'm talking about one-pot pasta: cooking your noodles directly in their sauce, such that the released starch thickens the final product (in this case, rigatoni) handsomely, with the creamiest, glossiest jacket of flavor. No cream needed.

It's no new kid on the block. For starters, see: Mark Bittman's story about learning to treat pasta like risotto in Rome in 1976, Martha Stewart's famous cherry tomato rendition—the first recipe to appear if you Google "one pan pasta"—and our resident Genius Kristen Miglore's story on that same topic.

But one-pan pasta has its share of dissenters, too, and they're loud. Two-pot pasta ain't broke, and all that. Some call it gummy. Others say that just because Martha's doing it, doesn't mean you should.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I do like this approach of using less water and of cooking pasta in sauce. I had always gravitated to that approach & I enjoy seeing the idea supported by an interesting recipe ”
— Mike M.

Here's my take: There's a time, and a place. The time? When you want to turn humble pantry staples into a bowl of pasta coated in super velvety sauce, without the whole emulsification rigamarole. The place? Your stovetop, duh.

It's a natural extension of one of my other favorite pasta tricks, boiling your noodles in a shallow skillet for super starchy water. Except, you have half the dishes to wash. If you don't believe me, try my simple recipe below, a sort of play on Victoria Granof's Pasta con Ceci (think: less soupy, more saucy, bigger noodles, and the chickpeas are now shallots). It gets miles of body from cooked-down shallots, a kick from red chili flakes, and tons of concentrated flavor from briefly fried tomato paste. Oh, and extra umami from a serious dose of Parmesan.

I especially love this dish because it's crazy-customizable—make it with bacon, garlic, spices, a splash of red wine, peas, white beans, Italian sausage, breadcrumbs, or anything else that hits the spot. If you prefer, you can cook the tomato paste for longer before adding the noodles and water. You could swap yellow onion for the shallots, Calabrian chili paste for the flakes, Grana Padano for the Parm, or even broth for the water.

And use whatever short, cheerful noodle shape makes you feel like it's a Friday.

What's your go-to pasta for an easy weeknight dinner? Let us know in the comments.
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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


Neil February 15, 2019
I first embraced the concept of one-pot pasta dishes many years ago. That said, not every flower looks or even smells pretty. This one stinks.
The 1970s called, and they want their thick, pasty Sicilian sauce back. Never mind the budget busting use of shallots (an ingredient used in place of onion for its SUBTLE flavor), as a sensible person would look at this recipe and substitute red onion without pause.
The absolute key in a one-pot pasta dish is the ratio of liquid to pasta, and the cure to an overly thick, pasty sauce is NOT to simply water down the final product with flavorless water. That would upset the delicate balance of starch to liquid that makes the sauce cling to the pasta WITHOUT the resultant red wallpaper paste that this recipe produces.
The cook relies on the recipe creator to have done the math, and completed the development process to produce a final product that is both flavorful and velvety, and coats the pasta without creating building supplies for a journeyman bricklayer.
This recipe fails miserably. It needs to goo (sorry, I mean go) back to the development stage and get the results right...and tone down that silly amount of tomato paste that is reminiscent of using a fire hose to water an herb garden.
John C. February 15, 2019
Throw the box in too! Where in the hell do they come up with these concoctions?
Katherine May 19, 2019
Kinda harsh. Don't usually see responses like this on this site. As my dad used to say, "Taste is indisputable. (Degustibus non es disputandum.) We live in a world that cries for kindness. Peace.
Matt September 20, 2020
It's clear from your reply that you made this dish wrong.
H N. September 20, 2020
I haven't "made a dish wrong" since graduating from culinary school in Milan, in 1986.
H N. September 20, 2020
Perhaps you don't understand the meaning of Degustibus non es disputandum. It means that taste is a matter of opinion, and as it is subjective, it isn't subject to argument. In other words, in entitled to my opinion. My Italian-educated, 34-year-veteran-of-Italian-commercial-kitchens opinion.
Smaug January 10, 2021
Those shallots probably aren't even shallots- real shallots are seldom more than an inch across; most of what's available is hybridized with a red onion, I believe a "torpedo" onion.
H N. January 10, 2021
That's pretty much (although, not entirely) an inaccurate statement.
I am a particular fan of banana shallots.
"Varieties: Shallots are part of the onion and garlic family, but have a more fragrant, less acrid flavor than either of these vegetables. The most famous types are the grey shallot, the Jersey shallot (pink shallot), and Echalion (also known as ‘banana’ shallots)."
Smaug January 10, 2021
Then let me rephrase- shallots available in any store I've ever seen them in have been hybrids with a type of red onion. If you grow your own, or perhaps know an adventurous truck farmer, true shallots are of course available. Though I doubt many people are cutting up a cup and a half of them.
Mike M. February 14, 2019
I do like this approach of using less water and of cooking pasta in sauce. I had always gravitated to that approach & I enjoy seeing the idea supported by an interesting recipe
Ella Q. February 15, 2019
Thanks Mike! I hope you enjoy it :)
Neil February 15, 2019
The recipe is virtually tomato paste and water! Which do you find "interesting?" The tomato paste or the water?
HalfPint February 14, 2019
Stovetop Mac & Cheese from Smitten Kitchen.
Ella Q. February 15, 2019
Sounds so delicious.
Eric K. February 14, 2019
Mm, I love how much tomato paste is in this dish. My kind of pasta.
H N. September 20, 2020
Really? I think the 1950s called, and asked for their thick, red Sicilian sauce back.