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.
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.
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.
teaspoons red chili flakes, plus more to taste if you like things spicier
cup tightly packed (about 3 ounces) very finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
What's your go-to pasta for an easy weeknight dinner? Let us know in the comments.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).
Ella Quittner is a a writer 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.