Recipe Off-Roading

Martha Stewart’s One-Pan Pasta Is the Dinner You Can’t Mess Up

June  7, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Welcome to Recipe Off-Roading, where the recipe isn’t in charge—you are. In this series of articles, we’re celebrating how cooks take liberties in the kitchen, whether that’s substituting an ingredient, adapting a technique, or doubling the salt (because you’re wild like that). So buckle up and let’s go for a ride.

Martha Stewart’s One-Pan Pasta was declared Genius in 2014 for its no-nonsense attitude. “This genius pasta makes its own sauce, all in one pan, in 9 minutes,” writes Kristen Miglore. She then shares seven variations—like bolognese, and cacio e pepe, and alle vongole.

But the real magic of Martha’s One-Pan Pasta is: There’s no limit to the number of variations you can make.

Which is why I picked it for our series, Recipe Off-Roading, where I challenge home cooks to make some of the most popular recipes on our site—but change at least one thing. (Psst: Here’s what they did to Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce and Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I've made this many times as written and lately since the cupboard has been a bit bare, just with grape tomatoes and garlic. Its always so good and satisfying. If I were to off-road this recipe, I would add Spicy Chili Crisp at the end.”
— HalfPint

As our community reported back, just about every component of this recipe can be futzed with. Here are some of the most eyebrow-raising ways Food52ers made it their own.

Change the pasta.

The original: 12 ounces linguine.
The findings: Changing the pasta was one of the most popular ways to refresh Martha’s recipe. Many of you swapped in another long shape, like angel hair, bucatini, fettuccine, or even ramen. Others took their chances and tried shorter shapes, like fusilli, penne, orecchiette, farfalle, and teeny-tiny orzo. Several rebels ditched the concept of white pasta altogether and swapped in more flavorful alternatives: whole-wheat linguini, whole-wheat spaghetti, and soba, to name a few. Ellen stood out from the crowd with her toasted linguine. And if you’re wondering about gluten-free options? You got it: Try chickpea linguine or zoodles.

Change the water.

The original: 4 1/2 cups water.
The findings: While water works just fine, many Off-Roaders opted to use a more flavorful liquid. Broth was the most popular, whether that’s chicken, vegetable, or Better Than Bouillon’s mushroom base. Several people got a little winey, with both white, and red. And others got creamy, with everything from literal cream to coconut milk to low-fat milk.

Change the tomatoes.

The original: 12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large.
The findings: Can’t find A+ fresh tomatoes? Use sun-dried or canned instead. Our testers tried out just about every option under the sun: diced, crushed, whole-peeled, and, for a smoky flavor, fire-roasted. Want an even more intense tomato flavor? Add tomato paste along with the fresh tomatoes. Have tomato fever? Double the quantity—half cooked, half fresh. Don’t like tomatoes? Swap in just about any vegetable you want. Think broccoli rabe, or asparagus and peas.

Change the onion.

The original: 1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups).
The findings: Onion’s little cousin, shallot, makes a very good substitute. If you want a sweeter flavor, you can also cook the onions before they go into the one-pot pasta mixture.

Change the cheese.

The original: Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving.
The findings: Parm needs no improvement according to many of you. But there were some people who tried an upgrade. Pecorino was a natural pick. Less obvious but equally good: mini mozzarella balls. And on the extra creamy side of the spectrum, Molly stirred ricotta into the pasta, then topped with finished dish with grated Manchego (whoa!), while Aurora stirred in a hunk of Brie.

Change the basil.

The original: 2 sprigs, plus torn leaves for garnish.
The findings: Why should basil get to have all the fun? Let’s invite oregano, parsley, and cilantro to the party. Also worth trying: dried herbs, like mint or oregano and thyme.

Change the spices.

The original: ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
The findings: ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a pinch of black pepper was too mild for many of you. Here’s how you chose to step up the spice: Quadruple (yes, quadruple) the amount of red pepper flakes. Add a spoonful of harissa or curry paste. Sprinkle some garam masala. Or temper spices in oil; Keya opted for cumin, black mustard, curry leaves, and asafetida.

Change the aromatics.

The original: 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced.
The findings: All sorts of bonuses besides garlic made their way into the off-roaded pastas. Several people got fishy—say, with anchovy paste or fish sauce. And I loved the idea of incorporating salty capers and olives.

Add a protein.

The original: None!
The findings: To turn Martha’s recipe into a heartier meal, lots of testers added a protein. Shrimp was especially popular, as was sausage (either pork or chicken). And who doesn’t love pancetta or bacon?

How would you off-road Martha Stewart’s One-Pan Pasta? Share your ideas in the comments!
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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).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Yogacat January 30, 2023
Oh my! I tried this because I didn't have much on hand or time to make sauce. Didn't have basil, so parsley had to do. Added some dried tomato pesto and fresh ground Italian seasoning. I took the spaghetti out of the sauce when it was al dente to keep it from getting soggy while the sauce boiled down and thickened. Added the spaghetti back when the sauce was ready. Dribbled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with grated parmesan. Wow!!! I'll do this again!
judy January 12, 2023
So many variations on this basic recipe! I have been doing this one for years. I would bet many have. It is what my dad would call a clean out the fridge meal. All kinds of odds and ends from a weeks worth of food are possibilities: that last slab of beef from the roast? dice it up and toss in. A few asparagus left in the veggie bin? toss them in. Some tomato paste? toss it in. and on and on. Such a great basic recipe..
Jessica H. November 17, 2019
I LOVE this concept of publishing readers variations! There should be a whole section of these articles!! A+
Ann M. June 10, 2019
No one will ever convince me that this is a good dinner. Boiled onions and garlic? gag me.
HalfPint June 7, 2019
I've made this many times as written and lately since the cupboard has been a bit bare, just with grape tomatoes and garlic. Its always so good and satisfying. If I were to off-road this recipe, I would add Spicy Chili Crisp at the end.
Emma L. June 12, 2019
Heck yeah, chili crisp!
Ed C. June 7, 2019
I grew up with dried Italian herbs - just don't let them sit and age a few extra years. But, the barrel of herbs growing outside the door always has rosemary at hand to be chopped and added. Even midwinter, most years.
Pru S. June 7, 2019
I always do this with stock, add a dash of milk and use fresh rosemary. Also the tomato skins drive me mad so I take the tongs and pick them out at the end. The recipe works so well and now I want to retry it with some amendments as suggested.