For the best garlic butter sauce for pasta, use way more garlic than you’d think. This recipe serves two people and calls for a whole head—and nope, that’s not a mistake. When sizzled in melted butter until golden and toasty, this ingredient goes from sharp and bracing to warm and cozy, the sort of savory flavor that’s hard to overdo. Make sure that once it’s done cooking, you don’t drain the pasta into a colander. We want that salty, starchy water on call to bump up the seasoning and loosen the sauce as needed. It’ll thicken as it sits at the table, so err on the side of saucier than not. The optional bonuses are just that: totally optional. As in all Big Little Recipes, less is more here. Think: roughly chopped parsley (or basil or thyme), red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, or grated Parm or pecorino. Opt for three picks, tops, so the butter and garlic can shine—they’re the stars of this show.
Some additional tips for garlic butter sauce success: Any butter will do the trick here. But if you’re like me, and there’s a so-called “special butter” that you reserve for morning toast and baked potatoes (I love higher-fat, sunny-hued Kerrygold), this is a great time to use it. After all, the butter is half of the sauce. And if you only have salted butter on hand, that’s okay; just tone down the salt in the rest of the recipe, then increase to taste at the very end. On that note, when I say to “generously” season the pasta water with salt, I aim for about 1 tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt per 1 quart of water. But! You can tone that down to 2 teaspoons, 1 teaspoon, or even 1/2 teaspoon of salt per quart of water. It all depends on your personal preference. And no need to measure the salt or the water; just eyeball both. This makes sure the pasta is taken care of. Any pasta shape will excel (thrive! soar!) in this context. I prefer a chunky variety with lots of nooks and crannies (say fusilli, rigatoni, or cavatappi), where the garlic bits can take refuge. But something long and twirly like spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini would be excellent, too. And if nutty whole-wheat pasta is your thing? Go for it. —Emma Laperruque
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 10 minutes
- Serves 2
your favorite pasta
Optional bonuses: roughly chopped parsley, red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, or grated Parm
- Set a pot of water over high heat to come to a boil. While that’s in the works, peel and mince the garlic cloves.
- When the water is boiling, generously season with salt and add the pasta. Cook according to the package instructions, until al dente.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium to medium-low heat, then add the garlic. Sizzle, stirring or swirling occasionally, for 3 to 7 minutes, just until the garlic turns golden. Immediately dump into a serving bowl (the garlic quickly turns from golden and sweet to brown and bitter).
- Use a spider or tongs (depending on the shape) to transfer the pasta to the garlic butter. Toss and add pasta water as needed to create a silky sauce. Mix in or top with any bonuses if you’re using them and serve immediately.