5 Ingredients or Fewer

Pasta With Garlic Butter Sauce

June 10, 2021
12 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
Author Notes

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

Watch This Recipe
Pasta With Garlic Butter Sauce
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 2
  • 1 head garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound your favorite pasta
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • Optional bonuses: roughly chopped parsley, red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, or grated Parm
In This Recipe
  1. 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.
  2. When the water is boiling, generously season with salt and add the pasta. Cook according to the package instructions, until al dente.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • kcminker
  • Gerri
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • Bert Grimm
    Bert Grimm
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

21 Reviews

Heather June 10, 2021
Holy smokes! So. Much. Flavor. I'm a sauce-a-holic and thought this wouldn't be enough to coat the dozen or so large-ish shrimp and lobster stuffed ravioli, but it totally was. So yummy! So easy! I'll be using this sauce A LOT.
ubs2007 May 9, 2021
Now, I fully understand what Emma means by Big Little Recipes. This dish was incredibly flavorful and incredibly easy and quick with only three ingredients. My son and I loved it. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!!
Avab April 11, 2021
I really love this recipe and use it as base to many other things. I did it exactly as first shown but I definitely think that you can easily feed 4 with a pound of pasta and the same amount of garlic and butter. And I love garlic and was slurping it all up but still there was more sauce that pasta originally. Otherwise it's really a perfect sauce that so simple to make and expand on!
Sonlyka January 24, 2021
This was easy, wonderful and a totally comfort food night dish.
StevenM January 17, 2021
How much of the water do you add back into the mixed pasta?
Author Comment
Emma L. January 18, 2021
Hi StevenM! Depends on personal preference—I like to add small splashes until the consistency is slightly saucier than I want, since it continues to thicken at the table.
kcminker January 15, 2021
Very delicious. I'm sure I could use my fresh pasta in this but the point here is to be easy on the cook! I buy a good quality, dry spaghetti just to make this recipe. Perfect dinner for two, and goes well with red wine. .
duckfat January 2, 2021
Would this work as a sauce for gnocchi?
Author Comment
Emma L. January 2, 2021
I bet that would be great!
duckfat January 2, 2021
Guess what's on Tuesday's dinner menu!
Gerri December 30, 2020
The recipe says to remove garlic and add to serving dish. Does it get mixed back into the spaghetti at some point?
Author Comment
Emma L. January 2, 2021
In step 4: "Use a spider or tongs (depending on the shape) to transfer the pasta to the garlic butter."
Gerri January 15, 2021
Ahhhhhh. Thanks for clarifying!
Rita82 December 27, 2020
Did I miss something? You are using whole cloves of garlic? Sliced? Minced? Crushed?
Bert G. December 27, 2020
“Peel and mince the garlic cloves.”
Rita82 December 27, 2020
Good grief! There it is, big as life! I reread everything at least 5 times. I must have Holidayitis. Thanks Bert!
hannahjones December 26, 2020
I love the simplicity of a mouthwatering dish! This pasta recipe is great as a quick afternoon snack to share with your friends and family. Thank you!
Neena December 24, 2020
Excellent easy recipe! Followed the exact recipe and added thyme. I always have these ingredients at home. This is a quick meal to make. My daughter loved it! I always look forward to trying Emma's recipes!
Neena December 24, 2020
Excellent easy recipe! Followed the exact recipe and added thyme. I always have these ingredients at home. This is a quick meal to make. My daughter loved it!
newcorinne December 22, 2020
Simplicity always works, and everything old becomes new again.
Delicious. This reminds me of Marcella Hazan’s spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, although butter works very well here.
Rosi December 22, 2020
Have bean eating this for 60 years.