A lot of folks love pasta, but they don’t like waiting for that big pot of water to boil.
Here’s a little (well-known) secret: You don’t need all that water to cook pasta.
Not only that, but you can cook pasta and everything you need for a whole meal — tomatoes, meat, vegetables — in one pot at the same time. And you can do it all in less than 30 minutes.
The one-pot pasta method not only saves time, water and cleanup, but also makes a nearly effortless sauce.
So if you like recipes that give you a lot of flavor for only a little effort, give this method a try.
Part of what happens when you cook the pasta this way is it absorbs a lot of flavor compared to cooking it in water. To a certain extent, the sauce has been absorbed into the pasta, and that makes for good eating. Also, as the pasta cooks, it releases starch into the liquid, helping to thicken the sauce and ensure that it coats the pasta well.
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This method does require some attention to the proportions of pasta to liquid.
If you want the CliffsNotes version for someone who just needs to fuel up the family with the least possible effort, take a 24-ounce jar of any brand tomato sauce and bring it to a boil with 2 cups water. Stir in 8 ounces of spaghetti, cover and cook 12 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until the pasta is tender. Serve with cheese of your choice. You can add ground meat or sausage to this, as long as you brown it first. You also can increase the pastas to 12 ounces provided that you increase the water to 3 cups.
The recipes below use 1 pound pasta with about 2 cups of tomatoes and 3 to 4 cups liquid — cooked covered. But consider that a general guideline.
You can use water for the liquid, but broth is even better because, as mentioned before, the pasta is going to absorb whatever flavor is in the liquid.
I used fresh tomatoes in these recipes because it’s summer, and the local tomatoes taste so good. Sometimes I peel them; sometimes I don’t. (To peel, core, then cut an X into the other end and drop into boiling water about 1 minute to loosen the skins. You also can grate the tomato — the skin will end up in your hand once the pulp is removed.) like using cherry tomatoes partly because the skins don’t bother me.
You can use canned tomatoes if desired. For a bit less tomatoey sauce, use a 14.5-ounce can and 4 cups liquid. For a more tomatoey sauce, use a 28-ounce can and use only 3 cups liquid. Or stick with the recipe’s instruction to use 2 cups of tomatoes (about ²/³ of a 28-ounce can).
A wider Dutch oven tends to work better with these recipes — helping the liquid to evaporate — but a narrower soup pot will work, too. Nonstick can be useful, as the goal is to cook off all the excess liquid before the pasta overcooks.
Depending on factors such as how liquidy your tomatoes are, the type of pasta and how hot your stove is, you may have to make adjustments as you go.
If not every teaspoon of liquid gets absorbed, that’s OK. More important is that you don’t let the pasta overcook.
For best results, watch the pot closely and taste the pasta often to determine if it’s done. If the liquid has been absorbed, and the pasta is still a bit too toothsome, add a ¼ to ½ cup liquid, re-cover and cook a few more minutes. Conversely, if the pasta is done but the sauce seems thin, remove the lid and turn up the heat to medium or medium-high and stir often for a minute or two until some of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened.
Note that adding cheese will help thicken the sauce, too.
A couple of other notes about cooking pasta this way:
1) Be sure to salt the dish, but don’t salt it nearly as much as you would salt traditional pasta water, because none of the salt goes down the drain — it all stays in the dish. Taste the liquid before you add the pasta; it should be well seasoned but not overly salty.
2) Cover the pot while cooking the pasta. You don’t want the liquid to boil off. You want the pasta to absorb it. (Some other one-pot pasta recipes call for uncovered pots, but they also use a lot more liquid.)
3) Reduce the heat once you stir in the pasta. Medium-low is usually sufficient when cooking pasta in a covered pan.
4) Stir it occasionally. You don’t want the pasta to stick together. You also don’t want it to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
Note that the sauce you get with this method is just enough to coat the pasta and other ingredients. You will not find a lake of tomato sauce in the pot here. So, if you’re the kind of person that needs your pasta drowning in boatloads of sauce, this method may not be for you.
But if you like the idea of a 30-minute meal that practically cooks itself and leaves you just one pot to clean, give these recipes a try.