By Devon O'Brien

Don't have a plan for dinner tonight? Don't stress, this easy don't-need-a-recipe one-pot pasta is here to save the day.

We've all had this experience—it's 6 p.m. and you're staring into a fridge full of ingredients without a dinner plan. "Well now what?" Pasta is a great quick dinner and a plain base that you can pair with the different ingredients and flavors you have in your kitchen. I was inspired to create a one-pot-pasta recipe formula after making a this super-easy recipe for Quick Weeknight Skillet Chicken. The genius method in this recipe cooks everything -- pasta, liquid, seasonings and your flavorful ingredients such as veggies and protein-at that same time, in one pot. It also saves you major time when it comes to clean up, a win-win.

Quick Weeknight Skillet Chicken | Photo by Bibi

With the formula below, you can make a one-pot pasta without following a specific recipe or having prescribed ingredients (though I've included some recipe links for inspiration or for you to riff off of). Follow these steps to make a perfect meal in 30 minutes or less.

Step 1: Choose Your Ingredients

There are a few types of ingredients you'll want to combine for a delicious one-pot pasta:

  • Dried pasta: You'll need about 8 ounces; any shape will do. Whole-wheat, gluten free and even bean noodles will work.
  • Salt: A must-have. Regular table salt will work, and if you have some fancy varieties: kosher salt, sea salt or himalayan salt you could use those too.
  • Chopped onion and garlic: These staples do the heavy lifting of creating a good flavor base for your pasta in a short amount of time. Start with one medium onion and one large clove of garlic and add more to taste, if desired.
  • Whatever-you-have-in-the-kitchen protein: You'll need a pound of protein-chicken, ground beef, shrimp, baked tofu, even a can of beans.
  • Clean-out-your-fridge veggies: At least 6 cups of veggies-mushrooms, tomatoes, greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts—anything goes! Don't forget abuot veggies you might have in the freezer, or canned.
  • A couple of seasonings: These add major flavor. Think tomato paste, pesto, cheese, fresh or dried herbs.
  • Cooking liquid: This is the key to getting everything to cook evenly, and as it cooks it reduces down into your pasta sauce, so getting the right amount is crucial. Use enough water or broth to just cover your ingredients—about 4 cups.
Photo via Getty Images

Step 2: Prep Your Ingredients (Size Does Matter)

Cut everything (except the pasta!) into bite-size pieces or crumbles to make sure everything cooks at the same rate. The other ingredients are going to cook in the same pot, along with your pasta and cooking liquid. Because spaghetti and linguini cook quickly—in 10 to 12 minutes—you need to make sure the rest of your ingredients will be ready, without under or overcooking, when the pasta is done. If your ingredients will take longer to cook, or if you want to develop more intense flavor, such as in this One-Pot Chicken and Sausage Orzo recipe, sauté your protien and vegetables with a little oil in the pot before adding the pasta, liquid and rest of your ingredients—that way you're still using one pot.

One-Pot Chicken and Sausage Orzo | Photo by Chef John

Step 3: Start Cooking!

For the easiest one-pot pasta dinner ever, add all your ingredients—pasta, onion, garlic, salt, protein, veggies and flavors—to the pot at once. Cover it with about 4 cups of water or broth, bring it to a boil and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the type of pasta you are using and its recommended cooking time. Then, remove it from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving, stirring occasionally. Add a garnish if desired—an extra sprinkling of fresh herbs or some shredded cheese—and you have a delicious dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less. For more flavor, or ingredients that take a little longer to cook, sauté your veggies and protein until mostly cooked before you add the pasta, flavorings and liquid and cook the pasta as long as directed, such as in this One Pan Orecchiette Pasta.

One Pan Orecchiette Pasta | Photo by Chef John


Use these one-pot pasta recipes to get you started.

10 More ways to make dinner with what you already have on-hand.

Find your new favorite one-pot recipe.