The All-Purpose Ratio for One-Pot Pastas

One-pot pastas have everything to offer: They’re quick, they’re easy, they’re crowd-pleasing, and they minimize clean-up. And with one simple ratio, you can make yours without a recipe

One-pot pastas are all the rage, and with good reason. Being able to get a great supper on the table with minimal effort and cleanup is always a fabulous idea. The sauce makes itself while the pasta cooks, and the sauce is super silky because it has all of the pasta starch incorporated. There are lots of terrific one-pot pasta recipes out there. But what if you want to make a one-pot pasta and you don't have the ingredients for a specific recipe?

Ratios to the rescue. Because once you know a technique and a ratio, the possibilities become endless. Whatever meats or vegetables or seasonings you like, cheese or no cheese, fresh herbs or dried, garnishes or not — the world is at your feet. And even better, you just have to memorize a simple ratio instead of a whole recipe.

The Ratio

And the key ratio here is 1:2. For every 4 ounces of pasta, you want 8 ounces of liquid. Four ounces will make a good portion for one person, so if you have a family of four, you will want 1 pound of pasta and 32 ounces of liquid.

The Ingredients

The liquid can be water, stock, wine, or milk/cream depending on your flavor profile. The pasta should be a hearty dried style that lists a cooking time of 9-12 minutes on the package. Smaller quick-cooking pastas like angel hair will not work with this method, and fresh pastas are too delicate. Think spaghetti or linguine or fettuccine for strands, and small shapes like penne or rotini or cavatappi. Depending on how hefty your pasta is, you may need to slightly increase the ratio of liquid — but it can be added during cooking, so don't worry too much in the beginning. If you are cooking more than a pound of pasta at a time with this method, add an extra 4 ounces of liquid at the start.

The best part? Everything else is entirely up to you. Adding meats (like chicken or ground beef or bacon), vegetables (like onions or broccoli or spinach or tomatoes), aromatics (like garlic or shallot or ginger), herbs (fresh or dried!), seasonings (like red pepper flakes), a bit of fat (like olive oil or butter or cheese)... it is all at your discretion. Amounts here don't factor into the ratio. If you add 8 ounces of meat, you'll get a pasta with meat as a seasoning, if you add a pound of meat, your dish will just be more protein forward and lower carb. A few vegetables, or a ton of vegetables, all up to you.

Skillet of penne and sausage pasta

How to Cook It

The method is simple. Put your pasta and liquid in a wide pot so that the pasta is submerged and spread out a bit in the liquid. Add any aromatics, hardy vegetables, or raw meats that you like, as well as any dried herbs. Turn the heat on medium high and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook at a fast simmer for two minutes short of the cooking time listed on the pasta package. The noodles should still be firm in the middle at this stage and the sauce fairly soupy. If it is drying out too fast, add more liquid one ounce at a time to get the consistency you want. At this stage add salt and other seasonings, fresh herbs, and more delicate vegetables like spinach or zucchini. Keep cooking and stirring until the noodles are to your preferred texture and the sauce has thickened. Taste and adjust your seasoning and add any cheese or last-minute additions like toasted nuts, citrus zest, additional fresh herbs, and if it needs richness — a splash of cream. A drizzle of good olive oil or a quick pat of cold butter stirred in right at the end will make it exceptional.

Once you make your own one-pot pasta, you will start to get a feel for balancing ingredients and will gain more confidence in experimenting. Some classic combinations to get you started would be orecchiette with broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, Pecorino and olive oil; linguini with onion and tomato, finished with butter and chopped fresh parsley; or penne with chicken breast, shallot, zucchini, Parmesan and lemon zest.

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