The Lazy Cook's Guide to One-Pot Pasta, Featuring: Cacio e Pepe

Hacking One Pot Pasta

That one-pot pasta…so hot right now. Martha’s doing it, Southern Living is doing it, all the bloggers are doing it, and now I’m doing it. For good reason! One-pot pasta is fast and simple and making it dirties minimal dishes, so everyone wins.

Hacking One Pot Pasta

The first time I heard about one-pot pasta it reminded me of something I saw Rachel Ray do (say what you want about RR, she was an early influencer in my n00b kitchen) back in 2007. She broke up pasta and added broth a little at a time, while she stirred, until the pasta cooked through. It was kind of like risotto-ing the pasta rather than boiling it in a steaming cauldron of salt water. Then I realized that I’d seen a more accurate one-pot pasta parallel even before 2007, on the back of a red cardboard box with an anthropomorphized hand in the corner, telling me how to brown ground beef. That’s right. One-pot pasta is really just jazzed up, deconstructed, hipster Hamburger Helper.

Hacking One Pot Pasta

Hey, a good idea is a good idea. But what kind of cred can a cartoon glove man command in the face of an Italian grandma with generations of kitchen wisdom to back her up? If I’d just listened to that weird old hand-with-a-face, I could have saved myself a lot of gallons of pasta water and all the BTU’s required to heat them. So as a cheeky tribute to my late realization, I one-pot pasta’d an Italian classic: cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe (Italian for cheese and pepper) is the perfect recipe to help us understand one-pot pasta because its about as stripped-down as a recipe can possibly get. The ingredient list is four items long, so all we’re really worrying about is a pasta:liquid ratio and the task of stirring until the pasta is al dente. Once you get the ratio and the method, you can one-pot pasta any noodle you want, with any flavoring you fancy. Such power is heady, no?

Hacking One Pot Pasta

What’s probably the coolest thing about one-pot pasta is the cooking water it produces. If you make pasta with any regularity, you’ve probably heard the old trick of adding a scoop of starchy pasta water to your sauce to help the dish come together, and it really works – even when you’ve cooked a pound of pasta in a gallon of water. So, if you reduce that ratio of water to pasta, you end up with super-charged pasta water, that’s almost a sauce by itself. Built-in sauce is helpful when your pasta recipe has four ingredients, plus it means that all you have to worry about adding to the pot is pure flavor. Like parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Hacking One Pot Pasta

One-Pot Cacio é Pepe

note: I usually half this recipe, for a more manageable two-person amount of food. It works really well.

-1 pound angel hair pasta
-1 quart water (that’s 4 cups), salted (plus another cup of water on standby)
-1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (or pecorino, or both (on a microplane if you have one))
-lots of fresh-cracked black pepper

1. Drop pasta in a pot that will allow it to fit lengthwise and add water. All the pasta should be submerged in the water with the one pound to one quart ratio.

2. Season your pasta water with salt, keeping in mind that the water will reduce and be entirely absorbed by the pasta. You can add more salt at the end if necessary.

3. Cook the pasta over medium heat, stirring the noodles periodically to keep them from sticking together.

4. Taste your pasta to determine it’s doneness, and pull it off the heat when it’s just barely al dente. There should be a little bit of pasta water left in the bottom of the pot by the time the pasta reaches al dente (like 1/4 inch). If there is more than that, scoop out a tiny bit of the water with a ladle. If there is less, add a bit of water from your standby cup.

5. Add parmesan cheese and stir it into the pasta until the cheese is melted. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. By the time the cheese is stirred in, the pasta water should be mostly absorbed or thickened enough to coat the noodles. If the pasta starts to lose it’s sheen or stick together, add another splash of water and stir.

6. Top with fresh-cracked black pepper and serve immediately

Because this pasta is sauced with super-starchy pasta water and cheese, it will want to start sticking together as it cools, just bring it back with a splash of water and a stir. You can also add a little olive oil or butter to help things out, but the best solution is just to eat it. If you can’t finish a whole pound of pasta in one sitting, make a half batch. You can re-heat the pasta over low heat with another splash of water, but the more water you add the further you get from al dente, because hot pasta will always want to absorb liquid, and the more it absorbs the mushier it gets. Basically, the faster you can eat this stuff the better.

Want to see how this method works with gluten-free pasta? Check out my One Pot Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese.

  1. I wish I'd known about this a few decades ago. Definitely on next week's list.

    Carrie — November 18, 2014
    1. Thanks ma :)

      courtney — December 6, 2014
    2. reply
  2. Definitely going to give this a try but will use pecorino cheese instead.

    Marty — November 24, 2014
    1. Marty, thanks for stopping by! Pecorino is definitely traditional, and I'm sure it would taste great. I also like to mix pecorino and Parmesan when I have both on hand.

      courtney — November 24, 2014
    2. reply
  3. Would this method work for gluten free pasta? (I really miss regular pasta with the gluten, it was so much easier.)

    Jessica — December 4, 2014
    1. Hey Jessica! I have to admit, I've never tried it with gluten-free pasta, but I feel like it's probably possible. I'll have to try it and get back to you, and frankly, that's a really good question so if it does work, I'll do a whole post about it. Thanks for the idea :)

      courtney — December 4, 2014
    2. Hi, try to find a brown rice base pasta rather than the corn stuff and it *should* work, although I've not tested it. I find the brown rice stuff works most like wheat pasta of any alternative.

      Emmylou — December 5, 2014
    3. reply
  4. I've done a similar version of this with ramen noodles a few times (like the classy gal that I am), but perhaps it's time to try it with pasta. Haha. Thanks for this. Looks fantastic! (FYI: The ramen version is surprisingly delicious!)

    Allison — December 4, 2014
    1. Allison, I have been meaning to try this with ramen ever since I saw David Chang do it on that show, "Mind of a Chef". Ramen cacio e pepe is straight up brilliant, and basically if Dave Chang does it, everyone should do it IMO - so you win. Thanks for stopping by!

      courtney — December 4, 2014
    2. reply
  5. Any pasta at all that is good for a diabetic....the wheat stuff is heavy and untasty to me. Any ideas?

    redrover — December 4, 2014
    1. Honestly, I'm not very familiar with what's best for diabetic diets - would it be a rice pasta or something? I'm planning on trying a gluten-free version, but I don't know if the carb count is any better with gluten free pasta. What type of pasta do you typically like to eat? I'll see if I can get it to work in a one-pot recipe.

      courtney — December 6, 2014
    2. reply
  6. […] […]

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  7. Congrats on being featured on BuzzFeed! That is awesome and this recipe is awesome and your pictures are incredible! You go girl!!!

    Maria — December 4, 2014
    1. Thanks Maria!! :)

      courtney — December 6, 2014
    2. reply
  8. oh wow this looks amazing! definitely going to try this out ASAP. thank you for the recipe!

    archita — December 4, 2014
    1. Thanks archita! I hope you like it!

      courtney — December 6, 2014
    2. reply
  9. […] […]

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  10. […] Consigue la receta: Pasta Cacio é Pepe […]

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  11. Eating this now. It is delicious, thank you!

    Tina — December 6, 2014
    1. Tina! I'm so flattered you made it and so happy you like it. Save some for meeeee :)

      courtney — December 6, 2014
    2. reply
  12. So simple and tasty... The only issue I have with it is some if the cheese will turn into big clumps. Also I added some To the mix, delish!

    sarah — December 7, 2014
    1. Hi Sarah! Glad you liked the flavor - I've never had issues with cheese clumping together, but I'd guess it's because it's wasn't grated finely enough and couldn't melt thoroughly, or that the cheese was added to the pot while over really high heat, which would cause it to get a hard grainy texture. Would either of those fit what you saw? Either way, hard to beat good old cheese and pasta.

      courtney — December 7, 2014
    2. reply
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  16. Should the pot be covered at any point? Should the water reach a boil at any point, or will it cook before boiling? I'm very excited to try this out :)

    madeline — March 31, 2015
    1. Hey Madeline! Thanks for stopping by. No need to cover the pot - you will have to stir the noodles periodically to keep them from sticking and the cooking happens too quickly for much water to evaporate. If you cook the pasta over medium heat you should reach kind of a low boil, but don't worry too much about it. I hope you like it the pasta! And if you have any questions or problems when you make it don't hesitate to comment or email :)

      courtney — March 31, 2015
    2. reply
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  18. I apologise in advance for being such a pain in the neck. I think that this method is perfect for lazy girls (like me) and I am not a morbid tradition fan (I am Italian) but I have to point out this: if you don't drain pasta all the wheat starch (that foam that forms over water while it's boiling) stays inside the pan. And that's really baaaaad for your diet. I mean, cacio e pepe is already a rich dish, don't you think?

    Sara — May 4, 2015
    1. I get what you're saying, but if I'm not celiac I don't see how this is any worse than risotto, (which retains all the rice starch). For me it's just carbs, which contribute to the texture of the finished product in a way that might otherwise be achieved with more cheese or fat (neither of which are especially wholesome). It's rich, and it's not the kind of thing I eat more than once or twice a year, but I think the idea of risotto-ing pasta has some fun implications, which is the main reason I made this and wrote about it. I get what you are saying though. I'll have to look into the nutrition differences between drained pasta and risotto-ed pasta. You got me curious.

      courtney — May 4, 2015
    2. reply
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  23. Would you change the water/pasta ratio if you used spaghetti instead of angel hair?

    Kara — August 16, 2015
    1. Hi Kara! The ratio should still work with spaghetti. I'd keep an extra cup of water on standby in case the pasta soaks up more water than you expect, and add a little bit at a time if the water seems to be soaking in quickly and the pasta still has a long way to cook. It's easy to take liquid away with a ladle when it's finished cooking too, so the recipe is pretty forgiving. I've used this same ratio for a few different pasta shapes and it has worked well for me. If you have any issues though, let me know. I'm always curious to hear how my recipes work for people at home!

      courtney — August 16, 2015
    2. reply
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  30. Thank you for answering my question of water-to-past ratio! I like cooking it this way because using bone broth instead of water is an easy way to get more broth in your diet. And by the way, your picture taking is on point! Bradleigh

    Bradleigh Huizinga — January 19, 2016
    1. Thanks Bradleigh! That's such a clever idea! It makes perfect sense too because any time you make risotto, you use broth, and one pot pasta is very similar. I'm going to try that!

      courtney — January 22, 2016
    2. reply
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  33. Need a print key button. So can print out just the recipe and directions. Also if need photos have but can remove it don't need visual. thanks

    Wanda — June 10, 2016
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  34. I have been doing this for years. I add a splash of heavy cream , garlic and a bit of butter to the mix at the end. Sometimes chicken and any veggies. Yumm-O.

    Joy B — June 10, 2016
    1. reply
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