Why The Martha Stewart One-Pan Pasta Deserves Its Fame

Most of us know the drill when it comes to making pasta. Fresh water is poured into a pot with a ratio of about four quarts of water to a pound of noodles, per Eataly, and when it's boiling, salt is added and the pasta tossed in. The noodles, regardless of their shape or size, are cooked to the manufacturer's instruction until they are al dente, a cup or so of the pasta water is saved, and then the pasta is drained before tossing everything in a sauce.

So it came as a shock to Martha Stewart recipe developer Nora Singley, that not only are there different ways to skin a cat, there was another way to cook pasta on a stovetop, using a cooking method that eventually revolutionized the way we prepare noodle dishes.

Singley told Food52 she was traveling near Puglia in the southeastern end of Italy when she chanced upon a town called Peschici and decided to stop by a restaurant, which had been recommended to her by a fellow chef. The traveling chef says she and her colleague had settled themselves and were introduced to the restaurant owner's unique way of cooking pasta, which involved tossing all the ingredients — water, noodles, sauce ingredients, and all — into one pot.

The technique unlocks a secret to good pasta sauce

As Singley told Food52, "We were aghast. Sarah and I, with all our years of cooking experience — it just completely belied our formal training." 

But the waiter was insistent, he took the visitors back to the kitchen and created the pasta dish made with tomatoes, onions, basil, and salt, as well as a small amount of water, and nine minutes later, the pasta dish that took the internet by storm was born. Singley said, "It was perfect — and perfectly starchy. And it was this beautiful moment of learning."

The reason the method works lies in the one thing Italian chefs like Food Network's Rachael Ray swear by: pasta water, which she says "is an ingredient in every sauce. It marries the sauce to the pasta." Ray adds, "You want all of the pasta to taste like all of the sauce ... So whether you're marrying pesto, red sauce, or a white-based sauce, you need that starchy liquid to get everybody to get along and come together." 

And cooking the pasta into the sauce ensures that the all-important pasta water is cooked into the sauce, per The New York Times.

There are ways to ensure this hack is a success

The dish may be the ultimate pasta hack; after all, Martha Stewart promises it can yield a flavorful pasta dish in just 20 minutes. But to ensure you nail it on the first try, here are a few things you can do to make sure this technique is a success and not the reason you order takeout for dinner. The New York Times recommends you use 12 ounces of pasta that cooks in 10 minutes or less, and 5 cups of liquid, as well as 2 teaspoons of salt — no more, no less. You may substitute water for broth or coconut milk.

Begin by cooking the ingredients you'll need to make the sauce — this can be bacon, sausage, or aromatics like garlic and onion. Then add the pasta, water, and salt as directed. Cook to al dente or between eight to 10 minutes. The pasta needs to be stirred regularly. If it looks dry, add a bit of water, and when ready, season and serve. If you're working with creamy pasta, add the cream or whole milk at the end.

The New York Times says the method also works with Japanese noodles, but adjustments to the amount of liquid and the cooking time are needed.