One-pot pasta for those crazy seasons of life

I like to pretend to be a food writer, but in reality most of the time I’m a teacher. These two tasks are really related, right? Either way, you have to understand what’s important, clarify it, and enthusiastically convey it to someone else so that they’ll want to try it too. (Convince people they want to learn how to make a pie? Convince someone they want to try reading long vowels? Of course, it’s the same thing.)

All that to say that there are certain times of the year—back to school and the end of the school year—that really kick my ass. No joke. Just worn. Do. Maybe your life is like that too, with cycles of busy periods that come and go. Sometimes you’re really good at taking care of yourself, making good choices, and conquering the day — and sometimes you can just put milk on cereal and call it dinner.

And if there’s one thing that’s saved me when times are tough, it’s having easy comfort foods in my repertoire.

Another thing I’ve come to realize over the past two years is that we may be lying to ourselves about cooking pasta in large pots of pasta water. I haven’t done any scientific testing or read anyone else’s overly scientific food blogs, but I’ve definitely found that I enjoy pasta recipes that cook pasta in less water. With this simple technique, you make a main course that dips down with big flavor and a little cleanup.

From my crazy season to yours, I hope you save this recipe for when you need it and enjoy it.

One-pot pasta (could be called adult macaroni and cheese)


2 tablespoons of butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Salt to taste, depending on the salt content of your broth

1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni (or other form of pasta with a stated cooking time of about 10 minutes)

1/2 cup cream

3 1/2 tablespoons cream cheese

About 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or a mixture of your favorite grated cheese)


1. In a large skillet, melt the butter and cook the onion and garlic over medium-low heat for a few minutes until soft. Season with a few hits of salt and pepper.

2. Add broth and bring just to a boil.

3. Add pasta, stir and cook uncovered over low heat for about 15 minutes until most of the broth is absorbed. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

4. Pour in the cream and simmer for a few minutes.

5. Stir and add the parmesan and cream cheese. Cook for 1 minute.

6. Taste salt and pepper and serve.


Green: Toss about 1 cup of frozen peas into the skillet as you add the cream. Or, add a few handfuls of chopped fresh spinach just before adding the cream cheese and parmesan.

Herby: Add the chopped herbs to the butter and onion at the end of cooking, stir, then immediately add the broth and proceed as planned.

Less creamy stuff: Omit the cream and the cream cheese, add a few knobs of butter before the parmesan.

DIY: Cook something with the onion. Choose anything that doesn’t absorb water, like ground chicken, zucchini, or mushrooms. Continue with the rest of the steps.

Pro Tip: Keeping a mixture of chopped onions and garlic in your freezer really cuts down on a lot of meal prep. Blend 2 onions and a head of peeled garlic until fine, spread thinly in a plastic freezer bag, freeze, then break in as much as you need when you need it. So. Great flavor, no overnight hash.

Anne Willhoit is an educator, community volunteer and enthusiastic baker who enjoys creating recipes that use techniques from scratch and are inspired by local and seasonal ingredients. Find her on Instagram at @aawillhoit or send her a request at [email protected]

Anne Willhoit