For a long time, I didn’t believe in no-boil pasta.
Oh, I knew it existed. But I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that pasta could be made to taste good without having been boiled in a giant pot of salted water.
But it can. In fact, not only do you not need a huge amount of water to cook perfectly delicious, al dente pasta, you don’t need water at all: you can simply cook the pasta in whatever sauce you’re planning to toss it with.
The beauty of this method is its economy: not having to boil the pasta separately saves a big chunk of time and also—and this is the clincher for me—greatly pares down the amount of dishes you’ll have to do after dinner. Plus, the pasta releases all it’s lovely starches into the sauce, and those starches act as a natural thickener.
The no-boil method is a natural fit for baked pastas, like this lasagna, or a baked penne dish. But for a faster, weeknight-friendly take on no-boil, try cooking pasta right in its sauce on the stovetop.
That’s the method we used to develop our most recent weeknight dinner, a creamy no-boil pasta studded with cubes of sweet butternut squash and crispy Italian sausage. To make it, you brown the sausage in a heavy pot (a Dutch oven is perfect for this), then add a bit of flour to make a roux. Into the pot goes milk, cream, and water, plus a generous amount of grated Parmesan. Add uncooked pasta along with diced butternut squash (if you’re making this on a weeknight, pre-peeled squash cubes are a lifesaver), a bit of grated garlic, sage leaves, salt, and nutmeg.
The whole thing simmers for about 20 minutes, until the squash has cooked, the sauce has thickened, and the pasta has magically become al dente—with not a drop of boiling water in sight.