How to develop your own pasta recipe, the 3 part Bon Appetit way


If you want to have a delicious bowl of pasta that doesn’t involve tomato sauce, there is a fairly simply way to do it. There are three steps:

  1. Cook your pasta. While your pasta is cooking….
  2. Cook stuff you need for pasta. When the pasta is done and the stuff is cooked….
  3. Combine the stuff you cooked with the pasta, pasta water and extras. Boom! That’s it.

It’s that simple.

How does that relate to Bon Appetit? I took 9 of their recipes and broke them down. (See below.) Once I did, I realized that they all follow the same three steps above. (This isn’t restricted to Bon Appetit, btw.)

For the most part, you fry up the “stuff” you want to add to the pasta until it is softened / cooked and ready to be tossed in the pasta. (Recipe #8 is an exception: it uses baked vegetables.) The trick or secret to these recipes is that you make the “sauce” for the pasta with a combination of pasta water and grated parmesan. If you want to brighten the sauce, you can add some lemon juice or something else tart (e.g., the ¼ cup of pepperoncini). For more flavour, add fresh herbs. Not only did I do that, but I added some dried herbs since I didn’t have enough fresh herbs for my liking.

Things you should note:

    • They use a lot of evoo (extra virgin olive oil). You need fat at the beginning to cook the stuff, and you need lots of fat over all to make the sauce good. If you are concerned with all this fat, just add enough at first to cook the “stuff”, then add more to the finished dish at the end to your taste.
    • A few of the dishes use butter.  I liked the butter as a finishing ingredient, but you could stick with only evoo if you want. You want the pasta to be glossy and have the mouth feel that fat provides. The parm also provides that, so taste and adjust.
    • You can replace the red pepper flakes with anything else the brings some heat to the dish. I fried some sliced jalapeno wth my shallots in the dish I made. But if you don’t like heat, leave it out.
    • Lemon juice is great for a bit of acid to brighten the sauce, but you could add lemon zest or a dash of balsamic vinegar if you wanted. Likewise, if you are feeling it, try a bit of Dijon in there, especially the vegetable heavy dishes. Some capers or caperberries would do fine too.
    • Alliums are essential for flavour. The folks at Bon Appetit love their garlic, but if you don’t or if you want to use leeks or red onion or what have you, go ahead. It’s best to use fresh garlic, but at the end I adjusted the sauce with precut garlic and that was good.
    • For the recipes with sausage, you could replace it with bacon or ground meat seasoned with your favorite spice mix. Or you could go with a bunch of spicy cold cuts. If you do, you might want to have less evoo at the beginning and then adjust at the end to get the right amount of fat to your taste.
    • When you are coming up with your own stuff to cook, I have a rule of thumb that it should be ¼ of a cup to a cup of stuff per servings. Most of these recipes are for 4 people, so that would be 1-4 cups of stuff. Another rule of thumb is to have at least half as much stuff as dried pasta.  The star of the dish is still the pasta, so you can have less stuff. And some people might not like ½ cup of alliums on their pasta: the more flavourful the stuff, the less you need. (The exception are greens or anything that gets a lot smaller when you cook it. Then my rule of thumb is a bunch of greens is fine. In recipe #1 it calls for 3-4 bunches of kale even. It just depends how much you love the greens. I find a 1 bunch of greens or a bag of spinach/arugula is enough. But hey, greens are good so eat more!)
    • You can really clean out the pantry with this. Take all those drips and drabs of a carrot or some small amount of sundried tomato or regular tomato or a sad looking bit of herbs and green onions and warm them up in the cooking evoo and you have a better meal and less food waste.
    • The default cheese here is parmesan: it works perfectly. But if you want to go with a lower cost cheese, asiago will also do, or romano. You can also use very crumbly feta (just save your salting to the end because feta can be very salty).
    • When I make the “stuff”, I use a very big pan to do it. If you don’t have a big pan, consider a dutch oven or even a wok. You want something big because you need room to add the pasta, the pasta water and the cheese. I like to add the pasta to the pot with the stuff to get all that fat on the surface. But do what you can with what you have.
    • If you are a bit anxious of doing this on your own, I have provided the recipes from Bon Appetit. But once you get the hang of it, you can really just wing it.
    • This is a super easy vegetarian dish to make. If you want, add some cooked beans (drained and rinsed) to the stuff as it is cooking and get the protein you need.
    • Once you get the hang of this, you will also see this way of cooking pasta everywhere. For example, this midnight pasta is the same idea.
    • A really good trick to remember to keep the pasta water: put a measuring cup in the colander as soon as you get it out. That way when you go to drain the pasta, you cannot help but capture some (and you REALLY need the pasta water).
    • The recipes below use a range for how much pasta water you need. Don’t fret too much. Add it as you go just until you get to where the sauce is saucy enough for you. It should be tasty but not watery. Take your time adding it. I typically find a cup of pasta water is more than enough.
    • Same with the amount of parm you add. Use what you want. More is generally better, but again, add to taste.
    • For greens, leaves are fried until reduced. Stems can be boiled until soft or al dente.
    • The herb combinations are good here, but use what you love best. If you just have parsely, use that. A bunch of marjoram? Sounds great. A ½ cup of cilantro might be great with the squid.
    • Likewise, use what pasta you have. Spaghetti works great with everything! Same with bucatini or fettuccine. I mean Alison Roman made shrimp scampi with big pasta shells so there are no more rules any more. 🙂 Heck, combine a few types of pasta if you want (just cook them accordingly). Clean out that pantry.
    • Unlike most of the other dishes, the last dish uses cream. Give that a go some time. If you like it, you can try some other cheeses melted in the cream, like a cambazola that take the dish in a different direction.
    • Finally always season as you go with salt. I like to add a few grinds of pepper too. Balance the fat in the pasta with evoo at the end. Serve with a bowl of ground up parm at the end. Well done!

Sigh: this is a lot of writing for a very simple dish. But once you get the hang of it, you can whip up a pasta dinner at any time of day or night and that’s pretty amazing.

Here’s the Bon Appetit recipes:

Stuff Pasta water and extras Recipe and pasta (all amounts are 12 oz = ¾ lb or 300ish g)
1 3-4 bunches of kale

¼ cup evoo

5 garlic cloves

Red pepper flakes

1 cup PW



2 2 small bunches broccolini

¼ cup evoo

3 large shallots

5 garlic cloves

¾ cup PW


Lemon squeeze


3 5 tbsp evoo

1 lb squid

1 fennel bulb

2 garlic cloves

Red pepper flakes

1.5 cup PW


½ cup parsley


4 2 tbsp evoo

½ pound sausage

½ medium red onion

¼ cup olives

14 oz can cherry tomatoes

¾ cup PW

¼ cup pepperoncini, thinly sliced

2 tbsp butter

½ cup basil


5 ½ cup evoo

6 garlic cloves

4 pints cherry tomatoes

Red pepper flakes

2 basil sprigs


1 cup basil

1 oz parm (1/3 cup)

(tube pasta)

6 ¼ cup evoo

8 garlic cloves

1 cup chopped parsley

1 cup pitted olives

Red pepper flakes

½ pw

3 tbsp butter

1 cup basil

2 tsp Lemon juice + zest

(pappardelle or wide)

7 ¼ cup evoo

4 garlic cloves

3 anchovies

Rep pepper flakes



1 ¼ cup PW

3 tbsp butter

¾ cup parm

1/3 parsely

1 tsp lemon zest

1 tbsp lemon juice


8 6 tbsp evoo

2 small red onions

1 fennel bulb

8 oz sausage (**bake all this)

¼ cup PW

1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

6 cups baby arugula


9 4 tbsp evoo

1 lb mushrooms

2 med shallots

½ cup heavy cream

1 cup pw

Zest and juice of ½ lemon

2 Tbsp. butter

½ oz. Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup)

(bucatini – 16 oz)



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