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Pasta With Garlic Butter Sauce

June 10, 2021
29 Ratings
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Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 2
Author Notes

For the best garlic butter sauce for pasta, use way more garlic than you’d think. This recipe serves two people and calls for a whole head—and nope, that’s not a mistake. When sizzled in melted butter until golden and toasty, this ingredient goes from sharp and bracing to warm and cozy, the sort of savory flavor that’s hard to overdo. Make sure that once it’s done cooking, you don’t drain the pasta into a colander. We want that salty, starchy water on call to bump up the seasoning and loosen the sauce as needed. It’ll thicken as it sits at the table, so err on the side of saucier than not. The optional bonuses are just that: totally optional. As in all Big Little Recipes, less is more here. Think: roughly chopped parsley (or basil or thyme), red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, or grated Parm or pecorino. Opt for three picks, tops, so the butter and garlic can shine—they’re the stars of this show.

Some additional tips for garlic butter sauce success: Any butter will do the trick here. But if you’re like me, and there’s a so-called “special butter” that you reserve for morning toast and baked potatoes (I love higher-fat, sunny-hued Kerrygold), this is a great time to use it. After all, the butter is half of the sauce. And if you only have salted butter on hand, that’s okay; just tone down the salt in the rest of the recipe, then increase to taste at the very end. On that note, when I say to “generously” season the pasta water with salt, I aim for about 1 tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt per 1 quart of water. But! You can tone that down to 2 teaspoons, 1 teaspoon, or even 1/2 teaspoon of salt per quart of water. It all depends on your personal preference. And no need to measure the salt or the water; just eyeball both. This makes sure the pasta is taken care of. Any pasta shape will excel (thrive! soar!) in this context. I prefer a chunky variety with lots of nooks and crannies (say fusilli, rigatoni, or cavatappi), where the garlic bits can take refuge. But something long and twirly like spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini would be excellent, too. And if nutty whole-wheat pasta is your thing? Go for it.

Helpful tools for this recipe:
- Five Two Stainless Steel Skillet
- Benedetto Cavalieri Italian Dried Pasta (Set of 2)
- Banner Grass-Fed Butter

Emma Laperruque

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Pasta With Garlic Butter Sauce
  • 1 head garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound your favorite pasta
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • Optional bonuses: roughly chopped parsley, red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, or grated Parm
  1. Set a pot of water over high heat to come to a boil. While that’s in the works, peel and mince the garlic cloves.
  2. When the water is boiling, generously season with salt and add the pasta. Cook according to the package instructions, until al dente.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium to medium-low heat, then add the garlic. Sizzle, stirring or swirling occasionally, for 3 to 7 minutes, just until the garlic turns golden. Immediately dump into a serving bowl (the garlic quickly turns from golden and sweet to brown and bitter).
  4. Use a spider or tongs (depending on the shape) to transfer the pasta to the garlic butter. Toss and add pasta water as needed to create a silky sauce. Mix in or top with any bonuses if you’re using them and serve immediately.

See what other Food52ers are saying.
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    Hollis Ramsey
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Recipe by: Emma Laperruque

Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

53 Reviews

Danno April 12, 2022
Simple and delicious. Wish that the volume on the video would be turned up a bit more. Difficult for me to hear Emma's delightful but soft voice.
Kate R. February 9, 2022
OH MY! That is how I am reacting to that simple and utterly delicious recipe I just recreated and thoroughly enjoyed! Many thanks Miss Emma!
And OH MY! Such a petty mess of a continuous nonsense to have to deal with from a certain so called critic out here! It is close to assaulting! Perhaps one who should seek out a different forum...I for one would be greatly appreciative! ...
So much noise over EMULSION! Pathetic...
TyLaoGirl January 8, 2022
I came across this recipe this evening and made it. Talk about simplicity and delicious! I added some black pepper, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese...very very yummy!! Thanks for a great recipe!
Stephanie H. December 28, 2021
Love this for a guilty pleasure meal! Add a bottle of wine and some crusty bread! Heaven!
Phelansteiger September 5, 2021
Who gives people like this a platform? Literally just mixed garlic and butter and added pasta. What. Americans need help
Phelansteiger September 5, 2021
And adding water after its off heat?! Do you know how emulsion works? It's shocking how bad this video is.
kimmiebeck December 27, 2021
If you feel you need to leave nasty comments to feed your ego, maybe you should find a forum other than a recipe site.
Phelansteiger December 28, 2021
It's not even being nasty, it's me commenting on how bad this video is.
Hollis R. January 9, 2022
I watched the video, and Phelansteiger is correct: to create an emulsion, add pasta water to the fat while it’s over heat. If you remove the garlic butter — which IMO Emma let get too dark before the pasta was ready — to the serving bowl and just pour in pasta water WITHOUT EMULSIFYING by swirling over heat, what you’ll get is watery garlic butter with pasta. Not what you’re aiming for.

Also, a critical review, such as Phelansteiger’s — and this one — are meant to question, analyze, or correct. People are too darn sensitive nowadays: they can’t bear criticism, whether it’s correct, as here, or even incorrect. In both these cases, the discussion is more properly considered a disputation, where opposing views are expressed and debated.
Phelansteiger January 9, 2022
Finally. Someone who understands what emulsion actually is. Thank you.
Phelansteiger January 9, 2022
Feeding my ego? Lol. You need to defend a terrible video to feed yours apparently.
Hollis R. January 9, 2022
Frankly, I wonder why this video hasn’t been updated, to demonstrate the proper emulsification technique.

C’mon, Food52, repost! This would be a great opportunity to discuss the science of emulsification. Show your readers that even teachers can learn. I know that y’all know how to emulsify; that’s why I don’t understand why you haven’t fixed it yet.
Kazumi J. June 26, 2022
I read through the comments and find your review here is useful. Thank you very much for reminding me about how to create an emulsion! So I follow your recommendation and the end result is a creamy sauce, as it should be (I think it's an effect from protein in pasta water too); Also, I decide to add beaten eggs into the hot mixture of sauce and pasta and incorporate it thoroughly, like in cabonara, to make sure that the emulsion will be stable.
Elianatmpo April 27, 2023
It instantly became a nasty comment when they said “who gives a person like this a platform” and “Americans need help” nothing about that is related to the food which should be the topic. They instantly went to comment on the person and not their food. What are they questioning, analyzing and correcting when they said “who gives people like this a platform” or “Americans need help” it was rude bitter comment, but at the end of the day who is on award winning food blogs and who’s sitting at their computer or phone making rude comments on a recipe they clicked on themselves
B R. October 1, 2023
Agreed! Constructive criticism sinks in, and is REMEMBERED! APPOSED to a Hell's Kitchen ass-chew. Keep your hankies handy children! Or you may never rise above the sound of your can-opener or bowls of Ramen.
Bon Appétit!
Hollis R. October 1, 2023
You're correct. And I actually had wanted to point out the ad hominem remarks that have no place in a comment, but I got sidetracked and forgot. Thanks for doing what I should have done.
Heather June 10, 2021
Holy smokes! So. Much. Flavor. I'm a sauce-a-holic and thought this wouldn't be enough to coat the dozen or so large-ish shrimp and lobster stuffed ravioli, but it totally was. So yummy! So easy! I'll be using this sauce A LOT.
B R. October 1, 2023
Hey Heather! Try squeezing fresh lemon on the hot shrimp in a separate bowl then lift shrimp out of the bowl and immediately put them in on top of the pasta followed immediately by pre-grated fresh parm. The cheesy goodness wants to cling to the shrimp and is just devine! ! (You may need to keep your sauté pan over very low heat while you do this)
kasia S. February 1, 2024
You can add a little bit of stock to make it more sauce and squeeze of lemon then cook down to your desired consistency.
ubs2007 May 9, 2021
Now, I fully understand what Emma means by Big Little Recipes. This dish was incredibly flavorful and incredibly easy and quick with only three ingredients. My son and I loved it. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!!
Avab April 11, 2021
I really love this recipe and use it as base to many other things. I did it exactly as first shown but I definitely think that you can easily feed 4 with a pound of pasta and the same amount of garlic and butter. And I love garlic and was slurping it all up but still there was more sauce that pasta originally. Otherwise it's really a perfect sauce that so simple to make and expand on!
Sonel January 24, 2021
This was easy, wonderful and a totally comfort food night dish.
B R. October 1, 2023
Ever found yourself craving this around midnight while sitting with old CONAN reruns? Comfort food night dish? OMG yes! Warm pasta with garlic butter is better than a sleeping pill 😴
B R. October 1, 2023
PS...And you'll have garlic dreams!
StevenM January 17, 2021
How much of the water do you add back into the mixed pasta?
Emma L. January 18, 2021
Hi StevenM! Depends on personal preference—I like to add small splashes until the consistency is slightly saucier than I want, since it continues to thicken at the table.
Phelansteiger September 5, 2021
Do you understand how emulsion works? Adding water to something doesn't make it creamy/saucy. Lol. This was such a bad video.
Lynn November 3, 2021
And you are just rude and belittlng Phelansteiger!
Purplereign January 7, 2022
You've no idea what you're talking about, it's not water it's pasta water; starchy, sauce thickening pasta water. Maybe learn to cook before coming to a recipe site to talk trash?
Lynn January 8, 2022
Again, you are just a rude and angry person lashing out. Apparently, you don't like criticism, but your able to dish it out venemantly.
Phelansteiger January 9, 2022
It's isn't rude or belittling at all. It's just a fact. Like an actual, scientific, chemistry fact.
Elianatmpo April 27, 2023
You are rude, and the way you’re under everyone’s comments saying the same thing is crazy, if you said what you said once then ok, but to keep saying the exact same thing when they can already see your first comment is sad
B R. October 1, 2023
Pouring your pasta water down the drain? Until you use it, and see how it works, don't knock it.
B R. October 1, 2023
The "small splashes " method really works.
My neighbor is an Italian grandmother and seems to always have a kettle of sauce on, simmering. Over for dinner one evening, she asked for help, and had me drain the pasta. I didn't know about starch water and as it circled the drain, knew I had done something wrong based on the unhappy excited tone she had in her native language. She cooked more pasta just to get the water. That night I learned what her magic water was for, and took home a big portion of pasta and sauce!
kasia S. February 1, 2024
You being rude is also a fact, stop it already.
kasia S. February 1, 2024
Many restaurants cook each pasta order in the same pot of water so its almost over starched and helps make an emulsion much quicker, think most home cooks don't realize that.
kcminker January 15, 2021
Very delicious. I'm sure I could use my fresh pasta in this but the point here is to be easy on the cook! I buy a good quality, dry spaghetti just to make this recipe. Perfect dinner for two, and goes well with red wine. .
duckfat January 2, 2021
Would this work as a sauce for gnocchi?
Emma L. January 2, 2021
I bet that would be great!
duckfat January 2, 2021
Guess what's on Tuesday's dinner menu!
Gerri December 30, 2020
The recipe says to remove garlic and add to serving dish. Does it get mixed back into the spaghetti at some point?
Emma L. January 2, 2021
In step 4: "Use a spider or tongs (depending on the shape) to transfer the pasta to the garlic butter."
Gerri January 15, 2021
Ahhhhhh. Thanks for clarifying!
Rita82 December 27, 2020
Did I miss something? You are using whole cloves of garlic? Sliced? Minced? Crushed?
Bert G. December 27, 2020
“Peel and mince the garlic cloves.”
Rita82 December 27, 2020
Good grief! There it is, big as life! I reread everything at least 5 times. I must have Holidayitis. Thanks Bert!
hannahjones December 26, 2020
I love the simplicity of a mouthwatering dish! This pasta recipe is great as a quick afternoon snack to share with your friends and family. Thank you!
Neena December 24, 2020
Excellent easy recipe! Followed the exact recipe and added thyme. I always have these ingredients at home. This is a quick meal to make. My daughter loved it! I always look forward to trying Emma's recipes!
Neena December 24, 2020
Excellent easy recipe! Followed the exact recipe and added thyme. I always have these ingredients at home. This is a quick meal to make. My daughter loved it!
newcorinne December 22, 2020
Simplicity always works, and everything old becomes new again.
Delicious. This reminds me of Marcella Hazan’s spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, although butter works very well here.
Rosi December 22, 2020
Have bean eating this for 60 years.
Rita82 January 8, 2022
Rosi, is this the Rosi I remember very fondly from the Buckhead YMCA days around 1960 or 1961?? KW: Bread?
Rosi February 9, 2022
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