Guide to Cooking Pasta Directly in Sauce

Whether trying to save money or time, cooking pasta directly in sauce seems like a good idea, but is it? You might have already cooked pasta in the sauce instead of water if you’ve ever made lasagna or goulash.

Answer: Cooking pasta in tomato sauce works perfectly fine. Depending on the results you are looking for, you can add a little extra water to the sauce or leave it out, depending on your preference in the thickness of the sauce. In this post, I talk about how, show you a few pictures, and even made a video for you! After experimenting, I found that 4-1/4 cups of water was the right amount.

Several recipes you have already made likely call for adding dried noodles to the sauce, but you may not have thought about it before. For instance, most of the goulash recipes I’ve cooked call for browning the meat, adding the sauce and spices, and then adding the dried macaroni.

If you’ve made this dish, you know that the sauce becomes very thick and sticks to the noodles very well. So if you are planning on cooking your spaghetti noodles in the sauce and not by boiling water, there are a few adjustments you will want to make.

Overall this might be a good plan to save on your next meal. You will use less heat energy, less water, and less time to accomplish the same goal. AKA, this will save you a few cents or more per meal.

You can watch my video. I made it with clear text on the screen so you can watch it without sound.

*Video Here*

How to cook pasta in sauce

I wouldn’t feel complete in my mission to answer this question without heading to the store, grabbing some pasta, and picking out a nice sauce. Then throw it all in a pot to make a one-pot pasta dish.

I will post a recipe for this one, but I want to give you some pointers and basic instructions below.

Don’t let the noodle choice hold you back. Just because I’m using spaghetti doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Angel hair, penne, macaroni, linguine, etc., will all work.

Picking your meat, if you add meat to your sauce, you can cook it in the same pan first. I’ve always done my pasta sauce like this, cooking the meat in the pan and then adding the sauce right over the top. Have fun with your choice, and don’t get hung up on following what I’m doing too closely as I’m experimenting.

Don’t be shy about adding spices, fresh parsley, or basil if you have some. I also wrote a short section below that might help if you are new to adding your spices to dishes.

Check out my experiment video where I try this out (above). Keep reading for the instructions.


Notes: I pre-greased my pan with butter because tomato sauce can be harsh on your cast iron seasoning.

  1. Add your sauce (any sauce will do).
  2. Set heat to medium.
  3. Add your noodles; you can break them in half or add them whole as I did.
  4. Slowly add water not to overflow your pot or pan. For me, this meant adding around 1 cup at a time and letting the noodles soak up the moisture while also making sure to keep things moving.
  5. Once your noodles are near completion, they will start bending and allow you to push them into the sauce. Add the last amount of water while keeping the ingredients moving.

You can test your noodles to see if they need more water. I did another video the same day: Can You Save Noodles That Already Have Sauce (the answer is yes!).

I tried the spaghetti from my video, and it tasted great. However, it wasn’t all the way done as I had only used about 2-3/4 cups of water. Many people prefer al dente pasta, so this recipe would be perfect for them.

If you think about it, though, you may commonly do this if you have made lasagna or goulash. Both dishes have you add uncooked noodles to the other ingredients for cooking! I also saw some other recipes that are the same way.


Should I add spices when cooking pasta in the sauce?

Yes. Add your favorite spices when it is appropriate to add them for your desired result, depending on how they interact with heat and the sauce’s acidity. People like to add salt to cut the acidic flavor; however, many store-bought sauces have added sugar for the same reason.

For best results in this area, I recommend experimenting with adding small amounts and tasting during the cooking process till it is just right.

Next, I have the video of my entire trial. I added text for those of you that want to watch without sound.

Sticky Spaghetti

Will the pasta stick together when cooking in sauce?

No. The pasta didn’t stick together even when I was not moving the pasta around. The sauce helped it not stick together. I was worried it might even stick to the bottom of the pan, which is one of the reasons I added butter before getting started.

I will say that I had a little extra al dente for my first go-around, but it still worked out that the pasta was not sticking to itself, and it grabbed the sauce and meat I added very nicely. If you watch the video, you can see this.

However, even when the pasta dried out toward the end, it didn’t stick together or to the pan. I was impressed overall at how things turned out. Leading to the next question, should I add olive oil? Keep reading to find out.

Olive Oil

Do I need to add olive oil when cooking my pasta directly in the sauce?

Yes, if you want the olive oil flavor; however, I would recommend that you do it at the end.

Heat kills that lovely flavor that olive oil has, so I would not add olive oil too early in the process when cooking any pasta. Sometimes I still add it to my water, but I’ve found it much better to add it after the pan is removed from the heat source.

Adding olive oil late in the process seems even more critical when cooking your pasta in the sauce. You are already less likely to taste it if your sauce is overpowering, but if you need that extra flavor boost, I would add it after the fire is off, just before you plate the pasta and sauce for serving.

Meat Sauce

I also like to add some ground beef to my sauce when I make spaghetti. I like to have meat sauce or meatballs. I did try this method again after, and adding meat to the sauce is excellent, but I feel like I can do it better and want to make another video for the meat sauce version.

However, you can still do this by following the guide above and adding meat at one of two spots. Either brown the meat in the pot or pan before adding the sauce (the best way for a single-pot meal), or you can brown the meat in another pan and add it to the sauce and spaghetti mix at any point in the cooking process.

Keep your eye out because I will make a video for this in the near future.

Can I Cook This In My Foodi?

This is a bit of a tease because, on my next go round, I will cook this dish in my Ninja Foodi with the ground beef for a nice meat sauce. The plan is to cook the meat and add the sauce and the spaghetti simultaneously for a one-pot spaghetti cook!

I know the answer is yes, but if you want to see the proof, you can check back on this post in a few weeks or subscribe to our YouTube channel, selecting to get notifications, and you will be among the first to know when I post the video.

Spencer Heckathorn

Spencer loves to learn and try new things. He has been sharing his trials, successes, and failures, online since the early 2000s.

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