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Comfort Food: One Pot Pasta

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I hope this finds you and your family safe and well. I feel like I have started every email with that sentence for the past three weeks. These are certainly troubling times and that means that we all are yearning for comfort and assurance. Comfort food recipe searches are surging on Google Trends. (Although I did laugh because the number one recipe search last week in Georgia was for MARTINI!)

Why do Carbs Make Us Feel Good?

Comfort food means safety. Comfort food means satisfaction. Comfort food means simplicity. Comfort food means home. Sometimes comfort food means a big bowl of carbs! (Well, often.) Certain foods, especially carbohydrate-based foods, can help increase serotonin levels in our brains which helps us feel comforted and happy. 

Serotonin and other neurotransmitters are “feel good” hormones. Carbs can make us feel good, especially when we are stressed, lonely, scared, or depressed. That’s when we’re motivated to calm ourselves. Overeating carbohydrates and  indulgent foods like cookies and salty snacks can significantly increase these hormones. Bring on the pasta! 


My One Pot Pasta is teed up for ease and comfort. It is all cooked in one pot. You don’t even have to boil water to cook the pasta. So you can still get dinner on the table in your current state, which if it is anything like mine is less focused than usual.

Life is not as we normally know it. Things aren’t always at the grocery store, there are limits on purchases, and it’s not a great idea to go often so we can flatten the curve. Your recipes can be flexible, too. I have had a slew of friends, readers, and social media contacts inquire about what to do regarding the current grocery store selections. I’ve had a fair amount of requests for ground beef. What’s working right now are “no recipe-recipes” and adaptable meals.

This is the time to look at recipes as general guidelines. In this One Pot Pasta you can use ground beef, turkey, chicken, pork, sausage, or a plant-based meat substitute. A can of chickpeas or white beans would be nice and you could also tip in the leftover chicken or roast from night before last. (Hint: when repurposing leftovers make sure to give them a day between. Click here for my segment on Good Day Atlanta with more leftover tips and how to shop while social distancing.) You could add fresh chopped vegetables at the beginning of cooking and frozen ones at the end. Don’t forget the seafood, either. Add shrimp or 1-inch cubes of firm fish like salmon or mahi mahi at the end of cooking. You could also leave it alone and just use canned tomatoes. It’s flexible.

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Martha Stewart One-Pot Pasta

This tasty one-pot pasta dinner couldn’t be easier to make—all of your ingredients cook in one pot. It’s a quick way to get a meal on the table with a minimal mess. Essentially this works because we’re adding liquid along with the tomatoes. You can use water or stock. Martha Stewart and her team blew up the internet about 8 years ago with her version of this recipe. Many people loved it and a fair amount of food editors hated it.

Do you know what I say to that? Whatever, people — and especially right now. Folks are simply trying to keep a sense of normalcy, feed their families, and stay safe. If making your carb-laden dinner all in one pot is what you need to do, then you need to do it. Grate a gracious amount of Parmigiano Reggiano (or whatever cheese you have) on top of it and call it a day.

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Nonni’s Pasta

However, as I was testing this recipe, I think the ghost of an Italian grandmother came up on me and gave me a derisive snort. I’ll be honest, this is pretty darn far from authentic bolognese and a lot closer to homemade hamburger helper. I laughed at myself considering how I would feel if a recipe developer started messing around with my cherished grandmother’s Buttermilk Biscuits or my beloved mama’s Pound Cake. I told myself, and I truly believe I would at least try, that I would be flexible.

I’m trying to stay on the right path, I’ve been eating healthy, exercising, meditating, listening to helpful podcasts and praying. (I am excited to share I hit losing 50 pounds last weekend!) A daily walk while social distancing has been mandatory. Then on Sunday I ate nachos, had not one, but two Cokes, and laid on my sofa and watched Ellen videos on my phone all day. It was, by the way, the perfect ratio of laughter and tears. I give myself plenty of leeway if I veer off the healthy path. Yesterday, I was the energizer bunny and got a ton accomplished, worked out, and walked. It was almost too much. It was a bit scary! I will strive to be flexible so that I will hit that sweet spot.

Be kind to your self, your family, and your community.

Stay Safe and Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis

Need a mail-order source for sustainable seafood – use this link OR promo code VIRGINIA for $25 off

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One-Pot Pasta

This is a one-pot dump-and-stir bowl of comfort food.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Course: dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: easy, one pot, Pasta, spaghetti
Servings: 4


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, quartered or sliced
  • 1 pound 90% ground beef, turkey, chicken, pork, or sausage or 1 can chickpeas or white beans
  • 6 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups stock or water
  • 8 ounces spaghetti, broken in half
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for serving


  • Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until the onions are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ground meat and cook until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, pasta, crushed tomatoes, and stock or water. Make sure the liquid covers everything.
  • If adding canned beans instead of meat, add them here.
    If adding raw chopped vegetables, add them here.
    If adding seafood, add it here.
  • Cover and cook medium-low heat (do not open) until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is cooked, about 20 minutes. Stir to combine. (If adding frozen vegetables add during the last 5 minutes of cooking.)
  • If you lift the lid and it's too soupy, at the end of cooking, simply remove the lid and cook until the liquid has reduced and the pasta is cooked. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan.

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Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained chef Virginia Willis has foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and executed the food styling for a Super Bowl commercial seen by over 160 million people. Virginia is a Beard award-winning cookbook author, chef, content creator, and motivational speaker. She has lost 65# and kept it off for more than 3 years. Because of her own health journey, she is a cheerleader for others seeking to make lifestyle changes to feel healthier and happier. Her experience inspired her to launch “Good and Good for You” a lifestyle brand rooted in culinary that shares health and wellness content through digital channels; public speaking; and print media. Fans love her approachable spirit and friendly down-to-earth style. For more information visit

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