This $2 Ingredient Makes the Creamiest Pasta Sauce

published Jan 11, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I will forever have a soft spot for creamy pasta dishes. I love them all: spiral noodles blanketed with ricotta and herbs, rich and decadent fettuccine Alfredo, mac and cheese (obviously!), and even pasta marinara with a splash of cream. But a few months ago, when faced with an intense craving for creamy pasta and a seriously limited selection of dairy, I was forced to get creative. I pulled out an unexpected ingredient — the only ingredient I had — with low expectations.

The result wasn’t just good, it was really good. It was light and super creamy, with just a hint of tang. I’ve been using it ever since, subbing it for ricotta or cream in pasta recipes.

So what is my $2 secret for deliciously creamy pasta?

Cream Cheese Makes the Most Luscious Creamy Pasta

It’s cream cheese! Yes, cream cheese is the most wonderful friend to pasta. You know the creaminess it brings to dips and desserts? Well, it does the same thing for pasta night. When combined with some starchy pasta water the cream cheese melts into a smooth, dreamy sauce that’s just thick enough to cling to the pasta — no need for butter, flour, or heavy cream.

How to Turn Cream Cheese Into Creamy Sauce

A good rule of thumb is to use one ounce cream cheese per serving of pasta, but you can always add a bit more to make the dish a little richer and creamier. It’s also helpful to cut the cream cheese into small cubes, which makes it easier and faster to whisk into the pan and melt.

Start by sautéing some aromatics, like onion, shallot, or garlic with a glug of olive oil in a wide, high-sided skillet. The wide surface area makes it a much better choice than a saucepan. Whisk in some crushed tomatoes, marinara, lemon juice, or white wine, if you like. Then whisk in the cream cheese and up to 1/2 cup of pasta water. Once the cream cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, toss in the cooked pasta and get ready to dig in.