How to make a quick-cooking pasta even quicker? Ditch the pot of boiling water! This 20-minute tortellini dinner comes together in a single skillet leaving you with less dishes to wash and more time to sit down and dig in. It’s inspired by the classic Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe, whose creamy and richly pungent sauce is simply made with just two ingredients: salty Pecorino Romano cheese and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Here, fresh or frozen tortellini cooks right in the skillet while the water it cooks in simmers into a starchy, glossy sauce. Tender wilted greens not only add color, but bulk up the pasta to turn it into a true one-pan dinner. This is a comforting, feel-good meal that’s fit for the busiest of weeknights.
How to Make Tortellini Without Boiling Water
While it doesn’t take very long to boil tortellini, it does require precious minutes to bring that big pot of salted water to a boil. Not to mention it means there’s an extra dish to clean. Cooking tortellini in a skillet, right in its sauce, is one of my favorite tricks to get pasta on the dinner table faster and with less mess.
This technique can be used with both fresh and frozen tortellini. I call for cheese tortellini here, but any filling works, be it meat, mushrooms, or beyond. The real fun lies in that you get to pan-fry the tortellini a bit before pouring the water in to cook it. This results in crispy, deep golden-brown spots and edges on the pasta that lend toasty flavor and added texture.
After the tortellini gains color in spots, you’ll pour water into the pan, cover it quickly, and let the pasta steam to al dente. It will start to stick as the water evaporates, so you’ll want to carefully open the lid and stir it occasionally. Since the pasta will leach some of its starch into the water as it cooks, stirring also helps that now-starchy water in the pan coat the tortellini in a luxurious sauce. Once cooked, all that’s left to do is add a few big handfuls of greens until they’re just wilted, then stir in plenty of grated Pecorino cheese to finish off the cacio e pepe sauce.
The Best Greens to Use
Since easy is the name of the game for this skillet dinner, I like to use baby kale or spinach. Both come pre-washed and wilted in just a minute or two under the heat of the pasta. If you want to turn the volume up on the pepperiness even further, you can also try baby or regular arugula.
Swaps and Substitutions
As I mentioned, I like to use cheese tortellini here because it’s the most accessible and I’ll never refuse more cheese. However, fresh or frozen tortellini with any filling, whether it’s sausage, spinach, ground beef, mushrooms, or otherwise.
Pecorino Romano cheese is the most traditional choice for cacio e pepe. The Roman aged sheep’s milk cheese is salty, nutty, and piquant, ensuring the sauce is as bold as it is cheesy. While it’s fairly easy to find in most grocery stores these days, it can be substituted with the same amount of Parmesan, if needed. The resulting dish will be slightly less lively but still undoubtedly delicious.
Love Cacio e Pepe?
- Cacio e Pepe Chicken Wings
- Cacio e Pepe Brussels Sprouts Stalk
- Vegan Cacio e Pepe
- Brown Butter Cacio e Pepe
- Classic Cacio e Pepe
Sear the tortellini:
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the tortellini in an even layer. Cook, tossing occasionally, until nicely browned in spots, 2 to 4 minutes.
Cook the tortellini:
Add the water, kosher salt, and black pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover with a lid or baking sheet and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan occasionally, until the pasta is tender and glossy and almost all of the water has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in the greens and cheese, then serve:
Remove from the heat and stir in the greens, handfuls at a time, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Serve garnished with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
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