This all-time classic pasta recipe is a favorite of kids and adults. What’s not to like, right? Pasta, butter, and cheese. What’s interesting is I didn’t grow up with this dish. Ours was an American chop suey home. (That’s a very New England dish of elbow macaroni, ground beef, and tomato sauce.)

When I finally had a plate of spaghetti, butter, and parmesan sometime in college, I didn’t get it. What? No tomato sauce? What? No meat? But the simple elegance of the dish won me over. I will admit that I do tend to go overboard with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. What can I say? I’m a cheese fiend.

david caricature

Why Our Testers Loved This

The testers were smitten with the simplicity of this weeknight pantry staple. They loved that it could be customized to suit their tastes and that it pleased even the pickiest of eaters. It’s no surprise that they’re calling this recipe “a solid winner.”

What You’ll Need to Make This

Ingredients for pasta with butter and parmesan--pasta, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil, parsley, and butter.
  • Spaghetti–Use your favorite brand of good-quality dried pasta for this recipe. You can substitute a different type of long pasta, such as fettuccine or linguine if you prefer. And some folks even reach for egg noodles.
  • Butter–You can use either salted or unsalted butter for this pasta dish, but if you use salted, be sure to taste the pasta after stirring in the garlic butter sauce to see if it needs any additional salt.
  • Garlic–Feel free to adjust the amount of garlic to suit your tastes. Using the full 4 garlic cloves will give the pasta plenty of garlicky flavor, but if you prefer a mellower bite, scale it back to 2 cloves.
  • Parmesan–This simple pasta recipe relies on the quality of the ingredients to shine, so please, for my sake, use an excellent, freshly grated Parmesan here. Skip the pre-shredded stuff.
  • Pasta water–This is the secret ingredient. A ladleful or two of the pasta water will help bring the whole dish together and make the sauce creamy and luxurious.

How to Make Pasta with Butter

Butter melting in a skillet with oil; a person adding garlic to a skillet of melted butter and oil.
  1. Melt the butter with the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic cloves and cook until fragrant. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the garlic infuse the oil.
Spaghetti boiling in a large pot; a person using tongs to stir pasta in a skillet.
  1. Cook the spaghetti until just al dente in a large pot of boiling salted water. Drain the spaghetti in a colander, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.
  2. Dump the cooked pasta into the skillet with the garlic butter.
A person stirring Parmesan into pasta in a skillet; pasta cooking water being added to a skillet with pasta and Parmesan.
  1. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss well.
  2. Stir in a bit of pasta water and continue to cook until the water is absorbed by the pasta and the sauce is smooth and creamy.
A person seasoning a skillet of pasta with pepper, and a finished skillet of pasta with Parmesan on the side.
  1. Toss in the parsley and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Serve with (plenty of) extra Parmesan on the side.

What Can I Add to Plain Pasta?

I’m all for simplicity. But sometimes I can’t leave good (and simple) enough alone. To lend a little more oomph to this pasta, consider adding:

  • Crushed red-pepper flakes
  • Panko sauteed in oil and well-seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Crispy pancetta or bacon
  • Chopped toasted walnuts or almonds
  • Drained canned tuna in oil
  • Seared shrimp or scallops
  • Fresh lemon zest

Helpful Tips

  • Reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water when draining the spaghetti in case you need a little extra liquid to finish the dish or reheat it.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

Store leftover pasta in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I don’t recommend freezing cooked pasta. It has a blech texture when reheated.

Reheat the noodles in the microwave or a skillet over low heat. Add a splash of reserved cooking water and stir occasionally while reheating it.

What to Serve with This Recipe

This buttered noodles recipe pairs wonderfully with almost anything. Serve it with a simple protein, such as oven-roasted chicken thighs and some boiled greens, garlicky broccoli rabe, or roasted asparagus.

A skillet filled with pasta with butter and Parmesan.

More Great Easy Pasta Recipes

Write a Review

If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David

This is my all-time favorite way to have spaghetti. How can you beat just plain ol’ salty spaghetti and butter? There is nothing wrong with keeping it simple.

Dal R.
A plate filled with pasta with butter and Parmesan.

Pasta with Butter and Parmesan

4.79 / 19 votes
Pasta with butter and Parmesan appeals to nearly everyone. This pasta's brilliance lies in it's simplicity, universal appeal, and endless add-in options.
David Leite
Servings6 to 8 servings
Calories453 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time20 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 to 4 garlic cloves, smashed well with the side of a knife
  • Salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti, or other long pasta, such as linguine or fettuccine
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • Melt the butter and heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop in the crushed garlic cloves and let sizzle to infuse the oil, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta just shy of the time specified on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  • Drain the spaghetti and dump it into the skillet with the garlic butter. Return the skillet to medium-high heat.
  • Sprinkle in the Parmesan cheese, add some of the reserved pasta water, and cook, stirring continually, until the sauce is smooth and lightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves, if desired.
  • Stir in the parsley, season with salt and pepper, and serve with the Parmesan on the side.


  1. Storage–Store leftover pasta in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I don’t recommend freezing cooked pasta. It has a blech texture when reheated.
  2. Reheating–Reheat the noodles in the microwave or a skillet over low heat. Add a splash of reserved cooking water and stir occasionally while reheating it.


Serving: 1 portionCalories: 453 kcalCarbohydrates: 59 gProtein: 14 gFat: 18 gSaturated Fat: 6 gMonounsaturated Fat: 9 gTrans Fat: 0.2 gCholesterol: 21 mgSodium: 228 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2024 David Leite. Photos © 2024 David Leite. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Pasta with butter is every Italian kid’s favourite meal! To be honest, it is still a guilty pleasure of mine. There is nothing more comforting and it is literally one of the fastest things to cook.

This is just a slightly more “adult” version with the addition of garlic and parsley, but the great thing about it is that it is simple enough to customize to your own taste. It is perfect for a weeknight…or late night…or when you’re starving and can’t be bothered to cook anything that requires any effort.

This simple pasta with butter and Parmesan has, and always will be, a staple in our house.

This garlic butter pasta is a great weeknight staple. Easy, quick, and made from pretty much what one has on hand in the pantry. It’s quite garlicky for my liking, so the next time I make it, I’ll cut the garlic back by half.

I served some grilled garlic shrimp and rapini along with this and it made for a satisfying and quick meal.

Finally, a dish my son LOVED! He’s 13 years old and the pickiest kid I’ve ever known. He ate this pasta with butter and Parmesan so fast I didn’t even see it go. He had seconds, then thirds. I barely had any and had to make it again the next day. A solid winner I’d say.

I’m always looking for an interesting side to serve, and this one didn’t disappoint. I had a garlic shrimp recipe that needed a side, and this one seemed perfect. Bonus points for a quick prep time and pantry-handy ingredients.

Everything about this pasta with butter and Parmesan is super easy, and no unusual ingredients. You can even substitute dried parsley, although the taste won’t be the same. I highly recommend using fresh garlic for the best flavor since it’s the main flavor focus here.

Another great feature of this recipe is the ability to adjust without it failing: more/less garlic, more/less salt, cheese or no cheese, etc. Make it once, and you can tweak it as desired later. I believe this will be one to make over and over again.

As a leftover, this also works well. It’s good for those who cook extra to have leftovers on hand for later. I found the best way to reheat is by microwaving. Add a bit of liquid if needed: water, butter, or a bit of cream work well.

If you plan to use some as leftovers, I recommend adding the cheese to the individual servings and resisting the urge to add it into the whole recipe. Stray cheese doesn’t reheat well.

What can I say about a simply delicious spaghetti dish? Bring it on! This recipe does just that. It’s the spaghetti version of garlic bread, except the leftovers are useable the next day.

I made the recipe as is then added arugula to the spaghetti in the last minute of cooking and crushed pepper flakes. These additions provided colour, flavour, and shaved a bit of the potential carb load remorse.

I served my spaghetti as a side dish to paprika-smoked chicken legs. It was a great flavour combination. Honestly, you can serve this alone or pair it with almost anything, and it would be great. Go for it!

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    Great recipe, David! I’ve been making a version of it for years.

    Cheese fiend? 🤣 You’re talking to a woman who has seven 2-to-4-pound blocks of assorted varieties, plus eight bags of assorted variety shredded cheese, all of which I have been aging for 3 years in my fridge, which I keep very cold, with high humidity. Throw in six blocks of cream cheese, several tubs of flavored cream cheese, plus all the varieties I have open. May I also join the Cheese Fiend Club? 🤣