An easy weeknight pasta made with a creamy ricotta, lemon, and spinach sauce that will be done and on your table in 20 minutes. (Jump to Recipe)
Here’s something important to know about me: I generally don’t like to spend much time making dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook – but let’s be honest, besides the random lazy Sunday, who the heck has time for some of the elaborate three-hour dinner recipes floating around out there? Definitely not me, especially when I was practicing at a big law firm. I was lucky if I got home in time to make dinner at all, let alone spend hours on it. We ate dinner at 9 p.m. more often than not.
I often relied on quick stir-fries, sheet pan dinners, frozen meals from Trader Joe’s, or even good old PB&J if we were really desperate. And pasta – lots of pasta. I think pasta is one of the greatest blank slates there is. You can literally throw whatever is hanging out in your fridge in there, and with the exception of perhaps chocolate (though I’d be willing to try), it will probably taste good. And it can be very quick – like this Lemon Ricotta & Spinach Pasta, which seriously takes 20 minutes from start to finish. Which gives you more time to make, say, cookies.
My best pasta dishes are usually born of a desire to use up something, and that’s exactly what happened here. I had a cup of ricotta cheese leftover from another recipe, some lemons, and spinach…and that’s really all I needed for this flavorful dish to come together! I love how simple and healthy these ingredients are. The simplicity really lets the flavors shine.
You can use whatever kind of pasta you want. I happen to like the way linguine looks and how the flat noodles hold the sauce, but I bet this would be good with spaghetti or farfalle as well.
We start, as most good recipes do, by cooking diced shallot and garlic in oil, and then adding fresh spinach. Cook the pasta in a separate pot of salted water while this is happening. The spinach always looks like a lot when you start, but it cooks down very fast!
Once the spinach is cooked, add the ricotta, juice and zest of one lemon, salt and pepper, and last but not least, some pasta water. If you haven’t done this before, believe me when I say it’s a serious game changer. I first learned to do this watching Giada on the Food Network, and have since learned that it’s a time-honored Italian trick for creating a creamy, starchy sauce that sticks to the pasta, without any cream. The water is starchy from the boiling noodles, and salty, and it helps everything coat the pasta evenly. It’s just awesome. Add a little to your jarred tomato sauces and see what a difference it makes! I just use a glass measuring cup to scoop some out of the pot near the end of the boiling time.
The other key here is tossing the hot pasta with the sauce quickly and thoroughly. Don’t drain the pasta – just transfer it directly to the skillet with tongs and toss toss toss. For an explanation and video of this technique, see this great feature Bon Appetit did a couple months ago on this method of pasta-making. Adam Rapoport is a boss.
So much creamy starchy goodness happening here. I wish I could send you the smell through the screen.
Keep tossing the pasta in the skillet with the sauce until it is fully and evenly coated. Now, taste it and make sure you’re happy with the salt/pepper ratio, and add more if necessary. Some red pepper flakes would also be delightful if you’re into that.
Plate it up and add some grated parmesan cheese on top. I’m partial to freshly grated and keep a block in my fridge at all times, but no judgment here – it’s a weeknight, you’re starving, use the green container (you know which one I’m talking about). No biggie. It’ll still be delicious.
Pour yourself a glass of wine and pat yourself on the back because you totally just dominated on a homemade dinner in 20 minutes. Let’s put this solidly in the “win” category for the week.
Lemon Ricotta & Spinach Pasta
- 1/2 lb pasta (I used linguine)
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 5 ounces fresh spinach (about 3 cups or 1/2 of a 10 oz bag)
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta water (see below)
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- Grated parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes (optional), for topping
- Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Reserve at least 1/2 cup of the pasta water just before the pasta is done, then drain and return pasta to the pot (or if your sauce is done, use tongs to move the pasta directly to the skillet with the sauce). Cover to keep warm while you're making the sauce.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic, cooking until the shallot is translucent and the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add the spinach - it will seem like a lot of spinach, but it will cook down. Stir until the spinach has wilted and cooked down completely, about 2-3 minutes.
- Turn the heat to medium low and add the ricotta, reserved pasta water, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper. Stir continuously until the ricotta breaks down and transforms into a creamy sauce. Taste and add additional salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the pasta to the skillet and, using two large spoons or tongs, toss the pasta with the sauce repeatedly until the sauce fully coats the pasta. Top with grated parmesan cheese, additional cracked pepper or red pepper flakes if desired, and serve!