Ricotta Pasta has everything going on that a go-to weeknight dinner should – it’s ready in just 20 minutes, packed with veggies, super simple to make, and 100% “everyone in this household with mouths” approved.
May I present you with today’s lesson on Adulting 101: Ricotta Pasta. It’s basically mac n’cheese for grown-ups who know they have to get their veggies in, but are also like OMG PASTA IS LIFE.
Because let’s face it – yeah, I do a Whole30 every January (and sometimes in July!). Yeah, I like to rock my big dinner salads, and I super love a vegan buddha bowl.
But I’m also an Italian girl and a cheese addict, so pasta + cheese = my deserted island meal. But in the real word, everything in moderation, right? (except when you’re recipe testing ricotta pasta and you eat it for like three days straight, and you don’t get sick of it because it’s just that flipping good). RIGHT.
Here’s the kicker: your kids will like (maybe even love?) this meal. Your partner will definitely love this meal. It’s fancy enough to serve at like, a “dinner party” (another fancy adulting word) but easy enough to throw together before a 3-hour Little League game (#askmehowIknow).
“What can I make for dinner tonight?” is the question…and creamy, comforting, veggie-packed Ricotta Pasta is the answer. Woot!
Ricotta Pasta Ingredient Notes
This recipe has very few ingredients, so use the freshest and best quality ones you can get your hands on.
We love DeLallo’s whole wheat pasta, and used their fusilli here. It’s nutty and sweet, and holds its shape really well. We also love the Severino brand (their gemelli is the best!).
I opted for a fresh leek instead of onions for its milder flavor – the sauce is pretty delicate, and a regular onion would compete on flavor. Be sure to rinse the leek’s gritty insides before slicing, and use just the white and lightest green parts only.
Opt for a good quality block of parmigiano reggiano cheese, and grate it yourself with a hand grater. Yes, it’s expensive, but a little goes a long way when it comes to the good stuff, and really great cheese is a pretty darn good place to splurge.
Speaking of cheese. Behold this ridiculously easy, 15-minute homemade ricotta cheese. I made my own ricotta for this recipe and you can (should??) too! It’s simpler than you think, and the flavor is unmatched.
If you don’t want to go the DIY route, opt for a good quality ricotta sans additives – look for just milk, vinegar, and salt on the label. Galbani Sorrento is a good option at chain grocery stores, but Calabro is my hands down favorite. The additives in other brands (frequently gums) release way too much liquid once heated, and you’ll have more of a soppy mess and less of a rich and creamy sauce.
Lastly, but importantly (it gets its own paragraph!) – whole milk ricotta is a must.
How to Make Ricotta Pasta Step-by-Step
Ricotta pasta is a simple but elegant dinner you can whip up in under 30 minutes. It’s an adultier, somewhat healthier version of mac n’cheese with a surprising amount of protein and fiber that just happens to also be totally kid-approved. The vegetable additions are flexible, but using frozen peas translates to no extra prep, and very little extra time. I love this recipe for busy weeknights when I’m scratching my head thinking “What I can make ASAP?”. Ricotta pasta is the perfect answer.
Before you get started on the sauce, start your pasta. The sauce comes together very quickly, and you’ll need some pasta water to get it just right. Reserve a cup of pasta water and set aside before draining the pasta (I use a ladle to scoop out the pasta water, then transfer into a 1-cup liquid measuring cup).
For best timing, start cooking the sauce once the pasta is about halfway done cooking.
Heat a 10″ non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add some olive oil and butter, and wait for the butter to melt then foam. Add the leeks and cook until they’re soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and sautee for a minute.
Add the ricotta and parmesan cheeses to the alliums, along with about a third a cup of pasta water to get things started. Stir, stir, stir until the parmesan cheese melts and the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes.
Add the frozen peas (no need to defrost) and heat until the peas are warmed through. At this point, the sauce will be pretty thick, but that’s okay – you’ll thin it out in the next step.
Using a rubber spatula, scrape the ricotta and vegetable sauce from the skillet into the cooked pasta – make sure you get every last bit, it’s too yummy not to. Use the same pot that you cooked the pasta in so you have lots of room to really toss everything together. Add another ⅓ cup to ½ cup of pasta water and toss, toss, toss until the pasta is completely coated with the ricotta sauce. If it’s still too thick, add the remaining pasta water – I used about ¾ cup total.
Stir in some fresh torn basil and cracked black pepper to taste. Taste a noodle for seasoning, and add more salt if you think the dish needs it.
Transfer the ricotta pasta to a serving bowl (if you want) and add more fresh basil and shaved parmesan to taste. Serve immediately.
Ricotta Pasta Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best kind of pasta to use in this recipe? Use a short pasta with grooves or nooks and crannies, like penne, fusilli, gemelli, shells, campanelle, or orecchiette. The twists, turns, and grooves will catch and hold onto the sauce. I used whole wheat pasta because we prefer the nutty flavor, but feel free to use regular pasta.
Can I add a protein to this recipe? Yes! Grilled chicken or flaked salmon (seared or baked) would be perfect, but you’ll need to increase the sauce quantity – as written it just barely coats the pasta. Increase the ricotta, parmesan cheese, and pasta water measurements by 50%.
Can I double this recipe? Absolutely. It doubles easily.
How do I store leftovers? Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days. This pasta reheats really well! I had it for lunch the following two days in a row (yes, it’s that good!).
I don’t like peas. Can I use a different vegetable? Definitely. Steamed broccoli, roasted asparagus, and fresh baby spinach all come to mind. If adding baby spinach, toss it in at the very end along with the fresh basil – the heat from the pasta will wilt the greens perfectly.
Tips for Making Perfect Ricotta Pasta
- Always liberally salt your pasta water. It should taste like ocean water, and I use at least one tablespoon per half pound of pasta. Salted water infuses the pasta with flavor from the inside out in a way that simply salting the sauce cannot achieve.
- That being said, reserve any additional salt seasoning until the final dish comes together. You’ll be adding salt to the sauce via both the pasta water and the cheeses, so you’ll have plenty to start with. Taste and add additional seasoning at the very end.
- Cook the pasta to al dente for best consistency. Follow the package instructions on this one.
- Use homemade ricotta cheese (it’s easier than you think!) or one free from additives for best consistency in the finished sauce. Look for just milk, vinegar, and salt on the ingredients list. We love the Calabro brand. And be sure to use whole milk ricotta!
- The sauce should just barely, but easily, coat the pasta noodles. It will be thick in the skillet, but you’ll add more pasta water after you toss the sauce and pasta together to achieve the perfect consistency. The finished sauce on the pasta should be creamy, but not clumpy.
- Don’t skimp on the fresh basil. It really enhances the flavor of the ricotta sauce. If you don’t have access to fresh basil, add a teaspoon of dried basil to the skillet when you add the garlic. It won’t be the same as fresh, but you’ll still add a punch of flavor.
More Easy and Delicious Pasta Recipes
- Lemon Orzo with Spring Vegetables
- Caprese Pasta with Italian Sausage
- Kale Mushroom Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts
- Spring Pasta Primavera with Lemon Ricotta
- Spinach Pesto Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
Did you make this Ricotta Pasta? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- 10" Skillet
- ½ lb short pasta, penne, fusilli, rotini, etc.
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced into ½″ moons
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup full fat ricotta cheese
- ½ lemon, zested and juiced (about 1 tbsp lemon juice)
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup frozen peas
- ¼ cup fresh torn basil
- ground black pepper, to taste
- Fill a large stock pot with at least 2 quarts water. Add the salt and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook to al dente per package directions. Reserve one cup of pasta water, then drain and return the pasta to the stock pot.
- Once the pasta is halfway cooked, start the ricotta sauce. Heat a 10" skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter, and heat until the butter foams.
- Add the sliced leeks to skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft and the whitest pieces turn translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sautee until fragrant, about a minute.
- Add the ricotta, lemon juice, parmesan, and ⅓ cup of pasta water to the skillet. Stir frequently until the parmesan melts and the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Add the frozen peas to the sauce and heat until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
- Scrape the ricotta sauce and vegetables into the cooked pasta, along with another ⅓ cup pasta water. Toss until the pasta is evenly coated in the sauce. The sauce should be rich, but not clumpy – add more pasta water, a couple tablespoons at a time, to achieve desired consistency.
- Add fresh basil and ground pepper to taste, then toss once more. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed (I didn't add any).
- Portion into pasta bowls, garnish with additional basil and parmesan to taste, and serve immediately. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.