Pasta With Chopped Spinach and Fresh Ricotta
A Quick Weekday Pasta Made With Frozen Spinach
- Servings: 4 as main course, 6 as side.
I learned how to make this simple weekday pasta on one of my first visits to Italy. The subtle flavors were so balanced that I asked the restaurant's chef how to make it. Although my Italian was limited and he spoke no English, I was welcomed into his tiny kitchen and got one of my first authentic Italian cooking lessons.
While any dish is better made with fresh vegetables rather than frozen, I've made this recipe using both fresh and frozen spinach and there is essentially no difference in taste. But there's a big difference in the time and effort to make this dish so if you keep a box of spinach in your freezer, all you need to do is buy a container of ricotta and you can have dinner on the table in the time it takes to cook the pasta.
If you instead use fresh spinach, buy 1 pound, remove any stems and thoroughly wash the spinach. Then steam, rinse and cool the spinach, wringing it dry of any moisture. One pound will produce about 1 cup of cooked spinach and use this in substitution for the box of frozen.
Use the best quality fresh ricotta you can buy because it is one of the only three main ingredients that make up this dish and the subtle, milky taste of the ricotta makes an important addition to the total flavor.
This combination of ingredients works well with medium-sized cut pieces of pasta that have edges and surfaces, such as medium shells, fusilli or farfalle (large bow ties) because they let the cheese and pieces of spinach spread throughout the dish.
- 1 pound dry pasta, preferably short pieces like fusilli
- 1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta
- 1 cup spinach, cooked and wrung dry of moisture; you can use either frozen spinach (either chopped or whole leaf is fine) completely defrosted and rung dry of any liquid, or 1 pound fresh that has been washed, steamed, rung dry of any water, and coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves, sliced very thin
- Red pepper flakes
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box, making sure to cook to al dente and not overcooked.
- In a large sauté pan, add the olive oil and place over moderate heat. When the oil is heated, add the sliced garlic and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is just golden, but not too dark because it can become bitter.
- Add the defrosted, chopped and completely drained spinach to the pan and warm it through, combining the pieces of spinach with the cooked garlic and olive oil. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the burner.
- In your serving bowl, add the ricotta and use a spoon to break it into medium pieces.
- When the pasta is completely cooked, drain it and add to the sauté pan with the spinach mixture. Use a fork or tongs to combine.
- Transfer the mixture to your serving bowl and mix with the ricotta.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Serve immediately.
Tip: If you know you're going to make this dish the night before, transfer the box of spinach from the freezer to the refrigerator where it will slowly defrost. Otherwise you can either run warm water on the block of frozen spinach that's been placed in a colander or else defrost in the microwave.
Tip: To remove all the excess water from the defrosted spinach, just use your clean hands to squeeze out any moisture.
Tip: If you've bought frozen whole leaf spinach, take a knife to it after the spinach is defrosted and cut into medium pieces. If you've bought chopped spinach, use it as it is and do not cut any smaller.