Penne with Spinach and Ricotta

Joseph De Leo

A Perfect Trio: Penne, Spinach, and Ricotta

Making filled pasta is a gret indoor activity for kids. Ours love making the dough, (it’s play dough you can eat!) and helping to roll out the pasta. What could be more fun than mixing the ingredients together in a bowl with your hands?

One of Giuliano’s favorite pasta dishes is tortelloni filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. His fondness for the dish was evident from the time he was a small boy: After polishing off a generous portion, Giuliano proceeded to collapse on the table, terrifying his grandmother, who promptly called the doctor. In those days, and in the Italian seaside village of Cesenatico, the doctor still made house calls. After examining the child, the doctor pronounced Giuliano “happy and asleep.”

When we make filled pasta together, we often end up with more filling than we have pasta. One time, we decided to make the extra filling into a pasta sauce. It worked so well that Giuliano adapted the filling to make a spinach and ricotta sauce for penne, one that’s become a family favorite and is perfect for a flavorful sauce without much effort.

Penne with Spinach and Ricotta

From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan

6 ounces fresh baby spinach

1/2 medium yellow onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound penne
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated whole nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

  1. Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. Put about one inch of water in a pot large enough to cook the spinach. Place it over high heat. When the water boils, add a teaspoon salt and the spinach. Cook until the spinach is quite tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain in a colander and squeeze out as much water as possible by pressing on the spinach with a spoon. Transfer the spinach to a cutting board and finely chop it.
  3. While the spinach is cooking, peel the onion and finely chop it. Put the butter in a 12-inch skillet, add the onion, and place over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until it turns a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.
  4. When the water for the pasta is boiling, add about 2 tablespoons salt, add the penne, and stir well. Cook until al dente.
  5. When the onion is ready, add the spinach and sauté, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add the ricotta, cream, and nutmeg, and cook until the ricotta has heated through and the cream is reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and season with pepper, then remove from the heat.
  6. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve at once.