Photo by Joseph De Leo

One of my favorite pasta dishes is tortelloni (the square ones, Romagna style) filled with Swiss chard and ricotta.  My fondness for the dish was evident from the time I was a small boy and my grandmother made them for me while my parents were away.  After polishing off a generous adult portion, I proceeded to collapse on the table, terrifying my grandmother who promptly called the doctor.  After examining me, the doctor pronounced me “happy and asleep”.

It seems like we often end up with more filling than we have pasta for and one time we decided to have the extra filling as a pasta sauce.  It was delicious!  So much so, that I adapted the filling to make a spinach and ricotta sauce for penne that has become a family favorite.

Watch this video for a tip on how to easily finely chop an onion, with little or no tears!

Penne with Spinach and Ricotta

(From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan)

Serves 4 people


6 ounces fresh baby spinach

1/2 medium yellow onion

2 tablespoons butter

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 pound penne

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 in.  Place it over high heat.  When the water boils, add a teaspoon of salt and put in the spinach. Cook until the spinach is quite tender, 5-6 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 it with the butter in a 10” skillet and place over medium high heat.  Sauté the onion until it turns to a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.

4.  When the pasta water is boiling, add about 2 tablespoons salt, put in 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, 2-3 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.