Here's a 20-minute easy, velvety, creamy lemon ricotta pasta with spinach that you and your family will love. Don't fancy spinach? Replace them with your favorite veggie!
You can make this recipe for a delicious weeknight dinner with just eight ingredients. The recipe is vegetarian, but you can easily adapt it for vegan guests too.
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Check out our Easy Pasta Recipes
This lemon ricotta pasta with spinach is a creamy yet light and veggie-packed recipe with plenty of flavors, a smooth velvety texture, and a fresh and zesty lemon aroma.
It's inspired by pasta al limone, a classic Italian recipe that is a family favorite for its simplicity and taste.
To turn this pasta dish into a tasty and nutritious main course, we experimented by adding different vegetables.
The result is a wonderful combination of colors, textures, and flavors that we are sure you'll love.
Our favorite is probably creamy ricotta pasta with spinach, a classic combination in Italian cooking that is lovely with pasta.
If you'd like to try a different veggie, we've got you covered. Scroll down to our "variations" chapter to see how to make this creamy lemon pasta with your favorite vegetable.
This lemon ricotta pasta works wonderfully with most pasta shapes. We love it with rigatoni because the creamy sauce fills up their hollow shape, and when you bite into them, it's a perfect combination of the sauce's creamy texture and rigatoni's chewy texture.
Other pasta shapes you can use are farfalle, conchiglie, fusilli, penne, ziti, or long-shaped noodles like spaghetti, linguine, bucatini, fusilli, penne, ziti, and more. You can also use gluten-free pasta.
You'll also need a large pot of salted water to cook the pasta.
Spinach (or other veggies)
Ricotta and spinach are one of the most used combinations of cheese and vegetables in Italian cooking.
Think about ravioli with spinach and ricotta, cannelloni, and other scrumptious stuffed pasta - they are divine together.
We recommend using fresh spinach because they look prettier. However, frozen spinach is also okay if you can't find fresh ones.
You can replace spinach with most vegetables. For example, try frozen peas (cook them with the pasta in the same pot), sautéed asparagus, roasted butternut squash, roasted kabocha squash, roasted cauliflower, roasted mushrooms, and much more.
In essence, think of this sauce as a base that you can use with most vegetables. If you use another vegetable, you'll need to slightly adjust the cooking time.
Also, we recommend garnishing the pasta with fresh herbs such as thyme, fresh basil, or parsley.
You can use regular Italian whole milk ricotta cheese, which has a milky flavor and smooth texture that is lovely with pasta.
Or, if you want to keep the recipe dairy-free, use our homemade vegan ricotta.
Grated parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano) adds a nutty and savory flavor to the ricotta sauce.
You can substitute pecorino Romano or pecorino Sardo for Parmesan if you want a sharper and more spicy taste.
To keep the recipe dairy-free, substitute a grated dairy-free cheese for the parmesan.
A touch of grated lemon zest cuts beautifully through the cheesy and creamy texture and flavors of this lemon ricotta pasta.
Tip: Only zest the yellow peel of the lemon, the white pith can be bitter.
We recommend a good quality extra virgin olive oil with its fruity and nutty flavor.
Nutmeg is optional; it adds a warm and cozy aroma that melds beautifully with the ricotta and the spinach.
Salt and pepper
Both the pasta and the sauce need sea salt or kosher salt. Add a few twists of freshly ground black pepper or a pinch of red-pepper flakes.
Cook pasta and spinach
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the salt. Wait for the water to boil again, and add the pasta.
Stir, then halfway through, add the fresh spinach.
Cook the pasta al dente, as per package instructions. While the pasta cooks, make the sauce.
Tip: you'll need about 3 quarts (12 cups or 3 Liters) of water and 1 ½ tablespoons (21 grams) of salt for 12 ounces (340 grams) of pasta.
Note: if you are using other fresh veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) or frozen veggies (spinach, peas, cauliflower, etc.), you can still cook them with the pasta, but add them earlier as they'll need to boil longer.
Make the lemon ricotta sauce
To a large mixing bowl, add ricotta, grated parmesan, olive oil, grated lemon zest, grated nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.
Tip: Only zest the yellow peel of the lemon, the white pith can be bitter.
Whisk well until the sauce is smooth and the ingredients well combined.
Toss the pasta
Once the pasta is al dente, reserve one cup of the starchy pasta water, drain the pasta, and add it to the bowl with the creamy ricotta mixture.
Toss well until the pasta is thoroughly coated. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to make it creamier.
Serve immediately with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and some more grated lemon zest.
Lemon ricotta pasta with peas (or any other veggie)
Ricotta has such a mild and neutral flavor that you can pair it with most vegetables. Here are some suggestions.
|Frozen peas||Cook them with the pasta just like the spinach. Add thyme leaves on top.|
|Roasted butternut squash||Roast it in the oven, then toss it in with the pasta.|
|Roasted cauliflower florets||Cook small florets in the oven, then toss them in with the pasta.|
|Sautéed asparagus||Sauté on the stovetop, then toss in with the pasta.|
|Roasted broccoli florets||Toss in with the pasta.|
|Steamed artichokes||Steam, then mash the artichokes with a fork and mix them with the ricotta sauce.|
|Roasted eggplant cubes||Toss them in with the pasta. Add basil leaves on top.|
|Roasted red peppers||Roast them, peel them, chop them up, and toss them with the pasta.|
|Sautéed or roasted mushrooms||Sauté on a pan or roast in the oven, then toss with the pasta.|
|Arugula||Toss it in with the pasta.|
|Cherry tomatoes||Halved, seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper,and tossed with the pasta.|
|Roasted zucchini||Bake in the oven, then toss them with the pasta.|
Simple lemon pasta
If you are looking for a simpler and lighter alternative for a quick everyday lunch or dinner, then you might like our classic lemon pasta with garlic, lemon, and oil sauce instead of the cheese sauce.
This recipe is similar to famous garlic and oil pasta, but with the addition of lemon zest and lemon juice.
Check out our lemon pasta recipe.
Pasta al Limone
You'll love this pasta al limone because it's easy, creamy, and so tasty you'll want to eat it every day.
The recipe is straight from grandma's recipe notebook. She would make this for my 96-year-old great-grandma when I was growing up, and I'd always manage to steal some from her plate before she sat down to eat it.
Check out our creamy pasta al limone recipe.
Lemon ricotta pasta tends to dry up quickly, and therefore it's best eaten shortly after you make it.
If you have some leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Ideally, keep some of the reserved pasta water too.
Reheat it on a skillet with a dash of reserved pasta water (or tap water) until it the sauce turns creamy again.
Serve with a quick and fresh side salad, such as:
Serve with bread to sop up the ricotta sauce (this one's for the carb lovers like me, Nico):
- 10-minute crostini: a perfectly crusty appetizer or side dish.
- Focaccia bread: a reader-favorite recipe with our no-knead method.
- Bruschetta with tomatoes or sautéed eggplant.
- Easy Italian flatbread yeast-free and no-proofing needed.
More easy pasta recipes
Love easy pasta? No problem, find even more inspiration with these quick and simple dishes:
More spinach recipes
Get your dose of leafy greens with these vibrant and wholesome spinach dinner ideas:
- Spinach pesto: an easy 5-minute pasta sauce
- Tofu with pizzaiola sauce served with sautéed spinach
- Spinach and tofu cutlets: a vegetarian patty that you can make at home
- Lentil soup with spinach and leafy greens
For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.
Lemon Ricotta Pasta (with spinach)
- 12 ounces rigatoni or other pasta
- 10 ounces spinach
- 1½ cups ricotta or dairy-free ricotta
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup parmesan cheese grated, or dairy-free cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest or more to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg grated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
COOK PASTA AND SPINACH
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the salt. Wait for the water to boil again, and add the pasta.Stir, then halfway through, add the fresh spinach.Cook the pasta al dente, as per package instructions. While the pasta cooks, make the sauce.
MAKE THE LEMON RICOTTA SAUCE
- To a large mixing bowl, add ricotta, grated parmesan, olive oil, grated lemon zest, grated nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.Tip: Only zest the yellow peel of the lemon, the white pith can be bitter.
- Whisk well until the sauce is smooth and the ingredients well combined.
TOSS THE PASTA
- Once the pasta is al dente, reserve one cup of the starchy pasta water, drain the pasta, and add it to the bowl with the creamy ricotta mixture.Toss well until the pasta is thoroughly coated. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to make it creamier.Serve immediately with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and some more grated lemon zest.
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