Lemon Ricotta Pasta With Arugula
Updated 24 August 2023
This Lemon Ricotta Pasta is the perfect vegetarian spring pasta dish that is bright and flavourful and is made with ricotta, lemon juice, parmesan cheese and pasta water. It’s done in 20 min or less and is so easy to make - a favourite for a quick and easy weeknight meal. Simple, fresh ingredients, delicious flavors, and minimal effort. You cannot beat that if you are looking for a zesty, lemony and creamy pasta. It’s the perfect pasta side dish for weeknight dinners with roasted or grilled chicken, shrimp or any protein but it can also be a main pasta dish especially on those days you’re just craving creamy lemony pasta!
What is in This Lemon Ricotta Pasta Recipe?
The ingredients are pretty much in the name of this simple and tasty pasta dish.
- PASTA: you can use any short, large or long pasta shapes that work well to capture the creamy ricotta. I love spaghetti, but penne, fusilli, and rigatoni. Very small pasta shapes like orzo or even elbow macaroni don’t work as well in the recipe. To make it gluten-free, you can use any gluten-free pasta of your choice.
- RICOTTA: Make sure to use a good quality one that you love the taste of and also make sure it’s full fat. The whole sauce is based on it so definitely use one you love. The higher fat content the richer the sauce.
- LEMON: Freshly squeezed is always best and nothing beats that fresh zest. You can add more lemon juice and zest according to taste. I like to make mine as stated in the recipe below and serve it with extra wedges on the side.
- PARMESAN CHEESE: Parmesan cheese is the most common cheese for this recipe but you can substitute it with Pecorino as well. Freshly grated from a block is always best instead of the pre grated stuff you can get in a bottle as it will incorporate into the sauce better and it also tastes better too.
- ARUGULA: I love the peppery taste of arugula against the creamy lemony flavours in this pasta but feel free to substitute the arugula with kale, spinach, or other vegetables like broccoli, peas or green beans. Veggies like that will have to be either blanched or pan fried before adding them into the pasta though.
- FOR SERVING: More lemon zest, chili pepper flakes, fresh basil or any of your favourite fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, extra grated cheese
Lemon Ricotta Pasta Recipe Alternatives
There are quite a few versions out there of this lemon ricotta recipe. This is the simplest one I have found that always hits the spot and uses the most minimal ingredients. Some recipes call for adding quite a bit of olive oil to the lemon ricotta mixture for a richer sauce. Feel free to do that if you would like. Some other recipes also add minced garlic and or minced shallots to the ricotta mixture as well for extra flavour. I’m not a fan of the idea of it going in like that without being cooked, but what I would suggest if you did want to add it in - sauté them in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for 1 minute then add it and the oil to the ricotta mixture. The flavour will translate better that way. Feel Free to toss in a cooked protein or serve with any protein you like.
How to Make Lemon Ricotta Pasta
- COOK PASTA: Cook it al dente and reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, drain the rest and set aside.
- MAKE SAUCE: Immediately after you have drained your pasta, to the same warm pot add the ricotta, parmesan cheese, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Whisk in half the reserved pasta water until smooth.
- COMBINE: Add pasta back into the pot and mix everything well to combine and coat each piece of pasta with the sauce adding the rest of the pasta water as needed a little at a time. Stir in the arugula. The heat from the pasta will naturally soften the greens.
- SERVE: Serve IMMEDIATELY with a drizzle of olive oil, extra lemon wedges on the side along with more Parmesan cheese, chili flakes and torn basil. All optional but recommended.
If you like this simple, quick and delicious pasta dish you, you will love these:
- 1 lb short pasta, like penne or rigatoni (I used Mezzi rigatoni)
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice from 1 to 2 lemons plus extra lemon wedges for serving
- 2 cups of arugula
- Chili flakes for serving
- Salt and Black pepper to taste
- Olive oil for serving
- Thinly sliced or torn basil leaves for serving (optional)
- Cook/boil pasta in a large pot according to package instructions until al dente, reserving 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Drain pasta and set aside. Turn off heat.
- Make the lemon ricotta sauce in the same pot or in a large skillet add the ricotta, parmesan, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper to taste and stir until well combined.
- Stir or whisk in ½ cup of pasta water until smooth.
- Add the pasta and stir/toss vigorously until the noodles are well coated adding more pasta water to loosen up the sauce as needed for a smooth sauce.
- Stir in the arugula.
- Serve immediately in a large bowl family style or in individual bowls. and top with remaining sauce from pan and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with extra Parmesan, red-pepper flakes and torn basil, if using and extra lemon wedges on the side.
- This pasta and sauce gets thicker as it sits so it’s VERY important to serve right after it’s made. To make the sauce more creamy, you can add some milk or cream instead of some of the pasta water.
- Cooking water: add pasta water gradually, you might not need all of it. You don’t want to water down the flavor, but only make the pasta nice and moist. If you think the reserved water is not enough, you might add a few Tbsps of milk or cream
- Storage: Store any leftovers in an airtight container. They will last about 4-5 days in the fridge. You can reheat on stovetop or microwave adding a little water, broth or cream to loosen up the sauce but this dish is BETTER eaten the SAME DAY as it will never be as creamy as it was when first cooked.
Adapted from Cooking NY Times