Lemony Green Pasta with Peas & Ricotta
Spring is here! It switched on like a light bulb about a week ago in Kansas City. The daffodils are on their way up, the birds are chirping, and Cookie and I are thrilled. I’m literally humming, “The hills are alive,” on our walks around the neighborhood.
Today, I wanted to share a shockingly green pasta dish with you. It’s easy to make, nourishing and comforting, which is exactly what we need right now. I wouldn’t blame you if you find the color off-putting, but I promise it’s so tasty!
The cool thing about this dish is that we use the same pot of water to cook the kale (including the kale stems), pasta and peas. You’ll need to set a few timers. It’s not complicated, but maybe wait to pour another glass of wine until you’re sitting down to eat.
Once it all comes together, this dish almost tastes like deconstructed ravioli. It’s bright green and punctuated with tender peas and creamy ricotta. Make some for dinner tonight?
Kale Pasta Recipe Notes
I found the base for this recipe in Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Chef Joshua McFadden, with Martha Holmberg. It’s one of my very favorite cookbooks, and I reach for it all the time. I’m slowly working my way through Joshua’s vegetable techniques (for example, he suggests grilling vegetables without oil—let’s try it and report back).
It’s difficult to capture the true vibrance and silkiness of this fresh sauce in photos. Mine don’t do it justice. I actually skipped over this recipe in the book, but then I saw it again in The New York Times. The technique reminded me somewhat of these spinach-stuffed shells, so I was intrigued. Both recipes briefly cook greens in boiling water before transforming them into something more enticing.
Joshua’s recipe calls for a full pound of kale, and the stems are discarded along the way. My broccoli cheese soup makes use of the broccoli stems, so I thought it might be fun to try including the kale stems. It worked! I just sliced the stems into 1/4-inch pieces and simmered them in a sieve for a few minutes before adding the kale to cook underneath.
The stems account for almost 40 percent of the kale’s weight, so by using them, I was able to make the sauce with half as much kale. You’ll just need one big bundle of it for this recipe.
I added lemon—the more, the better. Lemon juice and zest really liven up the sauce. I also added peas, for some nice texture and even more green goodness. The peas might as well be frozen, unless you come across super fresh peas and make this pasta promptly.
Lastly, I added dollops of ricotta to the finished dish. I’ve knocked ricotta many times before (most ricotta is bland, even my homemade attempt). I recently discovered Organic Valley’s ricotta, however. It’s impressively flavorful and creamy, and I like it. A lot.
Change It Up
This pasta is versatile! Make it as is, or try any of the following adjustments.
- Add a fried egg for additional protein
- Garnish with fresh leafy herbs—dill, parsley and chives are all nice
- Substitute another hardy green for the kale—I’ve read that arugula, chard and collard greens work
You can also easily make this dish dairy free, vegan and/or gluten free. See the recipe notes for details.
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This recipe is easy to make if you have these basic kitchen tools on the ready. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- You’ll need a large Dutch oven or stock pot. I used my 5.5-quart Le Creuset for this recipe. I wouldn’t recommend using anything smaller than five quarts.
- You’ll also need a medium or large fine-mesh strainer (AKA sieve). We’re going to use it to keep the kale stems separate from the kale leaves as they cook (since the stems need a few extra minutes to soften). We’ll use it again to cook the peas in the water as the pasta cooks. This OXO sieve is a great size.
- You’ll need heat-safe kitchen tongs to quickly and easily scoop the kale leaves out of the boiling water. These Rösle tongs work like a dream.
- For silky-smooth sauce, you’ll need to use a stand blender. I love my Vitamix. If you’re having trouble blending the sauce, just add spoonfuls of hot pasta water as needed, and don’t stop blending until it’s perfectly smooth.
Craving more comforting pasta dishes? Check these out:
- Baked Ziti with Roasted Vegetables
- The Best Stuffed Shells
- Classic Minestrone Soup or Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Pasta and Beans)
- Hearty Spaghetti with Lentils & Marinara Sauce
- Vegetable Lasagna
Here are a few of my favorite sides for pasta dishes:
- Italian Chopped Salad (or a simplified version of it)
- Parmesan Roasted Broccoli with Balsamic Drizzle
- Quick Collard Greens
- Roasted veggies: Asparagus, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts or Cauliflower
Lemony Green Pasta with Peas & Ricotta
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Main
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
- Diet: Vegetarian
This lemony green pasta recipe tastes as bright as it looks! It’s easy to make with kale, pasta, and peas—they all cook in the same pot. Serve this pasta immediately for the best color and texture; leftovers are best consumed within a day or two. Recipe yields 4 servings.
- Fine sea salt
- 1 large bunch (8 ounces) kale*, preferably Tuscan/lacinato but any variety works
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- Zest and juice from 1 medium lemon, preferably organic
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, reduce or omit if sensitive to spice
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ pound (8 ounces) rigatoni or pappardelle or pasta of choice
- 2 cups (8 ounces) fresh or frozen peas
- ¾ cup (2 ounces) coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup or more ricotta cheese, for garnish
- Bring a large pot (5-quart capacity or greater) of heavily salted water to boil. Meanwhile, prepare your kale by slicing or stripping the leaves from the stems (save them). Discard the rough bottom of the stems, then slice the stems into pieces about ¼-inch wide. Place the stem pieces in a fine-mesh sieve.
- When the water is boiling, place the sieve in the water, resting the lip against the top of the pot. Cook the stems for 3 minutes, then remove the sieve and add all of the kale leaves to the pot. Put the sieve back in the water on top of the leaves and cook for 5 minutes (do not drain the water).
- Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle, then reduce the heat to low. Cook gently, lightly shimmying the pan and turning the garlic every now and then, until the garlic is soften and turning lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the contents into a stand blender.
- Add the cooked kale stems to the blender when the time’s up. Use tongs to transfer the kale leaves over to the blender (you actually want to bring some of the water with them). Add most of the zest from the lemon, and 1 tablespoon of the juice. Add ¼ teaspoon salt, the red pepper flakes (if using), plus about 10 twists of freshly ground black pepper.
- Blend until the mixture is completely smooth and silky, adding more spoonfuls of water if necessary to gain traction. Taste, and add more salt, pepper or pepper flakes, and/or another tablespoon of lemon if desired. We want it to taste lemony! Set aside.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to the package directions, stirring often. Place the peas in the sieve and cook them in the water until they’re warmed throughout, about 1 to 2 minutes if fresh, or 2 to 3 minutes if frozen. Set the peas aside.
- Before draining the pasta, scoop out about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water with a heat-safe measuring cup. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot. Pour in the green sauce, about ¾ of the Parmesan and the peas, and add a small splash of the reserved cooking water (not the end of the world if you forgot it). Stir gently until the pasta is well coated and bright green, adding another splash or two of pasta water to loosen the sauce and make it almost creamy.
- Divide into bowls immediately. Top each with a sprinkle of the remaining Parmesan, a few dollops of ricotta, and a sprinkle of lemon zest and red pepper flakes (both optional). Finish the bowls with a light drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy! Leftovers will keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator, covered (technically, they’ll last up to 4, but the flavor degrades as time goes on).
Recipe adapted from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden with Marcia Holmberg.
*Greens options: I’ve read that you can substitute chard, collard greens, spinach or arugula for the kale. If using spinach or arugula, no need to separate the stems from the leaves—just cook them for 5 minutes like you would the kale leaves. You could also use frozen kale or spinach (8 ounces)—place it in your sieve and run cool water over it until it’s thawed, then rest the sieve in the pasta cooking water until the greens are warmed all the way through.
Change it up: You might enjoy topping your finished pasta with a fried egg, and/or some tender fresh herbs, such as dill, chives or parsley.
Make it dairy free/vegan: Substitute vegan sour cream for the ricotta, and vegan Parmesan for the regular variety (it’s quite salty so just use it as a garnish for the finished dishes).
Make it gluten free: Substitute a sturdy gluten-free pasta, such as a corn and quinoa variety.