I learned this treatment for pasta from an old neighbor of mine who took his cooking very seriously and made even the simplest meal seem like a dinner party. Music gets changed, cocktails are poured, stories told. There's a lot of gesticulating.
But really, all there is to this dish is boiling the pasta, tossing the sauce ingredients into a metal bowl, then tossing in the drained pasta. It's a stress-free party dish, or even just your dinner tonight.
This pasta can be pulled together in as long as it takes the pasta to cook; between 9 and 13 minutes, depending on the shape you use. Because it is so simple and the uncooked sauce has so few ingredients, using the best-quality ingredients you can find makes a difference. Especially when it comes to the ricotta. If you can avoid the skim milk and commercially-made versions, do. If you have time, you can even make your own.
The pasta shapes that best complement this sauce are small shaped pieces like rotini, penne, fusilli, and gemelli; these shapes hold the sauce. Again, quality makes a big difference here. Now's a time to spring for something better than plain-wrap spaghetti. However, if it's all you have, you'll still be eating well.
Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil
1 pound pasta, small shapes (see Recipe Note)
2 cups ricotta cheese, preferrably freshly-made
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, sliced into a chiffonade
Set a pot of water to boil. When it boils, add a few teaspoons of salt and the pasta.
In a metal bowl wide enough to fit over the top of the pot, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, olive oil, juice and zest of lemon, salt, and black pepper. When there are about 2 minutes remaining in the pasta's cooking time, place the bowl over the pot and slowly stir the ricotta and other ingredients. You should see it loosening as it warms.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it, add the basil to the bowl of sauce and toss with the drained pasta. Serve immediately.
Use a good-quality pasta here. Small shapes like rotini, penne, fusilli, and gemelli are best; these shapes hold the sauce.
This recipe has been updated. Originally published July 2008.