Miracle Meal: Creamy Ricotta Pasta with Broccoli
If there’s one type of food I can always count on to be universally requested by my family at dinnertime, it’s pasta. It’s one of the things that my often meat-averse toddler will devour — and given that pasta dishes are affordable, fast, and stretchable into leftovers, my husband and I are typically on board as well.
As we head into late fall and early winter, I’m usually craving versions that are equal parts simple and satisfying — and this creamy lemon-ricotta pasta fits the bill perfectly. It only needs five ingredients, two of which combine to make a lusciously creamy sauce. And with plenty of broccoli tucked into that sauce, this dish ensures my family is getting an extra serving of vegetables. Did I mention it’s ready in only 20 minutes?
The Creamy, Catch-All Sauce That Works with Any Vegetable or Protein
Not counting salt and pepper, there are only five main ingredients in this dish. And they’re all important — especially the two that form the sauce. To make it, you’ll combine ricotta and lemon (both zest and juice) in a food processor. This gets you an ideal balance, as the tartness of the citrus brightens up the creamy, rich cheese. Adding a final splash of starchy pasta water then allows you control just how thick you’d prefer the sauce to be.
My favorite thing about the sauce? It’s an excellent canvas for whatever vegetables you’d like to fold in. My go-to is broccoli. (It gets quickly cooked in the same pot as the pasta, so you have one fewer dish to wash!) If you’re not a broccoli person, swap in peas, arugula, or cherry tomatoes. Or try a protein — leftover rotisserie chicken or Italian sausage are good additions.
One last note about ricotta: You can certainly make your own, but in the shortcut spirit of a true Miracle Meal, I reach for a store-bought version. If you go that route, it’s important to use one made with whole milk — as lower-fat versions (or versions with lots of stabilizers) can result in a less cohesive sauce.
The ricotta mixture achieves its smooth, creamy texture thanks to a trick I picked up from Kitchn’s Associate Food Editor Kelli Foster: She’s an advocate of whipping cottage cheese in a food processor — which immediately transforms the texture from lumpy to luxuriously airy. You can do the same thing with the ricotta here. Although ricotta isn’t nearly as texturally quirky as cottage cheese, it can still be a tiny bit grainy when you work it into a sauce. But a quick blitz in a food processor solves that completely. Give it a try, and you’ll see what I mean.
Creamy Ricotta Pasta with Broccoli
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Serves4 to 6
large head broccoli
- 1 pound
dry, short pasta, such as orecchiette, fusilli, or farfalle
- 1 cup
whole-milk ricotta cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut 1 large head broccoli into small florets. Finely grate the zest of 1 lemon, then juice the lemon until you have 3 tablespoons.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook 2 minutes less than al dente according to package instructions. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.
Place the lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1 cup ricotta cheese in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Season with kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, if using. Process until airy and smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed, about 20 seconds.
When the pasta reaches 2 minutes less than al dente, add the broccoli florets and cook for the remaining 2 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and broccoli.
Return the pasta and broccoli to the pot. Add the ricotta mixture and 1/4 cup pasta water. Stir, adding more pasta water as needed, until the sauce coats and clings to the pasta. Taste and season with black pepper and Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Vegetable variation: Instead of broccoli, you could stir in peas, arugula, or sliced cherry tomatoes as you’re combining the sauce with the pasta.
Adding protein: You could also add your favorite protein — like leftover rotisserie chicken or cooked Italian sausage.
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