When I crave an authentic Italian dairy pasta dish that’s easier to make and lighter to digest than a typical Alfredo sauce, I turn to fresh ricotta cheese.
I love this pasta and not only because it tastes so good: It’s a great way to get some extra vegetables onto your plate. I add fresh mint, basil and a little lemon to bring the flavors together.
This is a lovely pasta to serve in warmer months, and it’s simple to whip up on a weeknight. It works well as a main or side dish.
1 pound small pasta, cooked al dente per the instructions on the package
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups frozen peas
5 cloves minced garlic
3 cups ricotta cheese
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
½ cup torn basil and mint leaves, plus more for garnish
1½ teaspoons sea salt
⅓ cup reserved water from the cooked pasta
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese for the table
I suggest using a smaller pasta for this dish and one with a little texture, which will hold onto the sauce better. Cook it al dente per the instructions on the package and set it aside.
Reserve ⅓ cup of the pasta water for use when it’s time to add the pasta to the sauce. I recommend this step for all pasta recipes, both meat and dairy.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat for a minute or two before adding 2 cups of frozen peas. Sauté the peas in the olive oil for 7-10 minutes. Petite peas will cook a bit faster. Cook the peas at a lower temperature to keep them from turning dark.
Add the minced fresh garlic to the peas, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.
Add the fresh herbs and let them cook in the oil mixture for about 30 seconds — just enough to release the flavors.
Add the ricotta, lemon juice and lemon zest to the pan and bring it to a soft boil over medium heat. Ricotta cheese has little flavor on its own, so add 1½ teaspoons of salt. (You can start with 1 teaspoon and add more to your taste.)
Add freshly ground pepper to the pot.
Stir the cooked pasta and the reserved cooking water into the cheese sauce, cooking over low heat for another 2 minutes to allow the flavors to combine and the cheese to coat the pasta evenly.
Remove the pan from heat. The ricotta cheese will not get smooth — it has a beautiful texture on the pasta.
You can serve this immediately after cooking. A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese over the top of your bowl adds even more flavor to the meal.
Garnish the pasta with more fresh basil and mint leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.