Pasta with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese

by feastonthecheap on March 11, 2010

Mary Anne here. Recently I attended a casual dinner party at a friend’s fabulous home in Bridgehampton. One might assume the highlight of the night was the spectacular setting, the wide-open ocean views or the scintillating dinner conversation, but the true star of the event was the second course: Debra’s pasta smothered in a dreamy, creamy spinach and Ricotta cheese “sauce.” And I put sauce in quotes because the topping is so thick and rich it could stand alone as a veggie side dish. In fact, if one has a penchant for creamed spinach, this is definitely a new and very improved rendition!

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Pasta with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese
Serves 4

Note: This dish was originally prepared with Pignoli nuts, but if you keep only walnuts or pecans in your pantry, they work equally as well. I suspect cashews or peanuts might also add their own special magic. The sauce can be prepared up to two days before, but don’t add the nuts until just before serving or they’ll lose their crunch. And while it’s a wholly satisfying main course, it also works well as a first course, serving eight small portions. And by the way, this new fave whips up in under 30 minutes!

Ingredients:
½-lb. whole wheat pasta – $1.99
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed thoroughly, trimmed, and coarsely chopped – $3.69
1 cup part-skim Ricotta cheese – $1.89
1 cup freshly grated parmesan – stock
1/3-cup toasted chopped walnuts or whole pignoli nuts
1 Tablespoon butter – stock
1 Tablespoon olive oil – stock
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional) – stock
¼-cup low fat milk – stock
¾-cup reserved pasta water – stock
Salt & pepper to taste – stock
Grand Total Assuming Well-Stocked Pantry: $7.57
Total Per Main Course Serving: $1.89

Total Per First Course Serving: $0.94

Directions:
1. Place the chopped spinach in a colander or metal mesh basket and steam over boiling water until wilted, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small sauté pan, toast the chopped walnuts or pignoli nuts over medium-low flame until fragrant. Stir frequently as nuts go from toasted to burnt very quickly.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is al dente, scoop out about ¾-cup of the pasta water before draining in a colander. Return the pasta to the pot and add the reserved pasta water and low fat milk. Stir to combine and keep warm over a low flame.

4. Meanwhile, in a larger skillet, melt the butter and heat the olive oil over medium flame. Combine the wilted spinach, Ricotta, parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes. Saute over low flame until the mixture has heated through and the cheeses are melting. Add the toasted nuts and serve over the prepared pasta. Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese, salt & pepper, if desired.