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Spinach Pesto Pasta with Lemony Ricotta

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Here’s the thing about pesto: you can buy a delicious version at the store (look for one in the refrigerator section as opposed to a jarred version on a shelf) or you can whip up a homemade pesto in our food processor without a whole lot of work. When basil is abundant — and we have the time — we like to make ours homemade because it gives us the chance to play with flavors. Use toasted walnuts instead of pinenuts, add lemon zest (the way we do here), jack up the garlic, or combine basil and arugula or spinach (like we do here). The possibilities are endless. 

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Spinach Pesto Pasta with Lemon Ricotta | Didn't I Just Feed You podcast

Spinach Pesto Pasta with Lemony Ricotta

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  • Author: Stacie and Meghan
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4


1 lb cut pasta of choice

¼ cup pine nuts

3 cups washed fresh basil leaves

2 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and dried

1¼ teaspoon lemon zest (from about 1½ lemons), divided

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 juicy lemon), divided

1 teaspoon roughly chopped garlic (from about 1 clove)

½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


  1. In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package directions, being sure to save ½ cup of pasta cooking water before draining. Do not rinse the drained pasta!

  2. While the pasta cooks, make the pesto: Place the pine nuts in a small, dry pan set over medium-high heat and toast until golden brown, about 3 minutes, tossing them all the while to keep from burning. Place the toasted pine nuts, basil, spinach, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, garlic, and ½ teaspoon of salt in the bowl of a food processor and puree, as far as you can, stopping the machine and scraping down the sides at least once. Then, with the food processor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture takes on the right texture. Add the ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and black pepper to taste, if using, and pulse three or so times, until the mixture is just combined. Season with more salt to taste, if desired. 

  3. Once the pesto is done, prep the ricotta: using a whisk or fork, combine the cheese with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of lemon zest and tablespoon of lemon juice. Season with salt to taste, if desired.

  4. Return the drained pasta to the pot along with the reserved ½ cup pasta cooking water, ¾ to 1 cup of pesto (as desired), and butter. Stir until the butter melts completely and the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with a dollop of ricotta over the top and sprinkle of Parmesan.


  • This recipe yields 1½ cups of pesto; you only need ¾ to 1 cup for this recipe. Save remaining pesto in an airtight food storage container for up to 7 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months in the freezer.

  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes

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