This is my third year participating in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. If you are unfamiliar with CSAs, it basically goes like this: in the spring pay a one-time fee to a farm, then pick up your produce all summer (& sometimes fall too). There are many variations–some CSAs include fruit or flowers, others have just veggies. The CSA might have you pick the produce yourself, or maybe you just pick it up in a bin.
One aspect that is common amongst CSA programs is the fact that you only get produce that is in season (because it was just picked at a local farm) and it might be a vegetable that you are unfamiliar with. Last year I had to get creative when there was a bumper crop of kohlrabi (I turned it into slaw). Right now we have had an onslaught of greens–kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, etc.
Spinach is a vegetable that most people are familiar with, but there’s not a lot of love for it (unless you’re Popeye). It seems like kale is the trendy vegetable amongst foodies right now, so poor spinach has been left out. I admit, spinach doesn’t inspire me the way that sweet corn or fresh-off-the-plant tomatoes do.
This recipe has changed my mind about spinach–it is actually crave-worthy. I first tried this recipe during the winter when it was sent to me by Cook’s Illustrated. I signed up to be a recipe tester on their website, so I get to try out some of their recipes before they are published. The original recipe leaves the spinach in clumps, which I didn’t really care for. I had a hunch that it would be much creamier if the spinach was blended into the cheese sauce, and I was right. Added bonus: the original recipe left spinach blobs that the kids could pick out and avoid, but now the kids gobbled it right up, spinach included (see photo above of my almost-two-year-old’s messy face).
This recipe comes together super fast (the sauce is done by the time the pasta is cooked), is kid-friendly, and delicious. The trifecta of recipe perfection in my opinion.
Creamy Spinach Pasta (adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe)
15 ounces part-skim milk ricotta
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 pound short corkscrew pasta (see Notes)
1 pound spinach, washed & tough stems removed
4 cloves garlic, peeled & roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a small bowl whisk together 1 cup of the ricotta with 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with salt & pepper and set aside for serving.
When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta & cook according to the package instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the garlic, nutmeg & cayenne and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add the spinach and cook until wilted, stirring frequency (3-5 minutes for mature spinach, 1-2 minutes if you are using baby spinach). Turn the heat to low and add the remaining ricotta, cream, lemon zest and juice. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt & pepper.
Drain the cooked pasta & toss with the blended spinach mixture in the Dutch oven. Turn off the heat, add the Parmesan and toss to combine. Serve with a dollop of the reserved ricotta mixture on top.
Time: 20 minutes
Notes: I used cavatappi, but fusilli works too. Whole wheat pasta works really well with this recipe too.