comscore This pasta puts ricotta front and center | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

This pasta puts ricotta front and center


One of the tastiest things I ate this year was still-warm ricotta, just off the fire, at a farm in Sicily. I scooped some of the white, wobbly mass onto my plate, seasoned it with coarse salt and used a spoon to catch every drop, restraining myself from licking the plate. That ethereal ricotta also appeared in the next course as a pasta topping. It was mixed with some starchy cooking water to create a brothy, creamy sauce that was enriched with olive oil, seasoned with Parmesan and garnished with a mound of wild herbs just plucked from the garden.

Meals like this are, of course, impossible to replicate: a sublime vacation moment that can’t be transferred back to everyday life. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make a soupy pasta with fresh ricotta and lots of herbs, and enjoy it almost as much at home.

One thing I won’t be able to do, though, is use still-warm ricotta straight from a farm. But tubs of milky fresh ricotta are available at my local supermarket, and those get the job done beautifully.

This is one of those extremely simple recipes with only a few ingredients and not much by way of technique, so it’s worth your while to seek out the good stuff here — it should say “fresh” on the label and will probably be more expensive than standard ricotta. If you cook this with lackluster ricotta and indifferent olive oil, you probably won’t be very impressed with the result.

But if you use the milkiest, silkiest ricotta you can get and break out an olive oil with personality and zip, you’ll end up with a memorable dinner that’s so easy it practically makes itself.

Also, don’t stint on the herbs; try to use at least three kinds for the most complex result. Soft herbs with floppy leaves — parsley, basil, cilantro, mint, dill, chives, fennel fronds, lovage, even celery leaves — work well and won’t leave you chewing on twiggy stems. But if you want to use thyme, rosemary or marjoram in addition, you can do so in small amounts (make sure to pick the leaves off their branches first).

Finally, shower everything with loads of coarsely ground black pepper. It’s a bracing last touch, and a spicy contrast to all the sweet, supple flavors already in your bowl.

Creamy Pasta With Ricotta and Herbs



• 1 pound short pasta, such as shells, cavatappi, chiocciole, farfalle, ditali or wagon wheels

• 12 ounces fresh, whole-milk ricotta (about 1 1/2 cups)

• 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

• 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for serving

• 2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped soft herbs, such as basil, chives, fennel fronds, parsley, mint, tarragon, chervil or dill (try for a combination of at least 3 kinds)


Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package instructions.

Reserve 2 cups pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.

In the same pot, make the sauce: Add the ricotta, Parmesan, olive oil, pepper and a large pinch or two of salt, and stir until well combined.

Add 1 cup pasta water to the sauce and stir until smooth. Add the pasta and herbs, and continue to stir vigorously until the noodles are well coated. Add more pasta water as needed for a smooth, soupy sauce. Taste and add more salt if needed.

To serve, spoon the pasta into bowls and finish with more Parmesan, olive oil and pepper.

Total time: 20 minutes, serves 4.

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