Ricotta Revisited: Part 2, The Pasta Sauce

As-easy-as-it-gets penne with ricotta sauce.

You know how you always seem to have leftover hot dog buns after cooking hot dogs, and leftover hamburger buns after grilling burgers?

Somehow, I always seem to have leftover ricotta after baking, too.

My new favorite repository for excess ricotta is Mark Bittman’s mind-blowingly easy “Penne with Ricotta, Parmesan, and Peas.” It’s from his classic book, “How to Cook Everything” (Wiley).

It’s so easy that you can make it blind-folded, while chewing gum, reciting the alphabet backwards, and patting your stomach in counter-clockwise strokes as you balance on one leg.

OK, maybe not that easy. But almost.

As you cook your penne or ziti in a pot of boiling water, you stick a heat-proof bowl over the top of the pot, and stir up the ricotta, Parmesan, and butter in it to create a smooth, creamy sauce. When the pasta is al dente, you reserve a cup or so of the starchy pasta water, then drain the rest. Toss the warm pasta with peas, and the sauce that’s been thinned with some of the pasta water. That’s it.

In 15 minutes tops, you have dinner. How great is that?

I like to gild the lily by adding crumbled crispy bacon bits or some chopped ham to the dish, too. I like how the smokiness adds more complexity to the dish. Bittman suggests mushrooms as another possible addition.

This is not a big, bold, robust pasta dish that assaults the senses. Rather, it’s quietly comforting. It’s all about the welcome, mild creaminess that goes down so easily.

Penne with Ricotta, Parmesan, and Peas

(makes about 4 servings)

1 cup freshly shelled or frozen peas

1 pound penne, ziti, or other cut pasta

About 1 cup fresh ricotta, available in Italain and specialty food markets

1 tablespoon softened butter (optional)

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cooked mushrooms, crispy crumbled bacon bits, or chopped ham (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Cook peas in boiling salted water to cover, just until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking; drain and set aside. (An easy tip: I stick my frozen peas in a large sieve, dunk it gently in my pot of water for a few seconds, then lift the sieve to drain the peas.)

Salt the boiling water and cook the pasta. While it is cooking, mix together ricotta, butter, and half of the Parmesan in the bottom of a heat-proof bowl that’s large enough to sit on top of the pasta pot without falling in. Stick the bowl on top of the pot for a few minutes, while stirring the cheese-butter mixture until it is warm and smooth. Remove bowl and set aside.

When the pasta is just about done, remove about a cup and a half of pasta cooking water. Mix about 3/4 cup of it into your cheese sauce to thin it a little.

Drain pasta. Toss with ricotta mixture, add additional pasta cooking water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in mushrooms,  ham or bacon, if using any of them. Serve, passing remaining Parmesan at the table.

Adapted from “How to Cook Everything”

More ricotta recipes: Lemon Ricotta Muffins; Ricotta Biscuits with Dried Cherries, Apricots & Raspberries; Ricotta Pound Cake.

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Date: Thursday, 12. March 2009 5:49
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Cheese, General, Recipes (Savory)

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  1. 1

    I love the combo of ricotta and pasta! Great recipe to use up the leftover ricotta.

  2. 2

    Carolyn just yesterday I ate ravioli with ricotta and extra parmesan cheese, therefore I know perfect how tasty can be this recipe with ricotta and beans :)

  3. 3

    That dish is just up my alley!

    I don’t have a bowl big enough to fit over the pot we usually use to boil pasta. How else can we melt the cheese?

  4. 4

    Mmm, cheesy! I always have leftover ricotta after making manicotti or stuffed shells or anything else that involves ricotta. I’ll have to try this next time that happens!

  5. 5

    Ricotta Gnocchi is another great ricotta ‘pasta’. Jesse Cool has a wonderful recipe in her latest book Simply Organic… yum!

  6. 6

    I often make a similar pasta dish with ricotta… Yours looks fantastic!



  7. 7

    Sounds like the perfect recipe to switch things up when you don’t have the exact ingredients on hand. Yum! Gorgeous photo…

  8. 8

    looks fantastic!

  9. 9

    I like. I’ve bookmarked the cake. It looks so moist.

  10. 10

    Pam: Oooh, I’ll have to try the gnocchi recipe. I have the book. And I just had lunch today with Jesse Cool, who looks mah-velous as always.

    Nate: You also can just use a warmed bowl to mix up the cheese. If the oven’s on to heat up a crusty loaf, just put the bowl in the oven for a few minutes. That should do the trick.

  11. 11

    I think I will need to go get some ricotta to make this, and make this again with the ricotta leftovers!! Beautiful recipe for revisiting ricotta!

  12. 12

    Looks so DAMN good – WOW!!!

  13. 13

    Since I plan on making the ricotta pound cake, I’m sure I’ll have leftover ricotta to make this pasta dish!

  14. 14

    Um…. delicious! And definitely trying this the next time I am standing there with a half-empty container of ricotta in my hand going, Huh.

  15. 15

    I love how the pasta looks coated but not saturated with creaminess! For all that it is probably so delicious as is, it still lends itself well to some personal additions, like your bacon crumbles. It’s a wonderful recipe.

  16. 16

    When I’m baking, I always end up with leftover buttermilk. So much more I can do with ricotta.
    Looks like it’s time to revisit this cookbook. It’s the first one I ever owned.

  17. 17

    This is my kind of comfort food. I’ll have to remember it next time I find myself with left over ricotta. Hopefully that’s soon!

  18. 18

    That pasta looks so good!

  19. 19

    Yumm, Let’s Eat!! That dish makes me hungry, I like your blend! I am also glad to have found your blog. Thanks for sharing!

  20. 20

    I love the image of the rubbing tummy, blindfolded chef balancing on one leg…surely your legal team wants a disclaimer here somewhere…for the one eejit who would miss that this is a Joke. Okay, there, I’ve done it for you.

    Peas and ricotta are perfect foils and need I even say it, bacon just makes everything better.

    Okay I guess you can file this response in the “why overstate the obvious” file…looks good though and thank you for reminding us of a simple, inexpensive, quick and healthy dinner option.


  21. 21

    Jacqueline, since you are a former attorney, I ought to vet all my posts with you before publication. I can pay you in ricotta. ;)

  22. 22

    […] Mark Bittman’s Recipe for “Penne with Ricotta, Parmesan and Peas” Share and […]

  23. 23

    […] recipe of mine that I love cooking around this time of year.  I recently found a version of it via food gal that is […]

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