This spinach-and-ricotta sauce gets the name "green spaghetti sauce" because, well, that's what it looks like. It's a riff on a Pasta Verde recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook. A silky green sauce packed with lots of spinach, fresh herbs, cheese, and the best part is it only takes a few minutes to make!
UPDATE 7/1/21 — I've given this post a makeover with all new photos, simplified recipe instructions, even more tips, and a more robust FAQ!
About green spaghetti sauce
Pasta Verde was a childhood favorite, though I knew it by it's more-fun nickname: Green Spaghetti Sauce.
My mom used to make this green spaghetti sauce all the time when I was growing up. She got it from one of the Moosewood cookbooks, where it's called "Pasta Verde." In our house it was known as “green spaghetti sauce,” probably because kids don’t get super excited about something called “pasta verde” and even less excited about something called "spinach pasta sauce."
I don't like spinach, but I do like this sauce.
It's unfortunate that I spent a decade not making this because I so associated it with being a "kid" meal that it never occurred to me to make it as an adult. But I dug the recipe out a few years ago, after Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for making homemade spinach pasta. It was a bit bland, so I've done some tinkering to make it more interesting to my adult palette.
I've added Pecorino Romano cheese, doubled the amount of basil, upped the garlic quantity, and used freshly grated nutmeg instead of the pre-ground stuff.
When I have a little extra goat cheese, sometimes I'll reduce the amount of ricotta and make up for it with the richer, smoother goat cheese. The lemon and fresh parsley add hints of brightness and freshness, and the crunch of the toasted almonds sprinkled on top adds a nice bit of textural variety.
Here's what you'll need to make green spaghetti sauce:
- Spinach - Baby spinach or adult spinach (regular spinach? normie spinach?)
- Ricotta cheese - I like Galbani's full fat/whole milk ricotta, but skim ricotta will work too.
- Olive oil - For sautéing the spinach, garlic, and onion.
- Onion - White or yellow.
- Garlic - I usually microplane it, but you can mince, use a garlic press, or even the jarred stuff if that's your preference.
- Lemon juice - From half a lemon. You can use the bottled stuff if you prefer.
- Dried basil - I use this because it's easiest to have on hand year-round, but you could totally throw some fresh basil leaves in if you wanted.
- Fresh parsley - The dried stuff just won't give you the same bright, fresh, slightly grassy herby flavor!
- Nutmeg - I always recommend grating it fresh on a microplane. I buy it from Spicewalla — a small tin will last you for YEARS and won't lose flavor as quickly as pre-ground nutmeg will.
- Salt and pepper - Season to taste!
- Pecorino Romano - I like adding this because it adds some complexity to the cheese flavor, bringing a nice sharp nuttiness to the mix.
- Slivered almonds - Toasted and served as a garnish on top. These add some really nice crunch, and work nicely with the pecorino and nutmeg to bring those toasty, nutty flavors to the surface in a really nice way.
You'll also need pasta — whatever shape you prefer! I like fettuccini or linguini with green spaghetti sauce but it's also great with rigatoni or penne or any other shapes you like.
How to make green spaghetti sauce — it's fast!
One of the best things about green spaghetti sauce is just how quickly it comes together. Who doesn't love a good dinner-by-way-of-blender moment?
Boiling your pasta is probably the longest step of the whole process. Other than that you're just sautéing onions, wilting spinach, and then dumping your onions and spinach into a blender with the rest of the ingredients and letting the blender do the hard work for you. Dinner, done!
If you're really craving a protein with this dish, pick one with a bit of salt, like bacon, sausage, pancetta. Something plain like chicken will be too bland.
Use the skillet you used to wilt the spinach to cook your protein (no extra dishes!). Then add it to the noodles when you toss them in the sauce or crumble it over the top with the almonds.
The difference a good blender makes
I've made green spaghetti sauce with a two different blenders over the years. The first was a $30, 12-speed model that worked fine, but stopped short of fully liquifying the sauce.
Green spaghetti sauce made in that blender was paler and had visible flecks of dark green spinach, parsley, and dried herbs throughout. It had a little more texture to it because the blender couldn't fully liquify the sauce.
That all changed with my shiny Vitamix 5200.
The blender I have now is a diesel af Vitamix 5200 which absolutely pulverizes anything you put in it. It completely breaks up all the ingredients, producing a smooth, bright green, fully emulsified sauce with no visible flecks. (I wrote more about the Vitamix in my post about kitchen tools over $100.)
This isn't to say that you need a monster blender in order to make this recipe. People have been making green spaghetti sauce long before super-powerful home blenders were on the market. It will work for you regardless.
But if you're thinking of getting a new blender — look for one that at least has a "liquify" setting. You'll get a much silkier, smoother sauce that way.
A note for parents of small children (and messy adult eaters)
My mom always called green spaghetti sauce a "before bath dinner" because of it's unique ability to get literally everywhere. Your kids will probably love it, but the mess it makes is legit.
Be prepared with bibs, hats, rain ponchos, drop clothes, etc. if serving it to tiny humans who don't appreciate how much you spent on that carpet, goddammit.
Even making it now, as a childless adult, I'm consistently surprised at how intent the sauce is at getting on everything. Hand-wash your blender/any bowls you use to make this. Even after a trip through the dishwasher, you’re likely to find flecks of spinach on all your other plates.
Green spaghetti sauce is best eaten same day. It doesn't freeze or refrigerate well because the sauce will start to separate or curdle if you microwave it.
See FAQ for how to reheat if you do have leftovers.
Green spaghetti sauce FAQ
Yes, go right ahead!
You'll want to use a double boiler or toss the cold sauce with hot pasta to warm it up. If you try to microwave green spaghetti sauce the cheese will curdle and the sauce will separate. It's not a pleasant texture!
Go right ahead! You might need to adjust the other ingredients to taste depending on what greens you use. I often use green spaghetti sauce as an excuse to use up other fresh herbs I have around — you can certainly add fresh basil, some kale, or even arugula to your green spaghetti sauce.
Yes, you can. The original recipe did. But I find you get much better flavor from freshly grated nutmeg. I love Spicewalla's whole nutmeg; a small 1.6 oz tin will literally last you years. Just use a microplane or the small holes on a box grater to grate it into the blender.
green spaghetti sauce (pasta verde)
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- ¾ cup onion (chopped)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 3 cups raw spinach
- 9 ounces ricotta cheese (1 cup)
- juice from ½ a lemon (2 teaspoon)
- 2 teaspoon dried basil flakes
- ½ cup fresh parsley (roughly chopped)
- ¼ teaspoon whole nutmeg (freshly grated, always!)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
- ¼ cup Pecorino Romano (freshly grated)
- ½ cup slivered almonds (toasted)
- Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil in on the stove and cook pasta according to package directions.
- While the pasta cooks, sauté onions and garlic in oil over medium-low heat until onions are translucent.
- Rinse and dry spinach in a colander or salad spinner, tear into large pieces, and add it, still damp, to the skillet with the onions and garlic. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and allow spinach to wilt (this only takes a few minutes).
- When spinach is wilted, but still very bright green, use a blender to puree the sautéd spinach, onions, and garlic with the rest of the sauce ingredients (except for the Pecorino Romano and almonds) until very smooth.
- Add the Pecorino Romano and blend again until combined.
- In a dry skillet on medium heat, toast almonds, stirring frequently until lightly browned and aromatic (alternately: toast them on a sheet pan in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally). Remove from skillet to a small bowl.
- To serve, toss hot pasta and sauce in a large bowl OR serve ladled over hot pasta.Top with more grated Pecorino Romano and lots of crunchy toasted almonds.
- If you’re really craving protein, pick one with some salt, like ground hot Italian sausage, bacon, or pancetta. Just cook the meat in a separate pan (or use the one you used to wilt the spinach) and add it to the pasta before you cover it in sauce.
- If you make enough for leftovers, the best way to reheat the sauce is in a double boiler (to avoid curdling), or by tossing it with hot pasta and letting the pasta heat up the sauce. You could also serve it cold on crackers or on bread, tbh (maybe in a grilled cheese of some sort?).
- WARNING: The green sauce gets *everywhere* — when I was younger, we called it a “before bath dinner” because my mom knew she’d need to hose us down after eating it. Even making it now as a childless adult, I'm consistently surprised at how intent the sauce is at getting on everything. It’s best to hand-wash your blender/food processor/any bowls you use to make this, because even after a thorough trip through the dishwasher, you’ll find flecks of spinach on all your other plates.
This post was originally published on 8/23/2019.