a close-up image of cooked fettuccini noodles in a shallow white bowl. the noodles are coated with bright green sauce and topped with slivers of toasted almonds and finely grated pecorino cheese.

green spaghetti sauce (aka pasta verde)

Pasta Verde was a childhood favorite, though I knew it by it’s more-fun nickname: Green Spaghetti Sauce.

This recipe for a warm spinach-and-ricotta sauce served over pasta is one my mom used to make 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.

Two shallow white bowls sit on a marble counter top. One is in the bottom center of the frame and is filled with a pile of fettucini noodles coated in green spaghetti sauce. the other bowl is in the top left, cropped slightly out of frame and has bare noodles with green sauce ladled overtop. Both dishes of pasta verde are topped with toasted slivered almonds and finely grated pecorino cheese.

I spent a decade not making this because I think I just so associated it with childhood 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 tinkered with it a bit since then to make it a little 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.

One of the best things about this recipe 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 this 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. The sauce it made was paler and darker green in color and had visible flecks of spinach, parsley, and dried herbs throughout.

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.

This isn’t to say that you need a monster blender in order to make this recipe. People have been making this recipe long before super-powerful home blenders were on the market. It will work regardless. But if you’re thinking of getting a new blender — look for one that at least has a “liquify” setting.

A note for parents of small children (and for messy adult eaters)

My mom always called this 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. 

A close up of bare noodles with pasta verde sauce ladled overtop. The pasta is topped with finely grated pecorino romano and slivers of toasted almonds.

Tools You Will Need

Green Spaghetti Sauce

Recipe by The Practical Kitchen (adapted from a Moosewood cookbook)Course: DinnerDifficulty: Easy
Prep time

10

minutes
Cooking time

10

minutes

My mom used to make this spinach-and-ricotta sauce all the time when I was growing up. She called it “green spaghetti sauce” probably because kids don’t get super excited about something called “spinach sauce” and think “pasta verde” sounds too fancy. Don’t skip on the toasted almonds!

Ingredients

  • 2 TBSP olive oil

  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped onion (half an onion)

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 cups raw spinach

  • 1 cup (9 oz) ricotta cheese

  • Juice of half a large lemon (~2 tsp)

  • 2 tsp dried basil

  • 1/2 cup fresh curly parsley, chopped

  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1/4 tsp pepper

  • 1/2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)

  • 1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

  • Slivered almonds, toasted

Directions

  • Sauté onions and garlic in oil over medium-low heat until onions are translucent.
  • Rinse 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 medium-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 other sauce ingredients (everything except the Pecorino Romano and almonds) until smooth.
  • When the sauce is smooth, add the finely grated Pecorino Romano and blend again until combined.
  • Toast almonds in a dry skillet or toaster/oven (350F for approx 10 minutes).
  • Toss sauce in a large bowl with hot pasta to coat and divide between bowls, OR serve ladled over hot pasta.

    Top with more grated Pecorino Romano and toasted almonds.

Notes

  • 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 used to call 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 was surprised at how intent the sauce seemed to be 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. 
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