This creamy sun-dried tomato pasta is an easy meal made with rigatoni that’s tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, wilted spinach, and lemony ricotta. Best of all, this quick and easy pasta is on the table in just 30 minutes.
There’s a trick to making a good creamy sauce, and it’s not your choice of ingredients. Heat plays a big role in making or (literally) breaking a sauce’s silky texture. Enter ricotta! It holds up to heat, and its subtle flavor is a great vehicle for other ingredients (here, it’s lemon).
Don’t forget to reserve some pasta water to add in the final step so the dish turns out creamy rather than clumpy. — Joy Howard
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta FAQs
Can I substitute frozen spinach for fresh?
Absolutely. Just remember to completely thaw your frozen spinach, drain it, and gently squeeze out as much liquid as possible so it doesn’t water down your sauce.
What exactly are sun-dried tomatoes?
Sun-dried tomatoes are usually Roma, San Marzano, or smaller grape tomatoes that have been dehydrated by one of three ways: being placed in the sun, in a dehydrator, or in an oven. When they’re dried, the tomatoes lose 90% of their weight but retain their flavor and all of their nutritional qualities – just in a more portable, preservable form.
Sun-dried tomatoes are tangy, sweet, and chewy, and are often used in pasta dishes, salads, and sandwiches. They’re a fantastic source of vitamins K and C, lycopene, niacin, fiber, riboflavin, and a number of antioxidants.
What does adding pasta water to the sauce do?
That 1/2 cup of salty, starchy water will do wonders for your sauce. It’ll add flavor, help the pasta and sauce stick together, and it will act as a thickener.
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt divided, plus more for the pasta water
- 12 ounces rigatoni
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest preferably organic
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves sliced
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil drained, rinsed, and finely chopped
- Red pepper flakes
- 5 cups fresh baby spinach
- Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni and cook according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
- While the pasta cooks, in a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 2 generous pinches of pepper flakes, the spinach, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until the spinach is wilted, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the cooked pasta and toss for 2 minutes to warm through.
- Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and add the ricotta mixture, along with 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. Toss until the pasta is well coated. (If the sauce is too thick, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.)
- Serve immediately with grated Parmesan on the side.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This lovely creamy sun-dried tomato pasta dish can be yours in just about 30 minutes. My market was out of rigatoni, so I used penne rigate which I had on hand in my pantry. The penne worked well because it has ridges similar to rigatoni which makes it well-suited to a variety of Italian pasta sauces, including this one.
The spinach and tomatoes give the dish attractive coloration (similar to the flag of Italy!) and the ricotta brings just the right amount of creaminess with a bit of tang from the lemon zest. It’s a large amount of garlic but it blends well and will add depth of flavor to the finished dish.
I’ve cooked a minimum of three vegetarian meals a week over the last 18 years and creamy pasta is always a favourite. Vegetarian recipes are often heavy on the expression of the individual flavours of each ingredient, but we all know that there needs to be a bit of a dance sometimes to make the recipe really sing.
I used frozen spinach, a yellow onion and freshly grated nutmeg to plump up this dish. I added more freshly grated Parmesan to the ricotta and then added about a quarter cup of the pasta water and then made that into a nice sauce in a separate bowl. Tossed everything together and seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, more nutmeg, and a couple pinches of red chile flakes and more grated Parmesan to serve.
It was a really great meal and even the spinach-averse would love this.
With very little effort, this creamy sun-dried tomato pasta recipe yields a flavorful and satisfactory pasta dinner. Both my husband and I give the recipe a high rating.
I really enjoyed all of the flavor components of this dish which was served as the main entrée for a weeknight meal. The dish comes together quickly and the toasted garlic aroma transformed our kitchen into an Italian bistro. A glass of Sangiovese, a bread stick, and a big dish of creamy sun-dried tomato pasta is a night out at home.
The rich ricotta cheese sauce with toasted garlic front and center is simply delicious. Tossing in the sun-dried tomatoes adds texture and tartness, which complements the velvety sauce along with a very light lemon note. The baby spinach delivers fiber and substance to the dish along with a beautiful green color that adds eye appeal and takes the dish over the top. The rigatoni is the perfect pasta shape with enough surface area to cling on to lots of sauce.
We loved this quick weeknight vegetarian pasta dish…except for the salt. The excessive amount of salt was the only significant flaw in this otherwise excellent recipe. With two kinds of cheese, it didn’t need that much added. Otherwise, all thumbs up.
I typically keep dry-pack sun-dried tomatoes on hand instead of those in oil, and since the oil gets removed from these anyway, I think I’d probably just use plain dried ones next time if I don’t have oil-packed ones in the pantry.
Making this in the future, I would use 1/2 teaspoon and a pinch rather than the two amounts called for.
Creamy sun-dried tomato pasta is a simple recipe that packs a lot of flavor.
All the prep can be done in the time it takes to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta. Then just toss everything into the pot and stir. Voila! A delicious meal in under an hour.
The flavors of lemon, garlic and red pepper flakes were all present at just the right amounts. I would have liked more spinach and will add more next time. I added 1/2 cup of pasta water but could not get my sauce to what I would call creamy. The ricotta did not break down and become smooth, but I was afraid adding more would make it soupy.
This creamy sun-dried tomato pasta could become the centerpiece of my next comfort food meal. It’s very creamy, has a touch of heat, an aromatic hint of garlic, and just the right amount of lemon to work with all the other ingredients. It was a hit at first bite.
The sun-dried tomatoes add a little salty, chewy texture and the spinach made me feel a tiny bit virtuous. I might even want to add a little more the next time I make it (and there will be a next time). I substituted penne for the rigatoni (hard to find in a gluten-free version) and though narrower, the sauce seeped into the tubes to add a little extra creaminess with each bite.
All in all, this was easy to put together and hit all the right notes for flavor and texture. Best of all, it was extremely comforting without being extremely heavy.
This recipe for creamy sun-dried tomato pasta got rave reviews across our family members! My mom demanded the recipe on the spot. I actually ended up making this twice in the past week because we liked it so much.
Going from starting to boil the pasta water to having a whole one-bowl meal on the table in under thirty minutes is a game-changer. On top of that, this was just delicious. The creaminess of the ricotta, the acidity and sweetness of the sundried tomatoes, the brightness of the lemon, and the spiciness of the garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper – all of it came together beautifully to make a super well-balanced and tasty dish.
We added some extra Parmesan on top to up the salt level slightly, and in the future I can’t wait to try this again with some toasted pine nuts on top and perhaps some extra mix-ins of fresh basil, chickpeas, more spinach, and some Calabrian chiles for an additional kick. All in all, this dish is a one-bowl wonder for a family dinner!
Whenever garlic and sun-dried tomatoes appear in a dish, I’ll make it in a heartbeat. Another important factor was expediency. Between the prep and cook time, this came together in just under half an hour. This also fulfilled our all-vegetarian day for the week.
Sun-dried tomatoes and lemon zest were a fabulous and bright addition to this pasta dish, and adding the ricotta made it pretty luscious. The only thing I would add to it (and will next time) is more lemon zest and chopped yellow or orange roasted pepper, which would not only add color but a caramelized sweetness which, for me, might make this a 10.
This is a very adaptable dish where substituting chard or grilled romaine in place of spinach would seem equally appealing.
Originally published August 9, 2022