Spaghetti with Garlicky Kale Ricotta

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This healthy, simple and tasty pasta with ricotta, garlic, kale, lemon and red pepper flakes takes 10-minutes to make! No tomato sauce required!

For a girl with the last name Rizzo, I actually eat pasta rarely. I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes, and eating a big old plate of pasta doesn’t make me feel great.

But recently I realized I was doing pasta all wrong. Just because most people eat it with tomato sauce doesn’t mean I have to! And there are ways to add protein and fiber to pasta to make it a healthy and filling meal. Enter this Pasta with Garlicky Kale Ricotta.

Not only does that garlic, kale and ricotta cheese mixture add big flavor to the pasta, but ricotta has a ton of protein and kale is packed with fiber. Those two nutrients help keep you full, so you’re not reaching for another meal an hour later.

Plus, this pasta is topped with a squeeze of lemon juice and a hearty shake of red peppers flakes for a little boost of acid and spice. These 6 ingredients come together in about 10 minutes to make a healthy dinner that everyone will love.

What’s the difference between regular and whole wheat pasta?

There isn’t just one type of pasta on the store shelves anymore. Pasta has been through a transformation, but it’s difficult to know which one is right for you. Let’s look at the nutrition facts of white versus whole wheat pasta:

One serving (2 ounces) of white pasta contains:

  • 200 calories
  • 42 grams of carbs
  • 7 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of fiber

One serving (2 ounces) of whole wheat pasta contains:

  • 180 calories
  • 39 grams of carbs
  • 8 grams of protein
  • 7 grams of fiber
  • minerals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc.

As you can see, the nutrition differences between white and whole wheat pasta are miniscule. Whole wheat pasta, however, is a complex carb, so it takes longer to break down and contributes to feelings of fullness. It’s also lower on the glycemic index scale, meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar.

If you like the taste of whole wheat pasta and want to use it, feel free. But pairing a starchy carb with a protein, fat, and some fiber, like ricotta cheese and kale, will actually regulate your blood sugar and help keep you full. In other words, if you prefer white pasta, go for it!

What else can I do with ricotta cheese?

Ricotta cheese seems to be one of those things that you open, take out a scoop and then forget about. You find it a month later and it’s starting to go bad.

Don’t let food go to waste! There are plenty of things you can do with ricotta cheese. Leftover ricotta can be used instead of mozzarella in other Italian dishes, or as the base for easy puddings: try mixing chia seeds into ricotta and topping with berries for a high-protein, calcium-packed breakfast or dessert!

Not to mention that ricotta cheese offers a significant 12 grams of protein per 1/2 cup.

Kale is a superfood

Kale is famous for being a superfood, which means it has an especially high ratio of nutrients to calories. One cup of raw kale (which is about 1/2 cup cooked) offers 3 grams of protein, plus 2.5 grams of fiber, and vitamins A, C, B, and K.

The fiber and protein in kale will keep you full longer, plus its slightly bitter flavor pairs perfectly with creamy ricotta and nutty whole wheat pasta. 

Ingredients to make Spaghetti with Garlicky Kale Ricotta

This recipe may sound like it needs complex ingredients, but it’s actual super simple and only requires a few ingredients that I’m sure you’ll already have! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 10 ounces pasta about 3/4 box
  • 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves minced
  • 4 cups chopped kale
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 lemons
  • red pepper flakes

Ingredient Swaps & Substitutions

There are so many ways that you could mix up this recipe, but some of the substitutions I get asked most about are:

  • Kale: If you don’t have kale on hand, you could swap with collard greens or baby spinach. I think either would be just as delicious!
  • Ricotta cheese: You can easily substitute with cottage cheese or goat cheese if you’d prefer.
  • Red pepper flakes: If you don’t have red pepper flakes on hand, you could swap with ground cayenne pepper. I would recommend tasting as you add so that you can find the perfect amount of spice.

How to make Pasta with Garlicky Kale Ricotta

Let’s talk about this recipe for a second– that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? This is the perfect combination or yummy pasta with creamy ricotta, chewy kale and a hit of lemon juice and spice from the red pepper flakes.

Here’s how to make it:

  1. Make pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
  2. Sauté the garlic and kale in a skillet.
  3. Add the pasta, pasta water, ricotta cheese and salt to the skillet with the cooked kale.
  4. Divide the mixture into separate bowls and hit each with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of red pepper flakes.

When I say this takes 10 minutes to make, I’m not exaggerating. The whole thing will come together in the time it takes to boil pasta. Enjoy!

Serving suggestions

This dish is delicious on its own, but if you are looking for some other ideas of how you could serve it, some of my top recommendations are:

  • Grate lemon zest on top
  • Serve with a side caesar salad
  • Add mushrooms for extra flavor and texture

Pasta with Garlicky Kale Ricotta

This healthy, simple and tasty pasta with ricotta, garlic, kale, lemon and red pepper flakes takes 10-minutes to make! No tomato sauce required!

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pasta
Servings 4 bowls
Calories 489 kcal


  • 10 ounces pasta about 3/4 box
  • 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves minced
  • 4 cups chopped kale
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 lemons
  • red pepper flakes


  1. Make pasta according to package instructions in salted water. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and minced garlic. Sauté until the garlic begins to brown. Then add the kale to the skillet and sauté for 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. When the pasta is cooked, drain and set aside 1/2 cup of pasta water.
  4. Add the pasta, pasta water, ricotta cheese and salt to the skillet with the kale. Use tongs to toss the pasta in the kale and ricotta mixture until it’s evenly combined.
  5. Divide into four bowls and squeeze the juice from half a lemon over each bowl. Add a dash of red pepper flakes to each bowl.
Nutrition Facts
Pasta with Garlicky Kale Ricotta
Amount Per Serving
Calories 489 Calories from Fat 153
% Daily Value*
Fat 17g26%
Saturated Fat 6g38%
Cholesterol 31mg10%
Sodium 230mg10%
Potassium 650mg19%
Carbohydrates 68g23%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 20g40%
Vitamin A 6967IU139%
Vitamin C 111mg135%
Calcium 268mg27%
Iron 3mg17%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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