Weeknight Cooking

For a Better Pesto Pasta, Add Ricotta Cheese

If the grocery store isn't your favorite place, it should be. We're sleuthing for the best back-of-the-box recipes and each week we'll share our latest find. 

Today: Pesto? Good. Cheese? Good. Pesto plus two cheeses plus pasta? Very, very good.

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The pasta aisle is a wonderful place to be. You can practice your Italian, fantasize about moving to Cinque Terre, and find exceptional recipes. My favorite so far is a creative, double-cheese riff on a pesto—with almonds and ricotta—from the De Cecco box. Simple and effortless, the recipe yields a satisfying weeknight dish that’s just as suitable for an impressive dinner. It’s back-pocket pasta meets date night, which is my kind of cooking, and probably yours too.

This is not an average pesto: There is neither olive oil nor pine nuts. You might scoff at calling it a pesto at all (the word pesto comes from Italian verb pestare, meaning “to pound”, so this loosely fits the rubric), so maybe we should describe it as something altogether different. A basil-almond-ricotta cream, perhaps, or creamy basil sauce? You pick. Let’s just cook.

More: Learn to make pesto without a recipe and you can add (or leave out) whatever you want.

You’ll pulse together basil leaves, peeled almonds, milk, Parmesan cheese, and salt. You'll watch it whirl into a vibrantly green, creamy paste. It’s pretty and bold and tasty, but this is only the beginning.

Separately you’ll stir melted butter into fresh ricotta cheese. You’ll fold that gently into your sauce, softening the bright edges of the basil and mellowing out the nuttiness of the almonds into a looser, sexier, more relaxed version of a pesto. All that dairy is so hard not to love, you'll be tempted to spread it onto toast and call it a day.

But you’ll resist. You'll boil a pot of pasta (any shape is fine), drain it, and toss it with the sauce. You’ll grate some extra Parmesan on top. You’ll pour a glass of white wine. You’ll sit down at the table with a fork and a real plate and a cloth napkin, and you’ll eat and breathe and appreciate the fact that dinner comes once a day, every day.

Pasta with Creamy Basil-Almond-Ricotta Sauce

Adapted from De Cecco

Serves 4

1 bunch basil
6 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup peeled, sliced almonds
3 tablespoons Parmesan, freshly grated
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh ricotta
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 pound pasta
2 cloves garlic

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Do you have a favorite back of the box recipe, or have you heard about a great one? Leave any suggestions in the comments, and I'll try them out and share them here!

Photos by Posie Harwood

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Deepa Mistry
    Deepa Mistry
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  • Sini | My Blue&White Kitchen
    Sini | My Blue&White Kitchen
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


Deepa M. April 13, 2015
Butter (not melted) is good whizzed up with the other ingredients, when you stir it into warm pasta the little flecks of butter melt and coat the pasta, leaving you with a lovely silky, buttery pesto sauce.
Kenzi W. April 13, 2015
This piece is so great -- and I can't wait to try the pesto!
Catherine L. April 13, 2015
you sing to my heart and my stomach, posie. i miss you.
Sini |. April 13, 2015
This looks and sounds truly amazing! Have to give it a go.