This creamy lemon chicken pasta has a delicious but simple lemon ricotta sauce, juicy garlic chicken, and fresh spinach all tossed with tender pasta. Top with fresh herbs, pepper, extra lemon or parmesan and your tastebuds will sing!
Pasta dishes are such a staple for a quick meal. While I love a good staple red sauce, in the spring and summer especially I really like to bring fresher flavors to our table.
It doesn’t have to be super complicated. This recipe comes together in less than thirty minutes and makes a delish lemony ricotta parmesan cheese sauce. This lemon ricotta pasta recipe totally works for a weeknight meal but also feels a little more special if you’re looking for that too.
Love simple pasta dishes? Try this simply amazing Bruschetta Chicken Pasta which is packed full of tomato flavor! Or if you prefer a cheese sauce my version of the Baked Feta And Cherry Tomato Pasta can easily be customized with what you have on hand.
- Chicken– About a pound of chicken breast, but boneless chicken thighs or chicken tenders could also be substituted in this chicken ricotta pasta dish.
- Spaghetti– You’ll need a pound of long spaghetti. Fettucini could also be substituted in this recipe easily, but other shapes like farfalle (bow ties), Orchiette (little hats), small shells, penne, gemmelli (twists) all work well. For best results a pasta with a little denser bite, but that still has a shape that the sauce can “hug” the sauce tends to work best. This pasta pairing guide helps me pick the right noodle when I have a choice in my pantry.
- Ricotta– Pick full-fat creamy ricotta for this recipe, it makes a tastier sauce.
- Parmesan Cheese– Use your favorite cheese
- Garlic– Fresh garlic shines, throw in another clove if you like a lot of garlic. Minced (1/2 teaspoon per clove) or granulated (1/4 teaspoon per clove) can be used in a pinch.
- Lemon– Grab a larger lemon or even two smaller lemons. We will use both zest and juice.
- Oregano– Fresh can be used if you have it but we used dried.
- Spinach– Rinse and dry fresh spinach well.
- Salt and Pepper
How To Make Creamy Lemon Pasta With Chicken (And Spinach!)
- Mix Together The Cheese Sauce – Mix together the ricotta cheese with lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, herbs and spices. Start the pasta water in a second pot and cook according to the package.
- Cook The Chicken And The Spinach – While the pasta cooks, season the pieces of chicken cutlet on each side. Heat the oil to medium-high and saute the garlic. Then cook the chicken until golden brown on each side about 3-4 minutes per side. Cook the chicken until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes total. Remove the chicken to rest on a cutting board, then add the spinach and cook on medium-low until wilted.
- Prep The Pasta And Make The Cheesy White Sauce – Remove a cup of water from the pasta and set to the side, then drain the pasta. Add the ricotta mixture to the spinach and 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Cook over medium-high heat until a smooth sauce forms.
- Toss The Pasta In The Sauce – Add the warm pasta to the sauce and toss. Slice the chicken and use it to top the pasta. Add fresh herbs, more lemon slices, and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately and enjoy!
Substitutions And Swaps
I usually suggest making a recipe all the way through before substituting, but these substitutions are easy if you have these ingredients on hand.
- Add Peas– I usually use 1 cup of frozen peas and pop them in some warm water to defrost. Then I throw the peas in the dish at the very end.
- Add Asparagus – Trim a half pound of asparagus to about one-inch pieces. Sautee it in a little extra olive oil after cooking the chicken but before wilting the spinach about 3-5 minutes for thicker asparagus or 1-2 minutes for thin asparagus.
- Add Mushrooms– Sautee 4 ounces mushrooms for 2-3 minutes right before you add the spinach but after cooking the chicken. Sliced Portabella mushrooms work well, as do Crimini mushrooms and Shittake mushrooms
- Swap The Cheese– Feta cheese would also work well in this sauce instead of ricotta, as would cottage cheese in a pinch.
How Do I Cut A Chicken Cutlet?
Start at one of the chicken and slice the chicken in half carefully between your hand and the cutting board into a thin slice along the entire body of the chicken breast.
A chicken cutlet is a thin piece of chicken that’s been sliced from a chicken breast. It is wide and flat, and helps to cook the chicken more quickly and evenly. The goal is to cut the chicken into thin, even pieces so that it cooks quickly. Cutting chicken this way also helps it to stay MUCH juicier.
If you cut your chicken and it is still not even, you can place it in a zip top bag or between two pieces of parchment and pound it flatter with a rolling pin or pan. This isn’t always necessary, I often skip this step when I’m in a hurry but pounding can help your chicken to be more even and more tender. I take the extra time to pound it when my pieces are uneven or when I’m making an extra special dinner.
Find more detailed instructions and pictures of how to cut a chicken cutlet here.
What can I substitute for Pasta Water?
You can substitute a mixture of 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup of hot water for pasta water. This pasta water substitute works in a pinch and is my go-to solution. If you don’t have cornstarch, try these pasta water substitutes.
I’ve accidentally thrown the pasta water out, usually immediately looking at my pan with a look of “What have I done.” Pasta water is almost magical when used correctly in a sauce. The starchy pasta water helps the sauce both grip the noodles and creates a silkiness to any pan sauce.
For dishes that I know I’ll need pasta water, I try to place a glass two-cup measuring cup next to the stove and the pot. Having the glass there helps me remember to save the water before I strain..
Should You Rinse The Pasta?
You should not rinse your pasta. The extra starch leftover from cooking helps the sauce to grip to the noodles. Rinsing the pasta causes the sauce to not stick as well to the pasta. This can make the sauce extra drippy.
The one exception I’ve found to this idea is when cooking tiny pasta like orzo. In some dishes, a tiny pasta needs to be cooled down quickly so it doesn’t overcook.
Other Recipes You Will Love
Slow Cooker Chicken Tortellini Soup– A tomato broth packed full of tender chicken, plump tortellini and fresh spinach, this soup is perfect as a meal on it’s own.
Cheesy Baked Ravioli– Made from fresh or frozen ravioli, this delicious bowl of cheesy comfort food is a tasty easy weeknight dinner everyone needs in their pocket.
Creamy Lemon Pasta With Chicken
- 1 pound Spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 pound Chicken Breasts usually about two large chicken breasts
- 1 cup Ricotta Cheese I used whole milk ricotta
- ¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese
- 1 large Lemon
- 1 teaspoon Oregano
- 1 teaspoon Salt divided
- 1/2 teaspoon Pepper divided
- 1 Clove Garlic minced
- 3 cups Spinach You need about 4 ounces fresh spinach. Chop the spinach to avoid having it clump in the dish.
- Set a large pot on the stove filled with water and salted to begin boiling for the spaghetti.
- In a small bowl mix together ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, lemon zest, oregano, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoons pepper.
- Slice each chicken breast into two thin cutlets the long way along the chicken so you have two wide but thin pieces. Season both sides of the chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Add pasta to the now boiling water and cook according to the package (usually 8-9 minutes.) Once it has finished cooking, set aside one cup pasta water. Drain and set aside the pasta
- Add 2 tablespoons olive oli to a large wide pot and allow the oil to warm on medium-high heat. Add one clove of diced garlic to the oil and saute for about thirty seconds.
- Add the chicken and cook 3-4 minutes on each side until you have a nice golden brown color. The chicken should take about 8-10 minutes total to cook through. Remove chicken from the pan and let it rest.
- Turn the heat down on the pot to medium low and add the spinach. Cook the spinach for 2-3 minutes until wilted.
- Add ricotta mixture and ½ cup of pasta water to the wilted spinach. Turn the heat up to medium. Stir in the cheese mixture and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until a smooth sauce forms. If your sauce becomes too thick from cooking too long, add a little more pasta water to thin it out.
- Add the cooked pasta to cheese and spinach mixture, and toss with tongs to coat it evenly in the sauce. Slice the chicken into thin slices and add on top. Serve immediately with more parmesan cheese, fresh parsley or basil, and extra wedges of lemon to squeeze over the pasta. Enjoy!
- Lemon size can vary, and for this recipe you need a larger lemon to have the flavor come through. You need about 1 tablespoon of zest and 1/4 to 1/3 cup of juice total.
- If at any point the pasta sauce becomes too thick add some pasta water a little bit at a time. If your pasta sauce is too thin, try adding a little more parmesan cheese.
- Give the spinach a good rough chop. This helps keep the spinach from forming big clumps in the final dish and will help the sauce distribute more evenly on it.