This pasta salad is super easy to throw together and is surprisingly filling! I was also really happy with how creamy and delicious it was, despite the fact that I used part-skim ricotta. It looks and tastes like a really creamy, guilt-inducing pasta salad, when really it’s quite innocent!
Half of the reason that I wanted to make this pasta salad is that I wanted to try out a technique that I’ve been seeing around the internet: roasting garlic in the microwave. I ruined one head of garlic in the process, but I think I got it right after that. The end result isn’t as caramelized as real, oven roasted garlic, but the flavor is definitely good enough to make this technique worth it when you’re in a hurry. Roasting garlic in an oven can take almost an hour and this only takes 2 minutes – literally!
There are a few different techniques that I’ve seen, some microwaving for a minute or so, and some for up to 8 minutes (with water added), but I found 2 minutes with no water to be just right for me. I’m sure every microwave is different and each head of garlic will require a slightly different amount of time to cook, so I suggest microwaving in small, one minute increments until you get the technique just right. You want the garlic to be soft, and very fragrant, not brown and hard. Microwaving past the point of softness will only lead you down the road to burnville, and believe me, it doesn’t taste or smell pretty!
Oh, one more thing. If you have access to inexpensive fresh basil, it would be to-die-for in this recipe. Just add it on in with the spinach or even in place of the spinach!
Roasted Garlic Pasta
Roasted Garlic Pasta Salad
- 1 head garlic ($0.59)
- 1/2 Tbsp olive oil ($0.09)
- 1 lb. pasta shells ($1.29)
- 15 oz. ricotta cheese ($2.45)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan ($0.23)
- to taste salt & pepper ($0.05)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes ($2.50)
- 3 cups baby spinach ($1.33)
- Using a sharp knife, cut approximately 1/2 inch off the top of the head of garlic. Place the garlic bulb in a small bowl or dish and drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over the exposed cloves. Cover the bowl with an inverted plate. Microwave on high, in one minute increments, until the garlic is soft and fragrant (about 2 minutes). Use caution when touching the dishes, they will be very hot. Allow the garlic to cool.
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the pasta, and cook for 7-10 minutes or until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water.
- While the pasta is cooking, squeeze the garlic cloves from the head and mince well. Add the minced garlic to a medium bowl along with the ricotta cheese, a healthy dose of freshly cracked pepper, and about 1/2 tsp of salt. Add the 1/2 cup of hot, starchy pasta cooking water. Stir until it forms a smooth sauce.
- Drain the pasta. Return the drained pasta to the warm pot (the burner should be turned off). Add the fresh baby spinach and pour the ricotta sauce over top. Slice the cherry tomatoes and add them to the pot as well. Stir until everything is well mixed. Add in the parmesan cheese and stir again. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm!
Step By Step Photos
To cook the garlic in the microwave, begin by cutting a little off the top of the head to expose the cloves.
Place the head of garlic in a small dish or bowl and drizzle about a half tablespoon of olive oil over the exposed cloves. This will help keep them from burning.
Place an inverted plate over top of your bowl or dish. Microwave on high, in one minute increments, until the garlic is soft and very fragrant. Mine took two minutes and after that it began to burn (even when I added water to the dish). The garlic will hiss and pop during cooking, and some of the cloves may jump out of the head!
When it’s finished, it will be soft, kind of mushy, and it will smell really REALLY good. The cloves will be about the same color as they were fresh, but they will look slightly transparant. Allow the garlic to cool.
Once it’s cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of the head and mince them. They’ll likely be pretty sticky.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta shells according to the package directions (boil 7-10 minutes). When the water gets cloudy and starchy (like in the picture), dip in a measuring cup and reserve a half cup of it for the sauce.
While the pasta is cooking, place the minced garlic, ricotta cheese, freshly cracked pepper, and about a 1/2 tsp of salt in a bowl.
Add a half cup of the hot, starchy pasta water and stir until it is all smooth.
Slice the cherry tomatoes in half.
When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it well and then return it to the warm pot (make sure the burner is turned off). Add the fresh baby spinach, the ricotta sauce, and sliced tomatoes. The residual heat will slightly wilt the spinach leaves.
Stir everything until combined, and then add the parmesan cheese and stir again. The reason I added the parmesan at the end is because I didn’t want it to melt from the heat. Once everything is combined, the temperature is considerably lower and you won’t have melted parmesan cheese clumping up and sticking to the spoon. It just evenly coats everything instead.
Taste the pasta salad and add salt and pepper as needed. I like to add freshly cracked pepper to each serving.