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One-Pot Pasta with Kale and Tomatoes

March 17, 2023

A bowl of pasta and veggies with a dollop of ricotta cheese on top.

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I am someone who doesn't always believe that easier is better. More often than not, I prefer to take the thorough and time consuming route, and to immerse myself in process. This is true in many aspects of my life, including the practice of making dinner. However, some days call for an easy, low-key way to get a nutritious and filling meal on the table as quick as possible. And this pasta delivers on all counts! It is literally made in one pot, and (if you have a rasp style grater like a microplane) the only time you will have to use a knife is to chop a lemon in half.

The Story

I learned this method of making pasta from my dear friend and childhood neighbor Lily. A lot of my confidence in the kitchen can be traced back to time spent with her learning how to make things like croissants, pizzas, fancy pestos and vinaigrettes, doughnuts, galettes, spring rolls, and cream puffs. When we were very young, we even had a fake cooking show called "This and That and Chocolate Chips", because we tried to put chocolate chips in a smoothie one time (don't do it, it's bad for all the reasons you think it would be bad!).

When we were high-school aged, we loved making lunch. Soups or panzanellas from Smitten Kitchen or The First Mess were our go-tos. We made an elaborate and delectable meal together every Christmas Eve for years (always starting with this incredible Beet Salad with Cilantro Pesto from Epicurious!). One time, I think over a winter break, we decided to make three kinds of baklava in one day - traditional walnut and honey, BA's Orange and Pistachio, and an almond pomegranate molasses version that we made up as we went. Over all, we had a lot of fun, made a lot of mistakes and messes, and almost always came out with something delicious at the end.


Her younger sister Rosa was an enthusiastic benefactor of our kitchen capers, but wasn't as into cooking as we were. I remember the day that Lily declared it was time for Rosa to know how to make herself an easy pasta sauce that didn't come out of a jar, and the three of us made this pasta for lunch. I have elaborated on some things over the years, such as adding greens and an optional two kinds of cheese for this official recipe, but the method remains the same.

Ingredients in bowls - pasta, kale, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, cheese, garlic, spices.

Ingredient notes -

Kale, part 1: I prefer curly kale for this, a rare choice for me. But this is delicious with Lacinato/Tuscan as well!
Kale, part 2: The kale can be replaced with anything green that can blanch quickly - spinach is an obvious and fabulous choice, but this is also great with spring time green things like green beans, asparagus, or fresh peas.
Cheese, part 1: If you are skipping the cheese, (or even if you aren’t) some fresh roughly chopped parsley or basil would not go amiss.
Cheese, part 2: I like the temperature and textural contrast of having a dollop of ricotta on top of my hot pasta, but you may prefer to stir in the cheese to the whole pot before serving. If so, I would suggest using about 1 or 1 1/2 cups.
Salt: Salinity to volume varies by brand. I almost always use Diamond Crystal Kosher. If you use Morton's Kosher or regular table salt, use half the amount by volume, or the same by weight.

A bowl of pasta and veggies with a dollop of ricotta cheese on top.

The Recipe

makes 4-5 big bowls of pasta


  • 16 oz. (450 grams) dry pasta of a short variety (penne, fusilli, bowties, etc.)
  • 1 bunch kale (usually about 5-8 stalks, but doesn't need to be precise)
  • 1 pint (300 grams) cherry tomatoes
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large or 2 small lemons (zest and juice)
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) olive oil
  • 1/4-1/2 cup (60-120 ml) pasta water
  • 1 teaspoon (3 grams) Diamond Crystal kosher salt (see note above if using a different salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • For serving: Whole milk ricotta, fresh grated parm, fresh ground black pepper, and olive oil

To Make

1. Start the Pasta

Bring a large pot of very salty water to a boil and make a landing zone in your sink. A big part of this sauce is made using the water the pasta cooked in, so place your colander in the sink and tuck a heat-proof measuring cup or jar inside the colander as a visual reminder to save pasta water before draining.

A glass measuring cup in a colander in a sink.

2. Prep the Produce

Kale - Rip 1 bunch kale from the stems and continuing tearing until you have pieces about 1 to 2 inches (3-5 cm) square. Err on the side of smaller pieces, because if they are too big, they will just clump together and form a kale monster that will not want to disperse into the pasta.

Katrina tearing kale into small pieces.

To prepare the garlic using a rasp grater (microplane) - Peel your 3-5 garlic cloves by twisting longways to release it from its skin. Then, holding it from the hard little root end, and carefully grate it on a grater until you have just the end in your fingertips. You will have to swipe the underside of the grater to release all of the garlic, and then place it in a little dish. You can also mince it by hand with a knife or use a garlic press if you don't have a rasp grater.

Grating a clove of garlic on a microplane grater.

Lemon - For the 1 large or 2 small lemons, we will zest first, using the same rasp grater (or whatever zester you have) into the same little dish. The flavor and oils of the lemon is in the yellow zest, so try not to go too deep into the white of the peel. Then, the time has come - it is time to do your one chop and bisect the lemon! Use your favorite method to extract the juice (I just use a fork, a trick I also learned from Lily!) and add that to your little dish as well, discarding any freeloading seeds that might try to come along for the ride.

A lemon cut in half

3. Boil It Up

The pasta, kale, and tomatoes will all go into the water at different times. So here is the formula for figuring out the timing:

The amount of time you want to cook your pasta is X, which is 9 minutes in this example.

When the pasta goes in, set your timer for X - 4, which is 5 minutes in this example.

Once your water is boiling, add 16 oz (450 grams) pasta and give the pot a good stir. Set a timer using the formula above. When the timer goes off, in go the pint (300 grams) tomatoes. Set a timer for 2 minutes. When that timer goes off, in goes the kale. Let it wilt, stir it in, and cook for about 60-90 seconds more before turning off the heat. At this point, you are looking for tomatoes with skin that is starting to split, kale that is bright green but floppy, and pasta that is cooked perfectly to your liking. Save at least a 1/2 cup (120 ml) of pasta water before draining the pot into the colander.

A pot of kale, tomatoes, and pasta being poured into a colander.

4. Put It All Together

Dump the contents of the colander back into the pot, and right away add the dish of garlic, lemon zest and juice. Give it a good stir so the heat from the pasta and veggies can gently warm the garlic through so it won’t be so sharp and raw tasting. Make sure to break up any clumps of garlic or zest, and then add the 1/4 cup (50 grams) olive oil, 1 teaspoon (3 grams) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and about ¼ cup (60 ml) of pasta water.

Stir with vigor, pausing to use the back of your spoon to press open any unpopped tomatoes against the side of the pot. The juice from the tomatoes makes up the bulk of the sauce, so make sure you find and pop as many as you can. (A word of caution - PLEASE lean your head back while you do this so that you don’t get hot tomato juice in your face!)

Stirring a pot of pasta, kale, and cherry tomatoes, breaking apart one of the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.

Once all the tomatoes are popped, you can decide to add more pasta water or a drizzle of olive oil to loosen the sauce if it’s looking a tad dry. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or red pepper flakes until it tastes just right.

5. Plate It Up and Dig In

To serve, fill a bowl with a big scoop or two of pasta. Sprinkle the whole plate with a shower of parm, and place a big dollop of ricotta cheese right in the center. Crack some black pepper just on the dollop of ricotta. A drizzle of olive oil completes the dish and it is ready for you to dig in.

A bowl of pasta and veggies with a dollop of ricotta cheese on top.

I hope you make and enjoy this recipe!

Thank you for being here!
💖, Katrina



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