Easy Pasta with Winter Greens

This vegetarian pasta has a silky, brightly colored sauce made with Swiss chard, garlic, lemon, and Parmesan cheese.

Swiss chard, lemon, and parmesan pasta heaped in a low bowl.
Alison Bickel

I’m constantly on the lookout for quick weeknight meals that feel restaurant-quality—it should make a Tuesday feel special without creating a gigantic mess in the kitchen or taking up all of my precious free time.

Enter Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg’s instant classic, "Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables." While there are plenty of excellent recipes packed into this cookbook, the one I keep going back to again and again is the “Kale Sauce with Any Noodle.”

The vibrant kale sauce is simply a blend of kale, pasta water, olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. While it may not sound like much, it’s a forgiving, quick, easy, and flavorful pasta with a beautiful green hue. There are no nuts, and the kale is cooked, making for a super silky, luxurious sauce.

I made tweaks here and there to suit my tastes—adding more garlic, reducing the cheese, using different leafy greens and pasta shapes, and adding lemon and red pepper flakes until I got it just right. The sauce is creamy without a drop of cream. It’s garlicky, salty from the Parmesan, and bright from the lemon. It’s crowd pleasing enough for the whole family.

The Best Greens for Pasta

While McFadden calls for kale, my favorite green to use for this pasta is Swiss chard. It’s easy to prep, cooks quickly, and blends into a super smooth, deep green sauce. It also pairs effortlessly with garlic, lemon, and Parmesan.

This sauce will work with any winter greens, like lacinato or curly kale, spinach, collard greens, or a mixture of any of these. In fact, it’s an excellent way to use up random greens from a CSA box.

When using chard, I recommend the white or yellow-stemmed leaves. Red-stemmed chard works fine, but it lends the dish a muddy color. If you use spinach, larger more mature varieties work better than baby spinach. Simply snap off the stem from the leaf and it’s ready to go.

Swiss chard, lemon, and parmesan pasta heaped in a low bowl.
Alison Bickel

Choosing Your Pasta

Any pasta shape will work here. My preference is for fat, fun shapes like rigatoni, but the smooth texture of the sauce works with many shapes like orecchiette, pappardelle, and spaghetti. It’s also a fun choice for gnocchi or even cheese ravioli.

Since this is a simple dish, I suggest choosing quality pasta and cooking it al dente since the texture will make a noticeable difference.

How to Make Winter Greens Pasta

This recipe is a practice in multi-tasking, but don’t let that scare you. It’s easier than it sounds!

As your large pot of water is coming up to a boil, prep your greens then cook the garlic. As soon as the water comes to a boil, add your prepped greens. They only cook for a couple of minutes, until dark green, limp, but still vibrant.

Don’t drain the pasta water—retrieve the greens with tongs or a slotted spoon and let them drain. Use the now-green water to cook the pasta and, as the pasta cooks, blend the sauce, adding some fresh lemon juice.

Toss it all together with the cheese and a little extra pasta water and you’re done in under 30 minutes.

Lemony swiss chard sauce pasta in two bowls.
Alison Bickel

Tips and Tricks for Making Perfect Pasta Sauce

While this recipe is simple, there are a few key tips for success when making it for the first time:

  • Don’t burn the garlic. Make sure your heat is set to medium-low. Keep an eye on it, ensuring it gets light brown on both sides, adjusting the heat as needed.
  • Don’t drain the water. Try not to switch into auto-mode and accidentally drain the water after cooking the greens. There’s no need to boil a whole new pot of water—use the same water to cook the pasta.
  • Save some pasta water. Before draining the pasta, save about a cup of the cooking water. In addition to adding some directly to the blender for the sauce, you’ll want some handy to loosen up the sauce after it’s tossed with the pasta.

Recipe Variations

This vegetarian pasta is easy to customize:

  • Vegan: Swap the Parmesan cheese for a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast.
  • Gluten-Free: Swap for your favorite gluten-free pasta.
  • More lemon: Add a little more flavor and lots of lemon aroma by adding up to 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest to the sauce.
  • Add herbs: Add a large handful of fresh basil or parsley leaves to the blender. It’ll contribute fresh flavor and even more bright green color.
  • Extra creamy: Add a splash or two of heavy cream when tossing together the pasta and sauce.
  • Extra cheesy: Add a large spoonful of ricotta and stir it in with the sauce.
Overhead view of three bowls of simple pasta with green sauce
Alison Bickel

How to Store Leftovers

This dish is much, much better served and eaten as soon as it’s made since it loses its signature texture over time. You can halve the recipe for two servings, especially if you’re serving it with a salad or side dish.

If you end up with leftovers, store them in a covered container for up to three days in the fridge. Add a sprinkle of water and loosely cover it before microwaving until warm.

What to Serve With Winter Greens Pasta

This pasta can be served as part of a hearty dinner for four alongside a simple side or a light main dish. Try serving it with one of these recipes:

Lemony swiss chard sauce pasta in a black bowl.
Alison Bickel

More Quick-Cooking Pasta Recipes

Easy Pasta with Winter Greens

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 18 mins
Total Time 28 mins
Servings 3 to 4 servings

This recipe calls for Swiss chard. Feel free to use equal amounts of kale, spinach, collard greens, or a mixture of these.

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches (about 20 ounces) white or yellow-stemmed Swiss chard
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste, plus more for cooking pasta
  • 12 ounces dry pasta like rigatoni or orecchiette
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

Method

  1. Prep the greens:

    Bring a large pot of water up to a boil.

    Rinse the Swiss chard well and shake them over the sink to dry a bit. Place a chard leaf flat on a cutting board, and run a sharp knife along either side of the stem from top to bottom, removing the stem and leaving the green leaf in two long pieces. Repeat with the remaining leaves, cutting the extra-large pieces crosswise into smaller pieces.

    Cutting the stem out of swiss chard to make a lemony swiss chard sauce pasta.
    Alison Bickel
  2. Cook the garlic:

    In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the garlic. Cook on one side until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Flip over the garlic and add the red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is light brown on the other side, 2 to 3 more minutes.

    Scrape the garlic, pepper flakes, and the oil into a blender to cool a bit.

  3. Cook the greens:

    When the water boils, generously season it with salt. Add the prepared greens, pushing them down with tongs to submerge into the water.

    Boil until wilted and dark green, 2 to 3 minutes. Use tongs to retrieve the greens without draining the pot. Transfer them to a strainer to cool and drain.

    Leave the water boiling in the pot. You’ll use it to cook the pasta.

    Blanching swiss chard to make lemony swiss chard sauce pasta.
    Alison Bickel
    Blanched swiss chard in a colander to make a simple pasta with green sauce.
    Alison Bickel
  4. Cook the pasta:

    Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to the package directions. Set aside 1 cup of pasta water and drain the pasta.

    A wooden spoon holding short pasta above a pan of boiling water.
    Alison Bickel
  5. Make the sauce:

    Add the cooked greens, 1/2 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup pasta water to the blender with the garlic and chili oil.

    Keep the lid of the blender slightly ajar and cover it with a kitchen towel. Blend until smooth and silky, adding more pasta water a tablespoon at a time if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, keeping in mind that the cheese will add some saltiness.

    A blender with blanched swiss chard and ingredients to make a simple pasta with green sauce
    Alison Bickel
    Bright green sauce in a blender to make a simple pasta with green sauce.
    Alison Bickel
  6. Assemble the pasta:

    Return the pasta to the pot and top with the sauce. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss to coat until the cheese melts.

    Add the reserved pasta water, a splash at a time, to achieve a silky consistency. It should effortlessly coat the noodles.

    The sauce will continue to firm up, so make it slightly looser than you’d like it. You’ll most likely end up using between 1/4 to 2/3 cup of pasta water.

    Sauce and pasta mixed in a stock pot.
    Alison Bickel
  7. Serve:

    Divide into individual servings and garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan.

    Swiss chard, lemon, and parmesan pasta heaped in a low bowl with a fork next to it.
    Alison Bickel