Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. But art is not its only treasure.
The food of Florence is renowned, albeit simple and with roots in peasant cuisine. One famous dish, a hefty Tuscan steak, is grilled and often served on a bed of spinach with a few lemon wedges.
In fact this dark, leafy green is so frequently found in dishes from this region that seeing the tag "Florentine" in the name of a recipe usually implies that spinach is involved. Chicken Florentine, Quiche Florentine, and now this one – Ziti Florentine!
When shopping for ingredients, seek out the very best ricotta you can find. If you live near an Italian market, you will probably find some ricotta that's a few cuts above the standard supermarket brand. It should be rich and creamy, which is the secret to making a swoon-worthy pasta dish without a drop of cream.
One other note of importance: the term al dente.
What’s the deal with cooking pasta ‘until al dente’? The term literally means "to the tooth." When it comes to cooking pasta, it means pasta cooked until it is tender but still has some chewiness when you bite into it.
This is important because in Italian cooking, the pasta is often added to the sauce and cooked for another minute or two before being served. That means the pasta absorbs some the flavorful sauce rather than just being coated with it, and because it was al dente, it won't become mushy or overcooked.
When you are in a pinch for time, you can always turn to pasta, and this one is a real winner. Not much fuss, and with a big reward.
Creamy Ziti Florentine
- 1 pound dry ziti pasta
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch scallions, whites and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- 4 cups (about 4 ounces) baby spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, plus more for garnish
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 cup (about 8 ounces) fresh ricotta
- 1/2 cup loosely packed torn basil leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Cook the pasta:
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
Add the ziti and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, or until al dente (firm to the bite). Scoop out and reserve 2 cups of the starchy pasta cooking water, and drain the pasta in a colander.
Meanwhile, cook the scallions and spinach:
In a large skillet over medium, heat the olive oil. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes, or until the scallions soften. Add the spinach and cook, turning with tongs, for 1 to 2 minutes, or just until it wilts.
Finish the pasta:
Add the cooked ziti to the skillet, along with 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the Parmesan, lemon zest, ricotta, basil, and parsley. Stir vigorously until combined.
Add more pasta cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you like.
Serve the pasta:
Spoon the ziti into shallow bowls and sprinkle with more Parmesan.