Make your next dinner a smash hit with this Italian-inspired pasta fresca recipe! This tasty dish is super easy to make, ready in just 30 minutes, and has just the right balance of fresh herbs, hearty vegetables, and a light and creamy sauce to make it a family favorite you'll keep returning to!
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⭐ What is Pasta Fresca?
Pasta fresca literally means "fresh pasta" in Italian. While it is typically used to refer to homemade fresh pasta, in this case, I drew inspiration from a veggie-packed pasta that I had at Noodles and Company. It combines penne pasta with a zesty tomato sauce, black olives, balsamic vinaigrette and mozzarella cheese. My version builds on that with more fresh vegetables and herbs for a meal you'll never forget.
💭 Why you'll love this recipe
I'm convinced that once you try this pasta fresca, you'll be hooked.
- Great weeknight meal. Listen, I'm a huge fan of simple pasta dishes, and this one is no exception. It's made with simple ingredients and ready in under 30 minutes, so anyone can make it without any difficulty (just like my cacio e pepe, penne pomodoro, and rigatoni arrabbiata recipes). These are perfect for busy work days or weeknights.
- Unbelievably delicious. This pasta fresca is packed with fresh, seasonal ingredients and the delicate balance of flavors makes it super delicious, so even the pickiest of eaters will love it.
- Budget-friendly and great for meal prep. The ingredients are all easy to find and inexpensive, making it great for budget-conscious households. You can also easily prepare this dish ahead of time, making it perfect for meal prep.
📋 Ingredients and Notes
To make this pasta fresca recipe, you'll need fusilli, vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil, white onions, mushroom, black pepper, salt, garlic, cherry tomatoes, fresh spinach, butter, and parmesan cheese.
Notes and Variations
- Choice of pasta. This dish is usually made with penne, but I prefer using fusilli or rotini because I find that the ridges help absorb the sauce a lot better. But you can use any pasta of your choice. You can also swap out regular pasta for zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash or other healthier alternatives.
- Choice of cheese. I use vegetarian parmesan in this recipe, but you can use crumbled feta cheese, gorgonzola, ricotta, or any other cheese of your choice.
- Make vegan pasta fresca. To make this recipe vegan, use plant-based substitutes for the butter and cheese and you're all set.
- Play with the flavors. Add some heat with red pepper flakes or chopped jalapeño peppers. Substitute the traditional tomato sauce with a creamy white sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil or add a touch of balsamic vinegar or sweet white wine. There are limitless flavor combinations that work in this recipe.
- Best veggies to add to pasta fresca. Honestly, the world is your oyster. I love adding asparagus, arugula, broccoli, mushrooms, and peppers to this recipe.
📖 How to make pasta fresca
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions then set it aside, along with a cup of the pasta water.
In a large skillet, heat oil. Then, add sliced onion, and cook until fragrant. Now, add mushroom, salt, and pepper. Cook on low heat until mushrooms are golden.
Add the cherry tomatoes and garlic. Continue cooking for another 3 minutes to medium heat. Stir occasionally, taking care not to burn the garlic.
Add the pasta and the butter to the skillet and allow it to cook with the sauce for about 3 minutes.
Note: Butter helps emulsify the sauce, and helps it adhere to pasta, but if you don't want to use butter, you can also use some of the reserved pasta water.
Finally, add the spinach and cook just for 2 minutes. You can also use frozen spinach here if you wish!
Garnish with parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, and fresh basil (optional) and serve hot!
👩🏽🍳 Top tips to make the best pasta fresca!
Follow these three tips so your pasta fresca turns out perfect every time!
- Cook the pasta al dente. Don't overcook your pasta or it will turn into mush while it is being cooked with the sauce.
- Drain the pasta well. After cooking, drain the pasta in a colander and give it a quick rinse with cold water. This will stop the cooking process and prevent your pasta from becoming sticky.
- Add vegetables for a healthy twist and color. If you're looking to boost the nutrient content of this dish, add some vegetables like arugula and asparagus, making sure to cook them before adding them to pasta. For instance, you can simply microwave asparagus quickly while the sauce is being made and toss it right in!
Pasta Fresca (in Italian) means a type of fresh pasta that is made by hand. But in this case, it refers to a refreshing and simple pasta dish that was made popular by Noodles and Company.
Pasta fresca is fresh pasta and needs to be cooked immediately after it is made. Pasta secca, on the other hand, is dry pasta that is made from durum wheat semolina. It has a firm texture and can be stored for much longer than fresh pasta! Most pasta we use at home is pasta secca.
The original Noodles & Co sauce has balsamic vinaigrette and a splash of heavy cream. My version builds on the garlicky mushroom flavors, and adds some parmesan for a cheesy finish.
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
You can store this pasta fresca in the fridge for 4-5 days, in an airtight container. You can freeze the recipe by placing it in a freezer-friendly container.
When you're ready to eat, let it defrost in the fridge and reheat over low heat on a skillet with a bit of olive oil until warmed through. Serve and topped it up with fresh parmesan and enjoy!
Love low effort weeknight dinners? Try my favorite pasta recipes below:
Did you make this recipe?! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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- 1 pound fusilli, substitute any other dry or fresh pasta, adjust cooking time appropriately
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 white onions, sliced
- 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 cups fresh spinach, substitute frozen
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Set aside, and reserve a cup of the pasta water if you're not using butter.
- In a large skillet, add oil. Then, add sliced onions and cook until fragrant. Now, add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat until the mushrooms look a bit golden.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and garlic. Continue cooking for another 3 minutes to medium heat. Stir occasionally.
- Add the cooked pasta and butter to the skillet and allow it to cook with the sauce for about 3 minutes.
- Finally, add the fresh spinach and cook just for 2 minutes. Garnish with parmesan, red pepper flakes, and other fresh herbs of choice. Serve hot!