Penne pasta tossed in a creamy ricotta pasta sauce with a subtle touch of bright lemon flavor, all smothered with a simple but deliciously savory marinara. Based on a beloved dish from a local Italian restaurant (my favorite!) called “Italian casserole” that I absolutely had to recreate after they went out of business. So good!
🍝 What Makes This Recipe So Good
- If you’ve ever eaten at Tellini’s Italiano, you already know just how amazing this pasta dish is. Tellini’s was one of our favorite places for Italian take-out, and we were SO upset when their Memphis location closed. I knew I couldn’t just never taste their incredible Italian Casserole again, and thus, this copycat recipe was born. Lemon ricotta pasta topped with marinara sauce captures every delicious flavor and texture of that Tellini’s classic, made right in your own kitchen.
- The flavors are incredible – sort of an alfredo-meets-spaghetti, but not in a vodka sauce kind of way. It’s bright and tangy. Rich and savory. Cheesy and creamy. Basically just everything you love about Italian food. You’ve got a white cheese sauce made of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan. Tender penne pasta. A hearty scoop of savory, flavorful marinara sauce. What’s not to love?!
👩🏼🍳 Chef’s Tips
- To keep the sauce from separating when it’s heated, bring the cheeses to room temperature (or close to it) before putting them in the pot on the stove. Don’t set your ricotta out too early, though. If it’s at room temperature for 2 hours or more, you risk it no longer being safe to consume. 30 minutes to 1 hour should be plenty of time.
- I recommend boiling the pasta just until it’s al dente, which is typically 1-2 minutes less than what the packaging recommends. Since you’ll be adding it back to the pot with the ricotta sauce, you don’t want any residual cooking to leave you with overcooked penne.
- Don’t forget to reserve 1 cup of the pasta water to use in your lemon ricotta sauce. Starches from the penne will have incorporated into the water, which will make the sauce nice and creamy, while the water thins it out to the ideal sauce consistency.
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- 1 16-ounce box dry penne pasta see Notes
- 24 ounces ricotta cheese at room temperature
- 1 cup shredded fresh mozzarella at room temperature
- ½ cup shredded fresh parmesan at room temperature
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- zest from 1 lemon approximately 1 tablespoon
- 24 ounces marinara store-bought or homemade
- Large pot
- Large bowl
- Large wooden spoon
- Silicone spatula
- Small saucepan
- Fill large pot with enough water to cover pasta. Salt water generously and add dry pasta. Place pot on stovetop and cook according to package instructions, until pasta is just al dente (usually 1 to 2 minutes less than cook time on packaging).
- Once pasta is cooked to al dente, scoop 1 cup of pasta water out of pot and set aside. Pour remaining pasta water and pasta through colander and drain pasta well. Return pasta to large pot and set aside.
- Add ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, garlic, Italian seasoning, lemon zest, and salt to large bowl. Use large spoon to stir ingredients together until combined.
- Add ricotta mixture to large pot with penne pasta. Place pasta over medium-low heat and stir frequently until ricotta sauce is creamy and pasta is fully coated.
- Add reserved pasta water in 1 tablespoon increments, stirring well between each addition, until sauce is thinned to desired consistency.
- While pasta and ricotta sauce cook together, warm marinara in small saucepan over medium heat.
- Once marinara is warmed through, and pasta and ricotta sauce are as desired, divide pasta evenly into serving bowls. Top each bowl with approximately ½ cup marinara sauce and serve warm.
- Penne Pasta: Feel free to use any type of pasta you like best here. Gluten-free, zucchini-based penne, chickpea penne, cauliflower penne, etc. Just be sure to cook your specific penne according to the package instructions.
Number of total servings shown is approximate. Actual number of servings will depend on your preferred portion sizes.
Nutritional values shown are general guidelines and reflect information for 1 serving using the ingredients listed, not including any optional ingredients. Actual macros may vary slightly depending on specific brands and types of ingredients used.
To determine the weight of one serving, prepare the recipe as instructed. Weigh the finished recipe, then divide the weight of the finished recipe (not including the weight of the container the food is in) by the desired number of servings. Result will be the weight of one serving.