Pasta night just got better! Quick and easy, this weeknight Spinach Pasta is tossed in a garlicy olive oil sauce and flavored with lemon, za'atar, red pepper flakes, and a generous sprinkle of parmesan.
Way better than your typical spinach pasta!
I've always been a big fan of olive oil pasta for an easy midweek dinner. In this version, oodles of baby spinach--yes, a good 12 ounces--and spaghetti are tossed in an appropriately garlicy olive oil sauce, and flavored with lemon, za’atar, red pepper flakes, and a sprinkle of shredded Parmesan cheese.
This is not your typical spinach spaghetti, and you may not expect use za'atar as a seasoning for pasta, but the heady blend of toasted sesame seeds and wild thyme will add a bright, earthy, and slightly nutty flavor that truly elevates this simple pasta dish.
And while most recipes of pasta and spinach use a lot of butter or heavy cream-based sauces, you'll find that good olive oil, coupled with a bit of the starchy cooking water, makes a silky rich sauce to coat the noodles. It is lighter but still comforting. And, yes, you can use whole grain pasta for an even more Mediterranean diet-friendly option!
What you'll need to make it
This spinach pasta is made with just a handful of ingredients. Here is what you'll need:
- Thin pasta - Spaghetti is my go-to for this recipe though other varieties will work.
- Kosher salt
- Extra virgin olive oil - You'll want a quality EVOO for this recipe that is rich and delicious, you'll find my favorites at our online shop.
- Garlic - You'll want at least 5 to 6 cloves of garlic for this pasta dish!
- Spinach - Fresh baby spinach works best in this recipe.
- Red pepper flakes - For a bit of warm flavor.
- Za'atar - A blend of wild thyme and toasted sesame seeds, which will add an earthy and slightly nutty flavor, plus great texture. Find it here.
- Parmesan cheese - Freshly shredded parmesan
- Lemon - Both the zest and juice of the lemon are used in this recipe.
- Fresh parsley - Parsley is one of the main flavors of this dish and pairs nicely with the spinach and za'atar.
What kind of pasta to use?
There is no right or wrong pasta to use in a simple recipe like this, but with olive oil based sauces, I tend to go with a thin pasta like spaghetti, linguine, or angel hair. I've found these thin pastas are best because the sauce coats them well, without weighing them down.
How to cook spinach for pasta?
I love this recipe because I am able to use a good bit of spinach. My 12 ounces of spinach looks like a lot to start with, but once cooked, it will You'll need to cook the spinach separately, prior to stirring it into the pasta. Baby spinach is easy to cook in the olive oil with a bit of the pasta water until it wilts and softens nicely. It takes 5 minutes tops, working in batches and adding more as each batch wilts down.
How to make spinach pasta
There's just a few easy steps to making this garlic spinach spaghetti! It all comes together in just 20 minutes. Here's a quick visual of how it goes, but be sure to scroll down for the print-friendly recipe with the full ingredient list:
- Cook the pasta. Boil a pot of water and season with kosher salt. Spaghetti will cook in about 8 minutes, but just before it is fully cooked, and before you drain it, reserve at least 1 cup of the pasta cooking water water.
- Make sauce and add the spinach. While the pasta is cooking, warm a good bit of olive oil (about ¾ cup) over medium heat and cook the garlic until fragrant. Add a little bit of the reserved starchy water (start with ½ cup and increase later as needed), and the lemon juice.
Add the spinach to the sauce, you'll do this in batches. Season with salt and cook until the spinach is fully wilted. Add in red pepper flakes and a bit of the za'atar.
- Toss the cooked pasta with the spinach and garlic olive oil sauce. When the pasta is ready, drain it well. Add the cooked spaghetti to the pan and toss to combine.
- Finish with more za'atar, lemon zest,Parmesan, and parsley. Toss to combine and serve!
Tips for success
It's hard to go wrong with this simple garlic spinach spaghetti, but here are a few things to keep in mind
- Don't overcook the pasta. You'll want the pasta to cook to just al dente before draining it and adding it to the other ingredients. It will still soften a bit as it gets tossed with the other ingredients and too-soft pasta with spinach just isn't the texture you want.
- Season well. Don't be afraid of adding salt to the pasta water or to the spinach. I usually add more salt with each batch of spinach.
- Cook the pasta while also making the sauce. I heard this saying from an Italian friend, "the sauce waits for the pasta, not the other way around." Because we need the pasta cooking water for the sauce, begin cooking the pasta, but take some of the pasta cooking water out a bit before the pasta is finished cooking. This way, you can begin working on the sauce before the pasta is fully cooked.
- The starchy pasta cooking water is your friend! When draining the pasta, be sure to reserve an extra bit of pasta water as you may want to thin out the sauce a little bit more. You always want to use the starchy cooking water for the sauce, not regular water. This is what will make the sauce extra silky and rich!
I recommend serving this spinach spaghetti with extra parmesan cheese and za'atar on the side. As with most za'atar recipes I make, I always find myself wanting to add more of the citrusy, nutty flavor to my dish! And, who doesn't love a little more cheese?!
How to store leftover cooked pasta?
Store leftover garlic pasta with spinach in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat quickly on the stovetop over medium heat, adding more olive oil or a splash of water as necessary to prevent it from drying out.
More easy pasta recipes:
- Spaghetti aglio e olio
- Garlic Mushroom Pasta
- Pasta alla Norma
- Pancetta Pasta with Peas and Parmesan
- Orechiette with White Beans & Tomatoes
Za'atar Garlic Spinach Pasta
- ½ pound spaghetti ( or other thin pasta)
- Kosher salt
- ½ to ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5 to 6 large garlic cloves (minced)
- 12 ounces baby spinach
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 to 4 tablespoons za'atar (divided)
- Parmesan cheese (shredded), to your liking (anywhere from ½ cup to 1 cup)
- 1 lemon (zest and juice)
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season well with kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook according to al dante according to package instructions (about 8 to 9 minutes). You will need 1 cup or so of the cooking water later.
- When the pasta is nearly done, work on the olive oil sauce and the spinach. In a large pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook briefly until the garlic is fragrant (you want some color but do not burn the garlic). Add a little bit of the pasta cooking water (start with ½ cup and add more as needed), and lemon juice, then add the spinach in batches, seasoning with Kosher salt as you go. Toss the spinach and cook until it is fully wilted (about 5 minutes). Add crushed red peppers and.1 tablespoon of za’atar.
- When the pasta is ready, drain, keeping a little bit more of the cooking water still.
- Add the pasta to the pan of spinach and toss everything to combine. Add the remaining za’atar, cheese, lemon zest, and parsley. Toss until everything is well-combined. And if you need to, add a little more olive oil or a bit of the pasta cooking water. Serve with more cheese and za’atar on the side (I know I always add more of both to my bowl).
- Leftovers: store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat quickly on the stovetop over medium heat, adding more olive oil or a splash of water as necessary to prevent it from drying out.
- Browse Our Shop for quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils and spices used in this recipe.