Creamy goat cheese pasta with baby spinach and a touch of lemon zest is a rich pasta skillet recipe for an elegant dinner that works for a special meal but is easy enough for a weeknight dinner.
I love to buy the 2-pack container of goat cheese when I make a Costco trip, it is the most budget-friendly spot I've found to buy tangy, creamy goat cheese.
We usually use it in our favorite appetizers and salads, but this creamy goat cheese pasta is one of my favorite dinners!
Baby spinach is added to the pasta skillet for a boost of color and flavor and there's fresh lemon zest to brighten the creamy sauce and keep it from being too rich.
When I first tried this recipe, I paired it with a batch of spicy cranberry jalapeño meatballs also from Costco. They're a seasonal item during the holiday season, but the spicy heat was the perfect complement to the creamy sauce. I can't wait till they're back again!
Why This is the Best Recipe
If you've never tried goat cheese before, you might be a little curious about this dish. I promise this is the best goat cheese pasta recipe because:
- Budget-Friendly: You can use affordable goat cheese from Costco or even Trader Joe's. The short list of ingredients are mostly pantry staples. Just add inexpensive fresh baby spinach and a lemon.
- Filled with Flavor: The creamy sauce is bright and tangy and pairs perfectly with parmesan cheese and a spicy meatball or grilled chicken.
- Quick and Easy: Prep the sauce in a large skillet and you can toss the pasta in as soon as it is finished cooking.
- Elegant but Practical: I think this recipe is fancy enough it would be right at home on your holiday table for Easter or Christmas but it isn't complicated to make or expensive. Whether you make it for a regular weeknight or a special meal, it will be a great fit either way.
You only need a few ingredients to make this recipe:
- Short Pasta: This dish works best with a short noodle like penne, farfalle, or fusilli. Rigatoni is too large of a pasta for this sauce and should be avoided.
- Butter: The Organic Valley butter I used melted so smoothly, but any salted butter will work.
- Half & Half: This is the perfect richness for the cream in the dish but you could use heavy cream if you prefer.
- Goat Cheese: I buy the logs from Costco but I've seen great prices on them at Trader Joe's too.
- Dried Basil: Fresh works great if you have it, but the dried is fine.
- Grated Parmesan Cheese
- Baby Spinach
A Note on Goat Cheese
If you've never tried goat cheese before, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.
The texture is thick like cream cheese and when it is at room temperature, it can be spread on homemade crostini for an easy appetizer but if kept cool could be crumbled as a salad topping.
The flavor is tangy, a little like if yogurt and cream cheese got married. It pairs really well with both sweet and savory ingredients but my favorite foods to pair with goat cheese include strawberries, lemons, basil, and peaches.
The most budget-friendly place I've found to buy goat cheese is at Costco where it comes in a 2-pack of 10 ounce logs. This recipe was developed so you can use one whole log without any waste.
If you do not shop at Costco, you do not have to use a full 10 ounces of goat cheese. A 6 ounce log would work well, too. You will just want to increase the parmesan cheese to a ½ cup to help thicken the sauce if you use less goat cheese.
The goat cheese sauce comes together so quickly you'll want to have your ingredients prepped and ready by the stovetop. You won't have time to measure them or wash and cut the lemon.
I just get all the ingredients measured and place them on a large plate near the stove.
Get the pasta water boiling and then cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, you can prep the sauce:
Make the Cream Sauce
First, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Be sure your skillet is big enough to toss the pasta in it later.
Once the butter has melted, add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
Add the half and half, lemon zest, the juice from the lemon, and the goat cheese cut in large chunks to the skillet.
As the goat cheese starts to cook, it will begin to melt into the sauce. At first, things might look a little lumpy. Keep whisking.
Add the dried basil and parmesan to the skillet and keep whisking the sauce until it is smooth.
One of my favorite tricks is to use a little of the pasta water to help smooth out the sauce. You may need need much of the water, just add a little at a time till the proper consistency is reached.
This is what the finished goat cheese sauce should look like: nice and smooth, thick (but not too thick) and very creamy.
Add the Pasta
Once the pasta has finished cooking, strain it and add it directly to the sauce in the skillet.
Toss it gently in the sauce and then add the baby spinach on top.
Wilt the Spinach
It always looks like there's too much spinach in the skillet but it will wilt down quickly from the heat of the pasta.
I like to pull the skillet from the heat when the spinach is just barely wilted so it still has some texture to it. If you prefer your spinach very tender, cook it another minute.
This delicious pasta recipe could be easily tweaked to make several fun variations:
- Spicy Goat Cheese Pasta: Add crushed red pepper flakes with the garlic to the butter or a pinch of cayenne pepper with the basil.
- Goat Cheese Pasta with Arugula: Peppery arugula would be a great substitution for the baby spinach.
- Goat Cheese Pasta with Roasted Vegetables: You could roast a pan of bell peppers, sweet onions, and/or zucchini or yellow squash in a little olive oil and add them to the pasta.
- Goat Cheese Pasta with Fresh Herbs: In addition to or instead of the basil, you could use fresh dill, fresh thyme, chopped fresh rosemary, fresh chives, or even fresh sage. I grow most of these in my container herb garden so they are easy to use in a pinch.
This easy pasta skillet dinner is delicious as a meatless main entree all by itself.
If you're looking to fill out the menu with more items, it would pair really well with a spicy protein like the cranberry jalapeño meatballs I mentioned. If you can't find them, a spicy grilled chicken or spicy shrimp would also be super yummy.
You could also season air fryer chicken tenderloins with a Mediterranean or Italian herb blend.
This creamy pasta is truly best served fresh when it is first made.
Leftovers dry out but could be rehydrated with a bit of water or fresh squeezed lemon juice but since the pasta absorbs so much sauce in the fridge, I don't really recommend it.
More Goat Cheese Recipes
Goat Cheese Pasta
- 1 (16 oz/1lb) package of short pasta farfalle, penne, or fusille
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 cup half and half
- 10 ounces goat cheese cut into large chunks *see note
- 1 lemon zested and juiced
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 cups baby spinach
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Boil the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package direction. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid just before you drain the pasta.
- While the pasta is cooking, start the sauce in a large skillet that has enough room to toss the finished noodles in the sauce at the end.
- Melt the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until fragrant.
- Turn the heat to medium low and add the half and half to the pan. Scatter the large chunks of goat cheese in the cream and add the lemon zest. Whisk everything together as the goat cheese melts.
- Once the sauce is silky smooth, add the lemon juice and parmesan cheese and whisk them in.
- Add the drained pasta to the skillet and gently toss it to coat in the sauce. Add the baby spinach and stir it into the pasta. It will look like a lot of spinach but it will wilt down within a minute or two.
- If the pasta starts to absorb too much of the sauce and looks dry and thick, use the reserved cup of cooking water to drizzle moisture back into the sauce as the spinach cooks.
- Once the spinach has wilted, serve immediately.
A Note on Goat Cheese:The most budget-friendly place I've found to buy goat cheese is at Costco where it comes in a 2-pack of 10 ounce logs. This recipe was developed so you can use one whole log without any waste. If you do not shop at Costco, you do not have to use a full 10 ounces of goat cheese. A 6 ounce log would work well, too. You will just want to increase the parmesan cheese to a ½ cup to help thicken the sauce if you use less goat cheese.
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