Set out a bowl of warm, creamy spinach-artichoke dip and there’s never any left. That got me thinking. Why only enjoy these flavors in the form of the occasional appetizer? So I set out to develop a creamy weeknight pasta dish that featured these crowd-pleasing flavors.
Turns out Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Penne couldn’t be simpler. With the help of a little garlic and Parmesan cheese, the sauce is just light cream cheese thinned and flavored with frozen spinach and its liquid. (Make sure to save some of the pasta cooking liquid to further thin the sauce.)
Since Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Penne is so easy to make, I spend a little extra time on the topping. Rather than the usual Parmesan, I sprinkle this pasta dish with crisp garlicky panko breadcrumbs, reinforcing the spinach-artichoke dip theme. For more pungent flavored breadcrumbs, I add the garlic at the end of toasting. To minimize cleanup, use the same pan to make the breadcrumbs and the sauce, and remember the breadcrumb topping stays extra crisp if you let everyone sprinkle it on at the table.
We originally developed this recipe for Dreamfield’s Pasta, a brand we like because of its low digestible carbohydrate count and high fiber content.
Creamy Spinach Artichoke Penne
If you can’t find chopped spinach, buy cut-leaf instead. Once the spinach has thawed, squeeze out and reserve the liquid and chop the spinach. Add it and the reserved spinach liquid to the warming cream cheese.
12 ounces (3 cups) Dreamfields penne
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup panko bread crumbs
5 minced garlic cloves, divided
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
8 ounces light (Neufchatel) cream cheese
1 pound frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
Bring 2 quarts of water and 2 teaspoons of salt to boil a large pot. Add pasta and, using back-of-the-box times as a guide, cook, stirring frequently at first to prevent sticking, until just tender. Reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid, drain pasta and return it to the pot.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium heat. Add panko and toast, stirring frequently, until light golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 of the garlic cloves, thyme, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; continue toasting until fragrant and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.
Return saucepan to skillet. Add remaining tablespoon of oil and remaining garlic cloves and cook until garlic sizzles and turns golden. Add cream cheese, spinach and its liquid, and the artichoke hearts and cook until mixture melts to a simmering sauce; whisk in Parmesan cheese. Add sauce to pasta and toss to coat, adding enough of the pasta cooking liquid to make a light creamy sauce. Serve immediately sprinkling generously with breadcrumbs and a little Parmesan cheese.