This skillet pasta is packed with greens, protein, and a whole lot of flavor. Hearty kale, onion, and spices get cooked and blended up to create a green sauce that the pasta gets cooked in. Then it gets topped with dollops of ricotta and plenty of mozzarella cheese. It gets finished off in the oven until the pasta is perfectly cooked, the sauce has reduced, and the cheese is melty and just barely golden on top.

Ingredient highlight

Kale! This popular leafy green is rich in calcium, iron, vitamin K, and vitamin C, to name a few. When eating it raw, it’s always best to massage it with some oil and salt to make the texture less fibrous and more pleasant.

Servings 4
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 8-16 oz ground meat*
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1 yellow onion or 1 leek, chopped
  • 1 large bunch kale, stems removed (about 6-8 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed or thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 oz short pasta (I used shells)
  • 1 cup whole milk cottage cheese or ricotta cheese**
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for topping
  • *I like this best with ground beef, sausage, or pork. You can also leave the meat out entirely or substitute with a can of beans or crumbled tofu.
  • **I tested with both cottage cheese and ricotta and both are great. You could use straight cottage cheese or blend it up for a silkier consistency (that’s what I did).


  • Preheat the oven to 400F.
  • In a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the meat, break it up into chunks, then sprinkle all over with ½ teaspoon salt. Let it cook, undisturbed, for 3 minutes or until browned. Continue to break into smaller chunks and cook until cooked through, about 1 more minute. Transfer to a plate.
  • If there is no oil in the pan, add another tablespoon of oil. If there is more than a tablespoon of oil in the pan, spoon some off. This will depend on the meat you use.
  • In the skillet over medium heat, add the onion or leek and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cook until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the kale, garlic, oregano, fennel, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the kale just begins to wilt down, stirring occasionally.
  • Pour in the water and let it heat up for about 1 minute. Transfer everything from the skillet into a high-speed blender and blend on high until smooth, allowing steam to escape. Pour back into the skillet.
  • Stir in the pasta and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Then reduce the heat to medium and simmer rapidly for 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced but is still nice and saucy, stirring occasionally. The pasta will still be very al dente at this point. Turn off the heat.
  • Stir the meat back into the skillet, then spread everything out evenly. Top with dollops of ricotta or cottage cheese and sprinkle evenly with mozzarella. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is beginning to brown in spots and the sauce has reduced.
  • Serve topped with parmesan cheese.

Items you can prep ahead (optional)

  • Chop 1 yellow onion or 1 leek
  • Remove stems from 1 bunch kale, stems removed (about 6-8 cups)
  • Smash or thinly slice 2 cloves garlic
  • Grate 2 cups mozzarella cheese


  • To make vegetarian, skip the meat all together or substitute with a can or two of beans.
  • To make vegan, see above + use a vegan ricotta or make your own (or skip it!) and a vegan mozzarella cheese alternative.
  • To make gluten-free, use a gluten-free pasta alternative. You may also be able to make this using 1 cup (rinsed) jasmine rice, though I have not tried.
  • Use any leafy green in place of kale (mustard greens, chard, spinach, etc…)


  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 2 months.

Leftovers + Repurposing:

  • Warm up leftovers in the microwave until warmed through. It helps to break it up into smaller chunks and stir every 30 seconds or so. Top it with parm and a squeeze of lemon, if you’d like.
  • If you have any fresh herbs on hand, sprinkle those on top.
  • Top with a fried egg. 

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