Lemon Pasta with Lots of Leafy Greens

Mei Mar FoodSeen
Image by Felicia Trujillo

In an effort to minimize food waste, chef and cookbook author Mei Li tosses past-their-prime greens into this cheesy, lemon pasta. The greens add bulk and cook down into a silky texture. You could use a hardier green here, like kale or chard, or you could use arugula or baby spinach. A lettuce that’s bright and fresh could also be added right at the end. For a bit of crunch that coats each bite, top bowls with Mei Li’s recipe for toasted breadcrumbs before serving. They’re optional but make everything more delicious.

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Serves 4

  • Salt
  • 12 ounces pasta of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2-4 cups leafy greens such as arugula
  • or spinach (chop any larger leaves
  • like kale or chard; baby arugula or
  • anything similar can be left whole)
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup grated parmesan or another hard cheese of your choice, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Toasted breadcrumbs for serving, optional

  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and cook pasta for 1 minute less than the package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until softened. If your greens are on the sturdy side, like kale or chard, toss them into the pan now and sauté for a few minutes while you wait for the pasta to finish.
  3. Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of pasta water (Mei suggests dipping a mug in right before draining). Add half of any lighter leaves, such as arugula or baby spinach, to the skillet, then add lemon zest and juice. Stir until well combined, then add pasta, parmesan, butter, and ½ cup of pasta water. Stir everything well, adding a splash or two more of the water to loosen the sauce if it looks too dry. Right before serving, stir in the remaining lighter leaves and serve with more grated cheese and toasted breadcrumbs, if using, on top

toasted breadcrumbs heading-plus-icon


Makes 1 cup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Flavorings of your choice, such as minced garlic, anchovies, chili flakes, everything bagel spice, dried herbs like oregano or parsley, or fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary
  • 1 cup stale bread, blitzed into large crumbs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. If you’re adding flavorings like garlic or anchovies, add them to the oil first to infuse as it warms. Add breadcrumbs and season well with salt and pepper. Stir frequently to toast to a dark golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. If you’re adding spices or herbs, turn off heat and stir them in thoroughly. Let cool slightly before sprinkling onto another dish. Store in an airtight container in the fridge
  • Recipe By
    Mei Li

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