Tri-Color Penne with Creamy Ricotta (and a Poached Egg)

Malcolm and I moved in together for the first time in the summer of 2000. We sublet a one bedroom apartment from a graduate student that was convenient to my job at the head shop and Rudy’s, our favorite neighborhood dive bar. There was a crappy pizza joint up the street, where we went every Wednesday for pizza, Survivor, and Coors night. You could see the ivy covered buildings of the university from our dingy stoop. And in the other direction, there sounded the occasional gunshot. It was perfect.

When we had friends over for dinner, sitting around a small card table in the living room, we’d throw together a pasta dish similar to this one, before we all went teetering into the night to drink many beers and play pool and talk about things for hours.

Those were such good days. I feel really lucky to get to be living with Malcolm still, after all this time, laughing in the middle of the night, making dinner and opening a bottle of wine. It’s been the slumber party of my life.

The key to this recipe is the pasta water. That stuff makes magic. Don’t forget it. Dip a Pyrex measuring cup into the pasta pot just before draining the penne in a colander. This is a good sauce all on its own, creamy and salty and bright from the fresh basil; then you add a runny yolk egg and sonnets and symphonies should be written. You get a gorgeous, wobbly orb to balance on top of the pasta.

In the spring, I would add asparagus and lemon zest, and this would be lovely for Easter brunch. It works right now as a transition to fall dish. I like an extra drizzle of olive oil at the end. And a glass of wine. And Jeopardy. And both children to be sleeping. And sitting down at the day’s end to celebrate making it. It’s simple. It’s satisfying. It is the best weekday dinner we’ve made lately.


Tri-Color Penne with Creamy Ricotta (and a Poached Egg)

  • Author:
  • Yield: Serves 4 1x


  • 1 box tri-colored penne pasta, cooked al dente
  • 1 cup pasta water, reserved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 15 oz container ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup diced ham (about 2.5 ounces)
  • 10 big basil leaves, chiffonaded
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 eggs, poached
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste


  1. In the empty pasta pot over medium heat, add olive oil and the sliced garlic. Pour in pasta water, milk, and ricotta, and whisk well to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low. Return pasta to the pot and stir in ham, basil, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep the pasta on low while you poach the eggs. Plate and serve immediately with a basil leaf to garnish and a dash of red pepper flakes, if desired.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


    1. I expressed some doubts about the egg, but as is often the case when it comes to Jillian’s pasta, I didn’t know what I was talking about.

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