Spicy Lemon Arugula Penne, an easy penne pasta with fresh arugula in simple garlic and chili infused olive oil sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice. Super simple and ready in only 20 minutes!

penne, arugula, and lemon pasta on a white plate with a gold fork on a marble countertop with a green plant

Do you love fresh arugula? We love to add this peppery leafy green to salads and soups, but our favorite way to enjoy it is in a simple homemade arugula pasta that's made with simple ingredients, yet doesn't skimp on flavor.

👉 We hope you love this pasta with fresh arugula, it's:

  • a great choice for busy weeknights because it comes together in only 20 minutes.
  • an easy “clean out the fridge” recipe — just toss in those veggies that about to go bad!
  • a perfect option for meal prep because this pasta recipe keeps well in the refrigerator and reheats easily.
  • a healthier version of classic creamy pastas that packs in fresh vegetables and flavor with minimal ingredients.

Are you ready to learn how to make this easy peasy penne pasta with arugula? Let's do it!

bowls of penne, arugula, chili flakes, olive oil, sea salt, and parmesan cheese on a white table with a green plant
Ingredients: penne pasta, fresh arugula, garlic, lemon, red pepper, olive oil

🌱 How to make (step-by-step photos)

1️⃣ Step One: Boil pasta + reserve pasta water

First, bring 6 cups of water with one teaspoon of salt to a boil, then add penne pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

When pasta is done, scoop out 1/2 cup of pasta water and save for later use. Drain the pasta water and set cooked pasta aside.

a spatula with penne noodles above a pot of pasta boiling in hot water on a stove
Boil pasta

👉 Why do you reserve pasta water? The water that pasta cooks in is high in starches that are released by the pasta when it boil. Adding this starchy water to olive-oil based pasta sauces makes for a thicker and creamier sauce that sticks to the pasta and provides flavor.


2️⃣ Step Two: Make garlic chili oil

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat.

Add sliced garlic and cook until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Then add red chili flakes and let cook 1 minute to infuse oil, then remove pan from heat so garlic and oil do not burn.

olive oil in a pan with garlic and red pepper flakes
Cook garlic and red pepper in oil

3️⃣ Step Three: Toss pasta in oil with arugula + lemon

When pasta is done, add the cooked penne noodles to the pan with the garlic and chili flakes in oil.

penne pasta in an pan with spicy olive oil
Add cooked pasta

Top with fresh arugula, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, a pinch of sea salt, and the juice and zest of 1 lemon.

fresh arugula leaves in a pan with penne pasta
Top with fresh arugula

Stir to combine, then drizzle a small amount of reserved pasta water and heat over low heat until the ingredients are well combined. Then serve, and enjoy!

a hand squeezing lemon into a pan of pasta with arugula
Add a squeeze of lemon

🥣 Preparation tips

This pasta and vegetable recipe is an easy weeknight dinner recipe that comes together in under 20 minutes, but there are some tips and tricks for streamlining preparation.

  • Use any vegetables you have in season. Is spinach or asparagus in season? Swap out the arugula for the season's freshest vegetables.
  • Want to make it plant-based? This pasta is delicious even without the cheese, but if you're craving a vegan alternative try a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor.
  • Make enough for lunch the next day. Double up on this recipe to keep in the fridge for lunches all week, it's an easy pasta recipe that reheats well.
  • Boost the nutrition by choosing a vegetable-based pasta. Swap traditional pasta for a new veggie-based pasta alternative like chickpea, lentil, quinoa, or rice pasta. They're also gluten-free!
a plate of penne pasta with spinach and a slice of lemon on a white table with a bowl of parmesan cheese

❓ Questions + quick tips

What can I make with a lot of arugula?

Arugula is a versatile leafy green that's great raw in salads, sandwiches, or sprinkled over pizzas or as a topping for toasts. Arugula is also delicious cooked in soups, stews, or in pasta.

Can you heat arugula?

Arugula can be heated, and is delicious in cooked foods like soups, stews or pastas. Keep in mind that because arugula is a very fragile leafy green that it is best mixed into cooked foods, as when it is cooked on its own it wilts and heat considerably reduces its size.

Is cooked arugula good for you?

Arugula is a healthy leafy green that is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, and folate. One cup of arugula has 5 calories, <1g protein, and <1g carbohydrates (USDA Food Nutrient Database).

How do you make arugula less bitter?

Arugula has a naturally bitter flavor with a distinctive peppery bite that lends itself well to dishes with strong flavors. To make arugula less bitter, simply toss it in a neutral oil like olive oil with a small amount of an acid like lemon juice, which will neutralize its strong flavor.


🍝 More plant-based pasta recipes

Love this simple penne pasta recipe? Check out our other seasonal pasta recipes:

🌟 Did you make this recipe? Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star rating and a comment below to let us know how it turned out. Save it for later by pinning to your favorite Pinterest board and make sure to tag us on Fork in the Road’s Instagram to show off your sustainable food creations!

Yield: 4 servings

Spicy Lemon Arugula Penne

a plate of penne pasta with spinach and a slice of lemon on a white table with a bowl of parmesan cheese

Spicy Lemon Arugula Penne, an easy penne pasta with fresh arugula in simple garlic and chili infused olive oil sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice. Super simple and ready in only 20 minutes!

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup penne pasta
  • 1 teaspoon salt, for pasta water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 cup arugula
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, or nutritional yeast if vegan
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Boil pasta: Bring 6 cups of water with one teaspoon of salt to a boil, then add penne pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. When pasta is done, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and then drain pasta and set aside.
  2. Make garlic chili oil: While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add sliced garlic and cook until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add red chili flakes and let cook 1 minute to infuse oil, then remove pan from heat so garlic and oil do not burn.
  3. Toss pasta in oil with arugula and lemon: When pasta is done, add penne noodles to pan with garlic and chili flakes. Top with arugula, parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, a pinch of sea salt, and the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Stir to combine, then drizzle a small amount of reserved pasta water and heat over low heat until the ingredients are well combined.

Notes

  • Make it vegan: To make this recipe vegan, omit the cheese completely or substitute it with nutritional yeast or a vegan cheese alternative.
  • Tools needed: environmentally-friendly cookware (a large pot and pan)
  • Leftovers and storage: Store leftover pasta in glass storage containers in refrigerator for up to four days; reheat in pan over low heat.
  • Nutrition notes: This recipe uses completely plant-based ingredients, making it appropriate for vegans. Substitute gluten-free pasta to make this recipe gluten-free.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1 serving

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 295Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 11mgSodium: 831mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 3gSugar: 8gProtein: 10g

UPDATE: This recipe was originally posted in March 2019, but was updated with new photos and clearer instructions in May 2021.