This Lemon Pasta bathed in a silky, creamy sauce (without cream) makes a quick and simple-yet-satisfying dish.
Lemon pasta, or pasta al limone as it’s known in Italy, is one of those miracle dishes where you combine just a handful of simple ingredients to create something exceptional. Bright and flavorful, it’s easy to make for a quick main dish or serve on the side with chicken, seafood, or vegetables.
What is Lemon Pasta?
Lemon pasta is especially popular in the Amalfi Coast region of southern Italy, where lemons abound and are an essential ingredient in the local cuisine. While there are many delicious versions of lemon pasta recipe, in general, it’s comprised of long pasta noodles bathed in a silky, creamy, lemony sauce.
Which Type of Pasta Should I Use?
Spaghetti tends to be the most common pasta used for Lemon Pasta, but other long noodles such as linguine, bucatini, or tagliatelle are good options too. The light sauce easily coats long noodles without weighing them down when winding them around a fork.
Whichever pasta you choose for this dish, it’s important to cook it just to the point of being al dente, which is “to the tooth,” aka firm to the bite. This usually means about a minute less than the package directions. The pasta will continue to cook in the final step as you toss it with the sauce ingredients.
Do I Really Need to Grate My Own Cheese?
Yes, you really need to grate your own Parmesan cheese for this recipe, and I’ll tell you why. A hard cheese like Parmesan isn’t known for its melting abilities, it’s more often used for grating or shaving. Yet for it to provide creaminess and umami to our sauce, we want it to melt as smoothly as possible. Pre-grated, pre-shredded, and pre-ground Parmesan often contains non-sticking agents that inhibit melting.
To create your smoothest sauce for Lemon Pasta, picking up a block of real-deal Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and finely grating it yourself on a rasp grater (such as a Microplane) is your best bet.
Make It Your Own
While I think the lemon zest adds plenty of lemony goodness to this dish, if you want more you can add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice when you add in the reserved pasta water.
Likewise, many recipes call for some heavy cream. I prefer the lighter cream sauce created from the Parmesan but you could add a generous splash when creating the sauce. Just remember, if you’re adding either of these additional liquids, take it slow with adding the pasta water so the sauce doesn’t get too thin.
Other popular additions to this pasta dish are red pepper flakes and garlic, so customize to your hearts content! (And then tell me about it in the comments.)
What Should I Serve with Lemon Pasta?
This creamy lemon pasta can be a simple-yet-satisfying vegetarian main dish on its own. Or you might choose to top it with grilled or roasted vegetables, sauteed greens, and/or white beans to make it heartier.Print
- 1 lb. dried spaghetti
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pats
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons, zested
- 1 and ½ cup (about 3 oz.) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
- Drain pasta and return to same pot.
- Over medium-low heat, add butter, olive oil, lemon zest, and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss until butter has melted.
- Add Parmesan and pepper, toss until cheese has melted and a creamy sauce has formed.
- Add remaining pasta water as needed, a little at a time, to thin the sauce. Serve warm.
Photos by Dawn Viola.