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For those times when basic really is best: Lemon Pasta! There’s nothing needlessly extra about this recipe, and you won’t want it any other way. Fabulously simple, with a silky, cheesy lemon sauce and a pop of flavor from freshly ground peppercorns, it never fails to hit the spot.

the best lemon pasta on a plate

Why You’ll Love This Pasta al Limone Recipe

  • Simple (and Authentic!) Perfection. A classic Italian pasta for which “authentic” recipes abound, lemon pasta—or, as it’s known in Italian, pasta al limone—is a simple pasta dish consisting of a long noodle-shaped pasta (usually spaghetti), lemon (zest and juice), butter or olive oil, Parmesan, salt, and a generous amount of black pepper.
  • No Heavy Cream Needed. Like Ricotta Pasta, one of the neatest things about this spaghetti al limone is the fact that you don’t need heavy ingredients to create a rich, silky sauce. In fact, this is a lemon pasta with NO heavy cream at all! The pasta’s own starches create the magic.
  • Pantry Ingredients. You know all those times you open up the refrigerator, dig through the pantry, and ask yourself: What am I going to make for dinner? The answer is lemon pasta. It’s made with six simple ingredients and you likely have most (or all!) of them on hand.
  • Light and Flavorful. Lemon pasta has a mouthwatering mix of umami Parmesan cheese, bright lemon, freshly cracked black peppercorns, and butter. It ticks a lot of those comfort food boxes, and yet it still manages to be a light pasta dish that won’t leave you feeling stuffed.

5 Star Review

“So easy and flavorful! Will definitely do this one on repeat.”

— Lisa —

More About Lemon Pasta

The origin of pasta al limone is disputed, but it is especially popular in southern Italy and Sicily, regions that are known for their lemon crop.

A tantalizing testament to the sentiment “less is more,” lemon pasta isn’t outstanding despite its simplicity—it is sensational because of it.

Every bite wows more than the last; lemon pasta is positively delicious, and it’s puzzling how good something this easy, made with so few ingredients, can taste.

Eating lemon pasta (several bites of which I devoured directly from the skillet using my fingers if you must know—don’t tell my Nonna) caused me to wonder why on earth I complicate my cooking more than necessary.

This time, more is not more. These few ingredients are enough.

How to Make Lemon Pasta

The Ingredients

  • Unsalted Butter. I prefer butter to extra virgin olive oil for building creamy-textured pasta sauces like this one.
  • Lemon. Bright flavor from both the zest and juice gives this pasta its name and makes the flavors sing.

Market Swap

When fragrant Meyer lemons are in season, they’re a fantastic addition to this lemon pasta recipe.

  • Parmesan. Make sure to buy the real-deal, and grate it yourself right off of the block. Because this recipe contains so few ingredients, their quality really counts. Just ask Penne Alla Vodka.
  • Pasta. Spaghetti is the classic pasta shape for lemon pasta, but any long noodle such as fettuccine, angel hair pasta, or linguine works too. Shorter noodles do not work as well, since part of how the magical, silky sauce forms is due to the way long noodles can be dragged and tossed through the liquid.
  • Garlic. Optional but delicious. It’s in some classic recipes but not others; personally, I love the way it tastes with pasta al limone, but don’t stress if you don’t have any on hand.
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper. We’re especially generous with the black pepper around here.

The Directions

boiling noodles for lemon pasta
  1. Cook the Pasta. Don’t forget to reserve some of the pasta water.
butter and lemon zest to make the best lemon pasta recipe
  1. Start the Sauce. Sauté the garlic with the butter.
lemon pasta creamy sauce
  1. Toss. Add the pasta, some of the pasta water, and toss to coat.
parmesan on top of lemon pasta for pasta al limone
  1. Finish. Add the lemon zest and juice, then the cheese. Toss continuously, adding in salt and pepper. Serve lemon pasta hot with additional cheese and black pepper, and ENJOY!

Recipe Variations

We love this pasta just as it is: simple and perfect, without any additional fuss. If you’d like to augment it or add protein, here are few tasty suggestions.

  • Shredded or Diced Chicken. Pasta al limone with chicken is a sure bet. Top it with grilled, sautéed, or even simply shredded chicken (use this stovetop method, Instant Pot Chicken, or Crock Pot Shredded Chicken to cook it).
  • Italian-Style Chicken. For a restaurant-inspired meal, serve with Chicken Francaise or Chicken Piccata. Sauteed Italian chicken sausage would be yummy too.
  • Shrimp. Take a note from Garlic Shrimp Pasta and add sautéed shrimp or Grilled Shrimp.
  • Herbs. Add a handful of whatever is in your refrigerator. Fresh basil is classic for lemon pasta, and fresh parsley feels appropriate. Stay away from dried herbs, which are lackluster in flavor. Since you really don’t need any herbs at all (we enjoyed this recipe without), if you do decide to add them, make sure they are fresh.
  • Greens. Stir baby spinach or baby arugula into the lemon pasta just before you begin tossing the pasta in the sauce; it will wilt and up the veggie factor in your dinner.

Storage Tips

  • To Store. Place leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • To Reheat. Gently rewarm lemon pasta in a large skillet on the stove over medium-low heat, adding a splash of water as needed to thin the sauce. Toss the noodles often and brighten them up with a squeeze of lemon.
  • To Freeze. Store pasta in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

What to Serve with Lemon Pasta

plate of easy and creamy lemon pasta

Recipe Tips and Tricks

  • Grate the Parmesan Yourself. Don’t use the shelf-stable shaky cheese for your lemon pasta! I find using a rasp-style grater to grate Parmigiano-Reggiano extra fine allows it to melt into the sauce instantly, resulting in a super smooth, luscious sauce. Another quick option is to cut a block of Parmesan into a few pieces, then grind the pieces in your food processor. Once grated, Parmesan can last in your refrigerator for weeks and freezer for months.
  • Use High-Quality Ingredients. In all of my Italian recipes, I like to use whole wheat pasta for its additional fiber and nutrients. I also recommend buying a higher quality brand if you can. As with the Parmesan, since there are so few ingredients in this recipe, each one of them counts.
  • Don’t Forget to Save the Cooking Liquid. The secret to making this creamy lemon pasta recipe without cream is the pasta cooking liquid. By reducing the amount of water in which you cook the pasta, you end up with a starchier pasta water that you can use to create a thicker pasta sauce. I borrowed the idea of thickening the pasta-cooking liquid from my one-pan Chicken Broccoli Ziti, another pasta that becomes creamy as it cooks in a lesser amount of liquid.

Lemon Pasta (Pasta al Limone)

5 from 33 votes
Lemon pasta is a simple, sublime classic Italian recipe made with lemon, Parmesan, butter, and black pepper. Fast, easy and perfect!

Prep: 2 minutes
Cook: 13 minutes
Total: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 8 ounces dried whole wheat spaghetti or similar long noodles such as fettuccine
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 medium lemon plus additional for serving
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese about 1 1/2 ounces, plus additional for serving
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil—use an amount of water so that the pasta is more crowded in the water than it typically would be (see photo in blog post above). Cook the noodles until al dente according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
  • When the pasta is nearly done cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. If the garlic is done cooking before the pasta is ready, remove the pan from the heat so the garlic doesn’t burn.
  • IMMEDIATELY (as soon as the pasta is drained) add the hot pasta to the skillet with the garlic. Pour in 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. Increase the heat to medium-high, then with a pair of tongs, toss to coat. Continue cooking and tossing constantly, until the sauce turns shiny and coats the noodles—it will take a minute or so. The pasta will be coated in a shiny, silky sauce. If the pasta becomes too tight at any point, splash in a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water (add the water slowly so that the pasta doesn’t become watery).
  • Zest the lemon over the top. Cut the lemon into quarters, then squeeze in the lemon juice. Sprinkle on the Parmesan. Toss again to combine. The cheese might be a bit clumpy at first, but just keep tossing, adding the tiniest splashes of pasta water only as needed. Add a good pinch of salt and several generous grinds of black pepper. Toss again. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving plates and top each serving with a sprinkle of extra Parm and a bit more black pepper. Enjoy hot.

Video

Notes

  • TO STORE: Place leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm pasta in a large skillet on the stove over medium-low heat, adding a splash of water as needed to thin the sauce. Toss the noodles often and brighten them up with a squeeze of lemon.
  • TO FREEZE: Store pasta in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 4)Calories: 337kcalCarbohydrates: 46gProtein: 14gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 34mgPotassium: 175mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 371IUVitamin C: 15mgCalcium: 174mgIron: 2mg

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do You Put Lemon Juice in Pasta?

Fresh lemon juice adds a fantastic bright flavor to pasta, and it’s especially delicious when paired with savory Parmesan cheese, as in this lemon pasta recipe.

When Should You Add Spices to Pasta?

It’s best to add spices near the beginning of cooking the sauce, as this allows the spices to bloom, enhancing their flavor. The exception to this is black pepper, which is often added as a finishing touch.

What Wine Should I Serve With Lemon Pasta?

Serve a dry, crisp white wine with lemon pasta. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are both solid choices.

Related Recipes

Pasta is incredibly versatile and the starting point of many of my quick dinner recipes. Here are a few to try:

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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Recipe Rating




75 Comments

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  1. One of our favorites for a simple meal night. Pair it with wine and your favorite salad, and walla , dinner!5 stars

    1. Very good. I added a few other things such as wilted fresh Spinach, fresh Mushrooms,Capers, and slivers of colored Bell peppers. Oh yeah! Fresh basil for garnish.5 stars

  2. Quick, simple, and super super delicious! I’ve never had this dish before but I am a big fan now and look forward to making again.5 stars

  3. Awesome lemon pasta! Have tried other recipes. I like that this has no cream and minimal butter. Still delicious. Used rice pasta…added greens. Was wonderful!!5 stars

  4. I made this tonight with Angel hair pasta, then added shrimp and sliced zucchini. SO good! The wife loved it. It’s going in the rotation!5 stars

  5. SO deliciously cheesy! This was a perfect dish and amazingly quick for a real homemade meal. Just a piece of garlic bread and a bowl will have your belly stuffed full!
    Ended up using a little over 3/4c of the cooked water so make sure to set aside the full cup. Only had a half of a lemon so I used that with a bit of lemon juice from the refrigerator. I also used KRAFT brand grated parm and the meal was **CHEF’S KISS**5 stars

  6. Made this for family dinner last night with Italian Herbed Lemon Salmon. I only had a pound of Angel Hair pasta on hand and it turned out lovely albeit a bit dry. Not sure how the recipe turns out with regular pasta. Next time (if using angel hair – our favorite) along with the pasta water I might add garlic infused olive oil to keep in the moisture. I’d also like to try this recipe with zoodles and or spaghetti squash. I’m eating a little of the pasta cold this morning with leftovers from the mixed vegetable cucumber salad and a sprinkle of Feta Cheese before my workout. YUM, and thanks for the LEMON FRESH recipe!5 stars

    1. Hi! Angel hair pasta tends to give those type of result which I why I spaghetti or fettuccine. So glad you enjoyed it!

  7. So simple, and so yummy! I cooked 4 oz of whole wheat spaghetti for 2, used 1 tbsp of butter, and added in fresh chopped parsley + a little crushed red pepper flakes for extra flavor. I served it with sautéed zucchini. This is a really simple and satisfying recipe that makes for a great weeknight recipe because it comes together so fast. Grilled chicken or sautéed shrimp would go nicely with this.5 stars

  8. Can’t wait to try this. I’m eating healthier lately and was looking for a Spaghetti Limone recipe…I wouldn’t think whole wheat pasta would go with this kind of light dish but definitely trying it! One of my favorite, easy pastas I’ve made is similar to this but with tuna packed in olive oil and capers added. The recipe used gluten free linguine it was absolutely addicting. I found it on a blog. But I’ve always been a fan of the simple lemon pasta or lemon pepper pasta.

  9. I am having a dinner party for 10 and plan on serving this as a side to Chicken Vesuvio. Can it be made ahead and kept warm in a chafing dish?

    1. Hi Jackie, while I haven’t tried it, I think you probably could. You might need to add a splash of water as needed to thin the sauce if it thickens up for you. If you decide to try it out, I’d love to know how it goes!

  10. I adore this recipe!! I’ve made it several times…. it’s so simple and delicious. I add fresh snipped parsley and basil to the pasta at the end. I like to serve it with roast asparagus. Thank you!5 stars

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