These last few weeks of stripped-down living have led me to take a long, honest look in the mirror (and in my pantry) and ask myself: Is it—am I—enough? Usually a second, perhaps more pressing question follows: What am I going to make for dinner? The latter at least I can answer: Pasta al Limone.

A plate with pasta al limone no cream and lemon slices

A classic Italian pasta for which “authentic” recipes abound, 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. 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,” pasta al limone isn’t outstanding despite its simplicity—it is sensational because of it.

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

Eating pasta al limone (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.

A plate with simple pasta al limone no cream and pepper

How to Make Pasta al Limone

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 pasta al limone with NO cream at all!

The secret to making a creamy pasta al limone 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’ve included a photo below of what the noodles and water look like in the pot for reference).

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.

A plate of noodles with lemon, cheese, butter, and pepper

The Ingredients

  • Butter. I love it 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.
  • 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.
Butter, noodles, lemons, garlic, and black pepper


I find using a rasp-style grater to grate the Parm 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.

  • Pasta. Spaghetti is the classic pasta shape for pasta al limone, but any long noodle such as fettuccine 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.


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.

  • 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

Two side-by-side photos of noodles in a pot of water
  1. Boil the water in a medium saucepot, salt it like the sea, then add your pasta (it should be more crowded in the pot than usual, see photos above). Cook according to the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the noodles. As the pasta finishes cooking, sauté the garlic with the butter. You want the pan ready as soon as the noodles are done.
  2. Immediately transfer the hot pasta to the skillet with the butter with canola oil and garlic. Add part of the pasta water and toss the pasta until it is coated in the sauce. Keep on tossing.
Noodles in a skillet with a creamy butter sauce
  1. Add the lemon zest and juice, then add the cheese. Toss continuously, adding in salt and pepper. Serve hot with additional cheese and black pepper, and DIG IN!

Gussy It Up {Adding Protein + Herbs}

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.

  • Protein. 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). As an alternative, adding sautéed shrimp or sausage would be yummy.
  • Herbs. Add a handful of whatever is in your refrigerator. Basil is classic for pasta al limone, and 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.
Easy pasta al limone on a plate with butter, cheese, and pepper

What to Serve with Pasta al Limone

Storage and Reheating Tips

  • 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.
A plate of no cream pasta al limone with lemon slices, cheese, and pepper

For a time when basic really is best: Pasta al limone! There’s absolutely nothing extra about this recipe, and you won’t want it any other way.

A plate with pasta al limone no cream and lemon slices

Pasta al Limone

5 from 19 votes
Pasta al limone is a simple, sublime classic Italian recipe made with just pasta noodles, lemon, Parmesan, butter, and black pepper. Fast, easy and perfect!

Prep: 2 mins
Cook: 13 mins
Total: 15 mins

Servings: 4 servings


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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.


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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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 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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  1. This reminds me of when we were in Italy in 1998.  I found an English book that showed recipes from different regions.  It came in handy when we stayed in Amalfi in the off-season and most of the restaurants were closed.  We had a room with a kitchenette and did some Italian cooking.  Amalfie had lemons the size of grapefruit and I made a recipe similar to this.   I am definitely going to make it again!  Thanks for the memory.5 stars

  2. Erin this was SO GOOD!! The ingredients are so simple but the way they are prepared just takes it next level!  Will def be making this again!! ???5 stars

  3. Thank you for this, I can’t wait to try it! I have Land O Lakes butter but not the spreadable kind; I have the sticks – would the same quantity work?

  4. AMAZING!!! Made this for dinner last night. It’s rare that a pasta dish doesn’t immediately make me want to take a nap after eating it…. but this one didn’t! It was so light!! Make this ASAP if you are looking for a delightfully different take on pasta night. Y-U-M5 stars

  5. I tried this dish for dinner, the day it was posted. I had all the ingredients on hand. Since we are bucatini lovers, I made that minor substitution for the pasta. The smell of lemon ? was so inviting! In 30 minutes, from prep to plate, we were savoring this delicious pasta, complemented with a salad. Next time we will be adding some shredded or cubed chicken. This is a definite go to recipe for a quick meal during a busy week or just because.5 stars

  6. A great recipe for those (like my wife) who love lemon anything. It is even better the second day if you add an additional little water to moisten the dish.5 stars

  7. Hello there! These are new flavour combinations for me so I only made 1 Serve to check it out. I enjoyed it very much… as did the cat who licked the plate! (He’s weird) I like the combo and the speedy ease of making it. I know I’ll make it again. Thank you for a lovely recipe!5 stars

  8. I am so excited to try this recipe! What brand of pasta do you recommend for this recipe? You mention using a better pasta – just curious what your go-to is!

    1. Hi Brook! For whole wheat pasta, I’ve been really happy with DeLallo. I hope you love the recipe if you try it!

    1. Hi El! I’ve never tried this recipe with spaghetti squash, but you could experiment with it. If you decide to try it, I’d love to hear how it goes!

  9. I made this last night!  It was amazingly delicious. I bought a fresh block of Parmesan cheese.  I was skeptic all about the lemon as I didn’t think he would like it.  But my son and my husband loved this.  Easy to make and tasted amazing! A definite redo Erin!  It was light and not heavy a perfect late evening supper.  Sadly there was none left for today lol which says a lot!  Thank you ❤️5 stars

    1. I’m SO happy to hear that the recipe was a hit, Jan! Thank you for sharing this kind review!

  10. So excited I just preordered two of your cookbooks one for me and one for my son!  August can’t come soon enough!! :)5 stars

  11. This was delicious! Reminded me of cacio e pepe with a nice lemon kick. Used normal butter and extra lemon. Had just bought red lentil spaghetti and it had a diff texture than I would have liked so next time using my standard pasta.5 stars

    1. Jenn, so happy you loved this. Thanks for sharing! The lentil pasta wouldn’t be starchy, so that’s why the texture was different. I think you’ll love it with regular pasta too!

  12. I’ve made this four times now, and as I get more comfortable cooking, it gets better and better. I added a baked chicken breast to it and a little parsley. I use regular butter instead of canola and it came out fantastic!5 stars

  13. 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.