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Bright and zesty, this flavorful Lemon Pasta, known as Pasta Al Limone in Italy, comes together in under 20 minutes with just 6 ingredients. Whether it’s a hectic weeknight or a celebratory weekend meal, this dish is your perfect go-to!

two pasta bowl with red and white strips container lemon pasta with a lemon on the side

Why you should try this recipe

  • Quick and easy – Made in under 20 minutes using six ingredients you likely already have! This lemon pasta is versatile, ideal for quick weeknight dinners or as a satisfying addition to weekend feasts. Pair it with Peach Caprese Salad and Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Almond Glaze for a delicious meal.
  • No cream – In my experience, cream tends to diminish the vibrant flavor of lemon, so I opted for unsalted butter, as commonly found in traditional Italian recipes. Lemon and butter is, in my opinion, one of the best combos there is! Check out my Buttery Lemon Bundt Cake with Lemon Syrup Glaze or Lemon Ricotta Cake for sweet versions!
  • No clumpy sauce – This recipe relies on the Italian“mantecatura” technique, using the natural starch from the pasta to bind the ingredients and create a creamy sauce. Traditionally, cheese is typically combined with the sauce along with pasta water, then emulsified. But…! this technique is hard to master, and the cheese tends to coagulate, resulting in frustrating clumps (I’ve learned the hard way). After numerous attempts, I discovered a foolproof method: adding the cheese after the pasta and sauce are fully emulsified. This ensures a smooth, even coating every time, with no pesky lumps in sight.
spaghetti, grated parmesan, lemon, butter, basil, salt and pepper on a marble surface

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The ingredients you’ll need

(Note: the full ingredients list, including measurements, is provided in the recipe card at the end of the post.)

  • Spaghetti – I chose Spaghetti di Gragnano for its great rugged texture, ideal for the sauce to adhere to. However, other varieties of long pasta, such as regular Spaghetti, Linguine, Tagliolini, or Tagliatelle are also great options.
  • Lemon – preferably organic, as this recipe uses both zest and juice. This is the star ingredient; therefore, the better the quality of the lemon, the tastiest the sauce!
  • Unsalted butter – this recipe uses butter instead of olive oil, creating a rich, creamy base that enhances lemon’s flavor and helps coat the pasta beautifully. I recommend using cultured butter, also sometimes called “European butter” for its heightened richness.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – not only thickens the sauce but also brings in a savory, salty umami kick. And if you’re out of Parmigiano, freshly grated Pecorino cheese makes a fantastic substitute.
  • Salt and pepper – to season. White pepper is my favorite to use in this recipe. Its milder flavor allows the lemon’s zestiness to shine through, creating the perfect balance.
  • Fresh herbs (optional) – I love adding a final touch of freshness to this dish by garnishing it with either basil, parsley, or mint.

Love pasta? Check out my Pici All’Aglione (Pici Pasta with Garlic Tomato Sauce) or Cheese Tortellini With Spinach And Creamy Wine Sauce!


close-up of spaghetti di gragnano

How to properly salt pasta water?

Properly salting pasta water ensures that each strand or piece of pasta is seasoned evenly. It also helps enhance the flavor of the pasta while helping it retain its structure, preventing it from becoming too mushy while cooking. The ratio most Italian cooks use is the following:

  • 8 ounces (200 g) pasta
  • 8 cups (2 liters) water
  • 4 teaspoons (20 g) sea salt

Note: Regarding the common suggestion to add olive oil to the pasta water, I highly recommend against it! Coating the pasta strands with oil inhibits starch release, making it challenging for the sauce to adhere properly. It’s a no-go.

How to Make Lemon Pasta?

(Note: please see the recipe card below for the complete written instructions and measurements.)

Start by preparing the lemon.

  • Thoroughly rinse the lemon under cold water and pat it dry.
  • Zest the lemon, then cut it in half and juice it.

Cook the pasta al dente.

  • In a large pot, bring well-salted water to a boil.
  • Add the spaghetti and swoosh them around to prevent them from sticking together.
  • Cook the pasta 1 minute less than what is written on the package instructions (the pasta will finish cooking in the lemon sauce).
spaghetti in a large pot of boiling water

Meanwhile, make the lemon sauce.

  • While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and cook until melted.
  • Add lemon juice and lemon zest and cook for 2 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant and paler.

Add the cooked pasta, and emulsify the sauce.

  • Using kitchen tongs, transfer the pasta to the skillet, along with ½ cup (120 ml) of cooking water, salt, and pepper.
  • Swoosh everything around dynamically with kitchen tongs to emulsify, for 1 minute.

Note: Mixing the pasta with lemon sauce and a bit of cooking water encourages the starch to bind with the lemon and butter, ensuring a glossy sauce and nicely coated pasta.


  • Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and stir or toss quickly for 10 seconds.

Serve the lemon pasta.

  • Divide the pasta evenly between two pasta bowls, and top with chopped fresh basil or parsley. 
  • Enjoy while sipping on a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
close-up of glossy pasta al limone in a black skillet

Nim Keys – Useful Tips

  1. Grate the cheese thinly – For grating the cheese, go for a microplane zester or the finer side of your cheese grater. This way, it gets all nice and mixed in with the pasta, sticking to it perfectly.
  2. Use kitchen tongs – whether it’s transferring cooked pasta into the sauce, emulsifying the pasta with the sauce, or plating the final dish, they’re incredibly handy, but also budget-friendly. An essential tool for cooking long pasta!
  3. Slightly under cook the pasta – Cook the pasta until it’s almost al dente, as it will continue cooking in the sauce. Aim for a slightly undercooked texture to ensure perfect doneness when combined with the sauce.
  4. Emulsify the sauce – Actively mixing the cooked pasta with the lemon sauce allows the pasta’s starch to blend in, giving you that glossy, creamy sauce. Don’t overlook this step—it really makes a difference!
  5. Add more pasta water if need be – Feel free to add more pasta water if you think it’s needed. Different types of pasta release different amounts of starch, so just adjust accordingly. And keep in mind, it’s good to have the sauce a touch runnier than you want it on the plate because it tends to firm up once it’s served.

two pasta bowl with red and white strips container lemon pasta with a lemon on the side

Wine Pairing🍷


SAUVIGNON BLANC

Pronounced “Saw-vin-yon blæŋ”

Sauvignon Blanc wines are known for their refreshing acidity and vibrant citrus notes. They make an excellent companion to Lemon Pasta, complementing its acidity and lemony zest while balancing out the richness of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.

WINE APPELLATION SUGGESTIONS

  • Sancerre (Loire Valley, France)
  • Sauvignon Blanc from Adelaide Hills (Australia)
  • Sauvignon Blanc from Trentino-Alto Adige (Italy)

close-up of lemon pasta with a fork

FAQ

How long does Lemon Pasta last in the fridge?

This lemon pasta is at its prime when served immediately after cooking, but it can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to two or three days if you have leftovers. When reheating, use either the microwave or stovetop (adding a tablespoon or two of water during reheating to help loosen the sauce).

Can I make this recipe vegan?

Yes, leave out the Parmigiano and substitute butter with an equal amount of extra-virgin olive oil. Sauté two cloves of grated garlic in the oil for added flavor.

More Italian-Inspired Recipes


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Lemon Pasta (Pasta Al Limone)

Bright and zesty, this flavorful Lemon Pasta, known as Pasta Al Limone in Italy, comes together in under 20 minutes with just 6 ingredients. Whether it's a hectic weeknight or a celebratory weekend meal, this dish is your perfect go-to!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Main Course, pasta
Cuisine Italian
Diet Vegetarian
Servings 2

INGREDIENTS
 

  • 8 ounces (220 g) spaghetti (or linguine, tagliolini, tagliatelle)
  • 3 tablespoons (40 g) unsalted cultured butter
  • 1 lemon – zest + juice (about 1 tablespoon zest and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) juice)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ½ cup (50 g) Parmigiano Reggiano thinly grated (see notes)
  • chopped fresh basil, parlsey or mint to serve

INSTRUCTIONS

Cook the pasta.

  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil (see salt/water ratio above in this post).
  • Add the spaghetti and swoosh them around to prevent them from sticking together.
  • Cook the pasta for one minute less than what is written on the package instructions.

Meanwhile, make the lemon sauce.

  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat and melt the butter.
  • Add lemon juice and lemon zest and cook for 2 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant and paler.
  • Using kitchen tongs, transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet, along with ½ cup (120 ml) of cooking water, salt, and pepper.
  • Swoosh everything around dynamically with kitchen tongs to emulsify, for 1 minute. The sauce should become whiter and thicker.

Add the cheese.

  • Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and stir or toss quickly for 10 seconds.
  • Immediately divide the pasta evenly between two shallow bowls, and top with chopped fresh basil, parsley, or mint.
  • Serve and enjoy while sipping on a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc!

NIM KEYS – USEFUL TIPS

  1. Grate the cheese thinly – For grating the cheese, go for a microplane zester or the finer side of your cheese grater. This way, it gets all nice and mixed in with the pasta, sticking to it perfectly.
  2. Use kitchen tongs – Whether it’s transferring cooked pasta into the sauce, emulsifying the pasta with the sauce, or plating the final dish, they’re incredibly handy, but also budget-friendly. An essential tool for cooking long pasta!
  3. Slightly under cook the pasta – Cook the pasta until it’s almost al dente, as it will continue cooking in the sauce. Aim for a slightly undercooked texture to ensure perfect doneness when combined with the sauce.
  4. Emulsify the sauce – Actively mixing the cooked pasta with the lemon sauce allows the pasta’s starch to blend in, giving you that glossy, creamy sauce. Don’t overlook this step—it really makes a difference!
  5. Add more pasta water if need be – Feel free to add more pasta water if you think it’s needed. Different types of pasta release different amounts of starch, so just adjust accordingly. And keep in mind, it’s good to have the sauce a touch runnier than you want it on the plate because it tends to firm up once it’s served.
Keyword lemon butter pasta, lemon pasta, pasta al limone, vegetarian pasta
Did you make this recipe?Don’t forget the last step! Leave a comment below to let me know how it went!

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Recipe Rating




4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Doesn’t get much easier than this but sooo delicious! We added parsley at the end but I will try the mint idea!
    Thank for that great new staple recipe.

    1. Thank you so much for this lovely review, Svenja. I’m so glad you like it! You should definitely give mint a try; it’s my favorite spring garnish.

  2. 5 stars
    Pâtes citron parmesan (j ai opté pour la menthe, un vrai plus et une vraie réussite) le tout accompagné d un délicieux Sancerre, le bonheur était là !
    Nous avons fini par la Pavlova repas parfait mes amis étaient comblés
    Merci à toi