This Lemon Pasta recipe can be ready in just 30 minutes! It’s made with a creamy, fresh lemon sauce and pairs perfectly with chicken or shrimp. Makes a great weeknight dinner! Recipe includes a how-to video!
My Favorite Lemon Pasta Recipe
This lemon pasta recipe is a light and creamy Italian dish with a citrusy,
Mediterranean twist. It’s brightly flavored with fresh lemons, olive oil, and shallots. It’s simple, comes together quickly, and makes an incredibly refreshing weeknight dinner.
Pairing lemon with cream is a bit unexpected, but it gives this dish a vibrant and fresh flavor that isn’t too rich. Together they create a silky sauce that coats the noodles beautifully without being heavy like an alfredo sauce.
Why you should try it:
- Takes only 15 minutes to prep and another 15 to cook.
- Can be made with any pasta shape you have on hand.
- Pairs nicely with your favorite protein, like seared chicken or shrimp.
- Unique and satisfying flavor that’s pleasantly creamy, but not overly rich or heavy.
What You Need
We’re keeping it simple in today’s lemon pasta recipe by using just a few high-quality ingredients. Here are the most important ones:
- Lemon juice + zest. Make sure to zest your lemon before juicing it (much easier that way 😅), and note that you only want to zest the bright yellow part, not the bitter white papery layer/pith. Also! Unlike my lemonade recipe, you really cannot substitute bottled lemon juice here; the flavor just isn’t the same.
- Crushed red pepper. This is optional for those of you who don’t like heat, but I love the very slight kick a pinch adds to this lemon pasta recipe. Alternatively, you can also amp up the heat with another shake of crushed red pepper, if desired.
- Heavy cream. We’ll subdue and complement the lemon with some heavy cream. Double cream or whipping cream will also work. I haven’t tried milk, but fear it would split.
- Shallot. I love using a minced shallot for extra flavor in this lemon pasta recipe. You can substitute minced garlic instead if shallots aren’t your thing; see the recipe notes below for the substitution amount.
- Parmesan. As in my risotto recipe, you need to use a good quality parmesan cheese and grate it yourself! Do not use pre-grated or shredded cheese, especially not the stuff in the plastic shaker canisters. These cheeses contain anti-caking agents and can keep the cheese from melting smoothly; only freshly grated parmesan will create a smooth sauce.
SAM’S TIP: A high quality pasta or homemade pasta really elevates this dish. I like to use spaghetti, linguini, or fettuccine. Whatever type you choose, make sure to cook your pasta til al dente or even just shy of al dente, since we’re going to finish cooking it in the sauce.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!p
How to Make Lemon Pasta
- Cook your pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.
- Drain the pasta (don’t rinse!), making sure to reserve roughly 1 cup of the water. Set aside.
- Zest and juice your lemon, making sure to only zest the yellow skin and not the white papery layer. Always zest before juicing–it’s quite challenging to zest an already juiced lemon!
- Melt together the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
SAM’S TIP: Save your pasta water and DON’T rinse your pasta after draining! The starches in the water and on the pasta will help emulsify everything together and create a silky, velvety sauce.
- Add the shallot, lemon zest, and crushed red pepper. Cook until the shallot is translucent.
- Whisk in the lemon juice until combined.
- Slowly whisk in the cream while stirring constantly. Let the mixture come to a simmer, stirring frequently.
- Reduce the heat to low and stir in the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.
- Add the pasta and a splash of pasta water (our magic bullet fur a well-emulsified sauce, it works in everything from lemon pasta to tomato-sauce-based ragu).
- Toss everything together over low heat until the pasta is thoroughly coated in the sauce.
SAM’S TIP: Top your lemon pasta with more grated parmesan, chopped fresh parsley or basil, and salt and pepper to taste. I also like to garnish with a few lemon slices–so pretty!
Frequently Asked Questions
Pasta al limone is traditionally made without any cream and instead solely relies on the emulsion of pasta water, butter, and parmesan to create a silky sauce. So I’d say my version is similar, but not exactly the same.
Seared chicken or shrimp (like my garlic butter shrimp!) pair well with this lemon pasta recipe. I recommend cooking your protein separately and adding it on top just before serving.
You can also serve your lemon pasta with a side of breadsticks or garlic knots, steamed asparagus or broccoli, roasted brussels sprouts, or a salad.
Yes, but you’ll want to reheat carefully so you don’t overcook the pasta or cause the sauce to separate. I’d recommend following the tips for reheating in my fettuccine alfredo post, since that recipe is similar.
I hope your family loves this dish as much as mine does!
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
- 8 oz (226 g) spaghetti noodles or use your favorite pasta
- 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
- 1 heaping Tablespoon finely chopped shallot see note
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 Tablespoons lemon zest
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed
- ¾ cup (177 ml) heavy cream
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese plus additional for topping
- ½ teaspoon table salt plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper plus more to taste
- Fresh chopped parsley for garnish optional
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Once boiling, cook pasta according to package instructions. Once pasta has cooked, reserve about 1 cup of pasta water before draining noodles. While pasta is cooking, begin preparing lemon sauce.8 oz (226 g) spaghetti noodles
- In a large saucepan, combine oil and butter over medium heat.2 Tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil, 2 Tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
- Once butter is melted, add shallot, lemon zest, and crushed red pepper and cook until shallot is translucent (if substituting garlic, cook just until garlic is fragrant/30 seconds).1 heaping Tablespoon finely chopped shallot, ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper, 2 Tablespoons lemon zest
- Whisk in 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice until combined.2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in heavy cream and whisk until combined.¾ cup (177 ml) heavy cream
- Bring mixture to a simmer (while stirring frequently). Once simmering, reduce heat to low and add parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon table salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Add warm, cooked spaghetti to the pan along with a splash (2-3 Tablespoons) of pasta water. Toss together over low heat until pasta is well combined and well coated with the sauce.
- Top with fresh parsley, if desired, and serve.Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
ShallotMay substitute 2 teaspoons of minced garlic.
ParmesanUsing freshly grated parmesan (without any anti-caking additives) is critical, otherwise the cheese will not melt smoothly.
ProteinThis dish goes well with grilled chicken or shrimp. I typically cook separately then serve over the pasta.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.