Pasta al Limone is a bright, creamy and easy-to-prepare Italian pasta dish that’s the perfect for impressing your guests or for a simple and rewarding weeknight dinner.
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Pasta al Limone
A simple and positively delicious dish, pasta al limone is an undemanding dish consisting of spaghetti, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, butter, parmesan, black pepper, and salt. My husband and I are all-things pasta lovers, so on lazy weeknights, this tends to be our go-to due to its ease in preparation.
But make no mistake, although it takes little time to prepare–and something I like to whip up when I’m on the verge of ordering take-out–pasta al limone can be a dish made to impress your guests or for a date-night in.
With Valentine’s day around the corner, this is one dish that will definitely swoon your lover’s taste buds.
Origin of Pasta al Limone
Through my research, this dish originated in Campania, a southern region in Italy. Pasta al Limone is served throughout Italy and is especially popular during the summer months, when lemons are aplenty.
There are a number of ways to make Pasta al Limone; some like to add white wine, ample butter, substitute cream from pasta water and olive oil to make the sauce, and adding fresh herbs like parsley. I prefer making a cream base as I feel the acidity from the lemon and fat from the cream create a harmonious texture and taste that’s craveable.
Ingredients in Pasta al Limone
This simple dish gets its main flavor from the bright, zesty lemon and luscious texture from the buttery parmesan-y cream sauce.
- Parmigiano Reggiano – And go for the good stuff thats wrapped at the grocer. Shred when ready to use.
- Fats – Salted butter and extra virgin olive oil.
- Spaghetti – Is typically the pasta shape of choice but you can also use fettuccine, mafaldine or linguine.
- Heavy Cream – Our creamy base.
- Garlic – Sautéed in butter and olive oil.
- Red Chili Flakes – This is optional, but I love adding this at the end for a little kick.
- Pasta Water – This starchy goodness serves a purpose! Add to cream mixture and noodles to help thicken the sauce.
- Freshly Cracked Black Pepper – Just a grind or two just before serving.
- Kosher Salt – For the pasta water.
Tools You’ll Need
How to Make Pasta al Limone
What I love about this dish is that it’s ready in a zip; the sauce can be made while the pasta cooks.
As you prepare this dish, cook spaghetti until it reaches very al dente (2 minutes before the done time the package suggests) and transfer to the sauce. Spaghetti will continue to cook in the sauce, absorbing some of the flavor as it expands. Remaining starch that releases from the noodles will help thicken the sauce to a luscious texture.
- Boil Water. Bring a pot of water to boil and be sure to salt.
- Prep Ingredients. Grate parmesan and zest one lemon. Set aside.
- Cook Spaghetti. Add spaghetti to boiling water and start working on sauce.
- Start Making Sauce. Melt butter in a saucepan and add garlic. Sauté over medium heat. Add heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Stir in ¾ of lemon zest and stir.
- Drain Pasta and Reserve Water. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add spaghetti to sauce. It’s likely you won’t need most of the pasta water, but its good to keep 1 cup on hand, just in case.
- Add Pasta to Sauce. Add ¼ cup of pasta water and half of parmesan cheese. Stir constantly until parmesan evenly dissolves. Add lemon juice, stir, then add remaining parmesan.
- Plate and Garnish. Once pasta is completely cooked and sauce is slightly thick, remove from heat and divide pasta into two bowls.Top with remaining lemon zest, extra fresh parmesan and a grind of pepper.
Can You Add Protein?
You sure can! While Pasta al Limone is commonly eaten on its own, you can add grilled chicken or shrimp if you desire.
Tips and Tricks
- Use quality ingredients. When making a dish that only calls for a handful of ingredients, it’s all about the quality of ingredients.
- Don’t toss your pasta water! This goodness is liquid gold and key to creating a smooth sauce, as the starchy water helps bind sauce to noodles.
- Don’t forget to salt your pasta water. “Salty as the sea” as they say. Salting the water allows noodles to absorb some of the salt as it cooks, thus, enhancing the flavor.
- Add pasta to sauce when it’s very al-dente. Remove pasta from the pot two minutes before al dente (or two minutes less than the suggested cook time suggests) and add to sauce. Spaghetti will continue to cook and better absorb the sauce as it finishes cooking.
- This recipe goes from prep to plate fast. So be sure to have all your ingredients and tools ready.
- Zest first, then juice lemon. You will have better control of the lemon if you zest before juicing.
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Pasta al Limone
- 1 tablespoon quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ tablespoons salted butter
- 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
- ⅔ cup heavy cream
- 1 cup pasta water
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced (2 tablespoons worth of juice)
- ¾ cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, plus more for garnish
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- Kosher salt, I use Diamond Crystal brand
- Black pepper
- Red chili flakes, optional, for garnish
- Bring a pot of water to boil and be sure to salt.
- Grate parmesan into a bowl. Zest and juice one lemon, separating both. Set aside.
- Add spaghetti to boiling water and start working on the sauce.
- Add oil, butter and garlic to a saucepan and sauté over medium heat.
- Add heavy cream and bring to a simmer and whisk. Stir in ¾ of lemon zest and stir.
- When spaghetti is very al dente (two minutes before finished), reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add spaghetti to sauce.
- Add ¼ cup of pasta water and half of parmesan cheese. Using tongs, stir constantly until parmesan evenly dissolves. Add lemon juice, stir, then add remaining parmesan and stir. Add more pasta water if sauce is too thick. If too watery, add more parmesan. You shouldn't need to season with salt, as the pasta water and parmesan should be enough to season the dish. If necessary, add kosher salt to taste.
- Once pasta is completely cooked and sauce is slightly thick, remove from heat and divide pasta into two bowls.
- Top with remaining lemon zest, extra fresh parmesan, a grind of black pepper, and a pinch of red chili flakes (if using).