This creamy lemon pasta recipe is a light, refreshing, and tasty meal made with simple ingredients and without cream.

Tangy and fresh lemon juice paired with zesty garlic and savory parmesan cheese meld with al dente pasta into a creamy and satisfying dish.

Creamy lemon pasta

Lemon pasta is an evolution of Italian aglio olio with the addition of lemon zest, lemon juice, and optionally parmesan cheese.

The resulting sauce is rich, creamy, zesty, and refreshing, and paired with al dente Italian pasta creates a simple yet satisfying meal.

Have a bite, and you’ll be transported to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, where lemons and pasta are staple ingredients.

You can serve this lemon pasta as is, folding in some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Alternatively, follow our tip and add creamy cannellini beans and spinach to make an even tastier and nutritionally balanced meal.

creamy lemon pasta with white beans and spinach

Easy lemon pasta video

Ingredients & Substitutions for lemon pasta

Lemon pasta ingredients

Find the complete recipe with ingredients and instructions in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Pasta

Lemon pasta is best with long-shaped pasta like spaghetti, linguine, bavette, reginette, fettuccine, tagliatelle, and angel hair pasta.

Pick Italian pasta made with 100% durum wheat semolina flour (not white flour).

Also, bronze-cut pasta is best because its rugged and dusty surface makes it stick to the sauce.

Lemon

You’ll need lemon zest and lemon juice.

Organic lemons are preferable since we are eating the zest. We recommend going for fresh lemon juice rather than bottled lemon juice.

Remember to save some lemon zest to garnish the pasta.

Olive oil

If you can, choose a good quality extra virgin olive oil. The quality of the ingredients in this simple lemon pasta recipe makes all the difference.

Garlic

Fresh garlic adds plenty of flavor and tang. You can grate, mince, or mash it with a garlic crusher.

Chili

We like this dish a little spicy. Add red hot chili pepper or red pepper flakes to make it so.

If you don’t like overly spicy dishes, you can substitute freshly ground black pepper for the chili.

Fresh herbs

Fresh parsley (flat-leaf or Italian parsley), finely chopped. Substitute fresh mint for parsley. We are not big fans of fresh basil in lemon pasta.

Parmesan cheese

Parmigiano-reggiano, grana padano, or pecorino romano are the best cheses for this lemon garlic pasta. A sprinkle brings all the other flavors together, adding plenty of umami and richness.

You can easily keep it out if you don’t want to add cheese. The pasta will be delicious, nevertheless.

Alternatively, you can add a dairy-free parmesan alternative.

Salt

We season the pasta water and the lemon sauce with sea salt.

Optional ingredients

Common additions to lemon pasta are butter, chicken, and shrimp; however, we encourage you to try lemon pasta with cannellini beans and a handful of spinach instead.

We cook beans and spinach in the lemon sauce before adding the pasta.

The result is a wholesome, creamy, healthy, tasty, and satisfying meal.

lemon pasta with beans and spinach

How to make lemon pasta

Find the complete recipe with ingredients and instructions in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Cook the pasta

Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water for two minutes less than instructed on the package.

Tip: for this recipe, we recommend cooking the pasta in less water than usual so that there’s more starch in the water, and that will make the sauce creamier.

Spaghetti cooking in a pot

Make the sauce

Add olive oil, minced garlic, grated lemon zest, and finely chopped chili to a large skillet.

Warm it slowly on low heat, then let the ingredients fry gently for 30 to 60 seconds without burning the garlic.

Turn the heat off, add the lemon juice, and wait for the pasta.

Tip: Only zest the yellow peel of the lemon; the white pith can be bitter.

garlic oil and chili in a skillet

Add the pasta

Reserve two cups of pasta water, drain the pasta, and add it to the sauce.

Add one cup of pasta cooking water and cook on medium heat, stirring often for about a minute or until the pasta is al dente.

pasta water and spaghetti

Turn the heat off, add the finely chopped parsley and grated parmesan, and toss until the cheese melts.

parmesan cheese and pasta in a skillet

Taste and adjust for salt; add more reserved pasta water if the pasta gets too dry.

creamy lemon pasta and hands

Serve immediately with a sprinkle of lemon zest.

Lemon Pasta Recipe in a bowl with a fork

Variations

Lemon pasta with white beans and spinach

lemon pasta with white beans and spinach

Fry one can of drained cannellini beans, two handfuls of spinach, and a pinch of salt with the lemon sauce for a couple of minutes or until the spinach wilt.

Add the pasta, grated parmesan, toss, and enjoy! The cannellini and the spinach make this easy lemon pasta recipe even creamier, tastier, and more nutritious.

Roasted cauliflower pasta

roasted cauliflower pasta

This lemon cauliflower pasta is a refreshing autumn and winter dish with roasted cauliflower, pinenuts, and a delicious lemon sauce.

Check out our roasted cauliflower pasta.

Creamy pasta al limone

creamy pasta al limone

This recipe is straight out of my grandma’s recipe notebook.

She would make this for my 96-year-old great-grandma when I was little, and I’d always steal some from her plate before she would sit down to eat it for lunch at noon.

You’ll love this recipe because it’s easy, creamy, and so tasty you’ll want to eat it daily.

Check out our creamy pasta al limone recipe.

Lemon ricotta pasta with spinach

lemon ricotta pasta with spinach

Lemon ricotta pasta is a variation of pasta al limone that we always make.

It’s a ricotta-based sauce mixed with your favorite seasonal vegetables (we love peas, spinach, and broccoli for this one).

Like our other pasta recipes, this one is easy to make and a guaranteed-crowd pleaser.

Check out our lemon ricotta pasta recipe.

Serving suggestions

Lemon pasta is excellent as a quick lunch or easy dinner for the whole family. Try serving it with one of our delicious vegetable side dishes, such as:

Tips

  • Cook the pasta in less water than usual, allowing for a higher concentration of starch in the cooking water. When we use the pasta water for the lemon sauce, the extra starch helps us make the sauce creamier.
  • Undercook the pasta by two to three minutes. When we finish cooking the pasta in the skillet with the sauce, the starch in the pasta leaches into the sauce, making it creamy.
  • Add parmesan with the heat off and let it melt with the residual heat of the pasta. Avoid melting parmesan on direct heat. Also, use a block of parmesan that you grate at home for best results. Pre-grated parmesan contains stabilizers that make it lump as it melts.

Questions

Can I add cream to this spaghetti limone?

Yes, you can add your favorite type of cream, including heavy cream or dairy-free cream.

Add the cream after frying the garlic and the lemon zest for 30 seconds, then add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and let the cream simmer gently with the other ingredients for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Can I replace the spinach?

Yes, you can replace the spinach with other seasonal vegetables. Try broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, mushrooms, peas, and more.

Cut broccoli and cauliflower into florets and cook them in the same pot as the pasta or roast them in the oven before adding them to the sauce.

For other vegetables, you’ll need to sauté them separately in a different pan, then add them to the pan with the sauce.

How do you make pasta creamy without cream?

The secret to making pasta creamy is to undercook it by 2 to 3 minutes and finish cooking it in the pan with the sauce while adding some cooking water.

This way, the pasta will leach the starch in the pan, making it super creamy. Also, the pasta cooking water contains starch from the pasta. Adding it to the sauce will make the sauce creamier.

Creamy Lemon Pasta Recipe

Storage

Make ahead: this is not a good recipe to make ahead. It’s best right after it’s cooked.

Refrigerator: store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Reheat: warm it in a pan with olive oil, adding water if necessary. The microwave also works.

Freezer: not suitable for freezing.

More pasta recipes

If you love quick and easy pasta meals, try one of these 20-min pasta recipes:

More lemon recipes

These recipes are quick, easy, and with a few ingredients – perfect for weeknight dinners:

  • Lemon tofu (tofu slices, lemon, cornstarch, flour, garlic, thyme, etc.)
  • Lemon cake (flour, sugar, lemon zest, plant milk, olive oil, etc.)
  • Vanilla lemon custard (coconut milk, plant milk, vanilla extract, lemon zest, etc.)
  • Couscous salad (lemon juice, chickpeas, cucumber, olives, bell pepper, etc.)

For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.

Lemon Pasta recipe with a silver fork

Lemon Pasta

By: Nico Pallotta
4.89 from 18 votes
This creamy lemon pasta recipe is a light, refreshing, and tasty meal made with simple ingredients and without cream.
Tangy and fresh lemon juice paired with zesty garlic and savory parmesan cheese meld with al dente pasta into a creamy and satisfying dish.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Course: Main
Cuisine: American Italian

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces linguine or another long pasta
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced or grated
  • 1 spicy red chili or red pepper flakes
  • 1 large lemon the grated zest and the juice
  • 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • 1 handful parsley
  • ½ cup parmesan grated
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Optional Add-Ins

  • 1 can (15-oz) cannellini beans
  • 2 handfuls spinach

Instructions 

  • Boil 12 ounces linguine in a large pot of salted water for two minutes less than instructed on the package.
    Spaghetti cooking in a pot
  • To a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 1 spicy red chili (chopped), ½ teaspoon salt, and the zest of 1 large lemon.
    Fry for a minute; don't burn the garlic. Turn heat off and add the juice of the lemon.
    lemon juice and hand with a skillet
  • Reserve 2 cups of pasta water, drain pasta, add it to sauce, and add 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water.
    Finish cooking the pasta until al dente – about a minute.
    pasta water and spaghetti
  • Turn the heat off, add 1 handful parsley, and ½ cup parmesan, and toss until the cheese melts.
    creamy lemon pasta and hands
  • Serve immediately with a sprinkle of lemon zest.
    Lemon Pasta Recipe in a bowl with a fork

Nico's serving tip

  • Add 1 can (15-oz) cannellini beans (drained and rinsed) and 2 handfuls spinach to the pan with the lemon sauce. Sauté for a couple of minutes or until the spinach wilt.
    Add the pasta, reserved pasta water, parmesan, toss until creamy and al dente, then serve immediately.
    lemon pasta with beans and spinach

Video

Lemon Pasta (with Spinach and Beans)

Notes

Nutrition information is an estimate for 1 portion of lemon pasta out of 4 servings.
STORAGE
Make ahead: This is not a good recipe to make ahead. It’s best right after it’s cooked.
Refrigerator: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Reheat: Warm it in a pan with olive oil, adding water if necessary. The microwave also works.
Freezer: Not suitable for freezing.
ALSO ON THIS PAGE

Nutrition

Calories: 468kcal, Carbohydrates: 67g, Protein: 16g, Fat: 15g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 9mg, Potassium: 251mg, Dietary Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 190IU, Vitamin B6: 0.2mg, Vitamin C: 16mg, Vitamin E: 2mg, Vitamin K: 23µg, Calcium: 177mg, Folate: 21µg, Iron: 2mg, Manganese: 1mg, Magnesium: 54mg, Zinc: 2mg
Tried this recipe? Leave a comment below or mention @theplantbasedschool on Instagram. We are also on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and TikTok.

Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

Our aim is to help you and your family eat more veggies through delicious recipes with simple ingredients.

Easy right?

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Recipe Rating




9 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I just stumbled upon your videos and boy o boy are they a hit in my home! The first one I made was the Cherry Tomato Paste. It was amazing! Your recipes are some of my favorites! They’re easy & so fresh too. Thank you for sharing them. 🙂

    1. Hey Michelle,

      We are so happy you are here!! Fantastic news that you and your family enjoyed both pasta recipes 🎉

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment here. Happy weekend! /Louise

  2. 5 stars
    Wow- I made this and it was simple and delicious! I am amazed because I am not a good cook, thank you for all the cooking tips. I will be trying more of these recipes!

    1. Fantastic!! I’m very happy you find the recipe useful – it’s one of the greatest compliments, we can get 😊

      Thank you for your feedback. Kindest,
      Louise

  3. 5 stars
    What a great dish, fast and so flavorful! My husband raves every time I make it. Thanks for a fantastic recipe!

    1. Hi Margie,
      That’s fantastic – I’m super happy you and your husband like the pasta.
      Have a great rest of your week, and thank you for leaving a comment.
      Kindest,
      Louise

    1. Hi Erin, I’m so happy you liked the pasta – thanks for taking the time to leave a comment here. Enjoy your Wednesday. Cheers, Louise