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Lemon pasta, or "spaghetti al limone" in Italian, is a simple creamy pasta recipe that is perfect for a quick and tasty lunch or dinner. Follow our tips to turn this simple 10-minute recipe into a creamy pasta dish that everyone will love.
This pasta is full of lemon flavor, light, refreshing, and just a little garlicky. I also like to add some spinach to add color and extra nutrition to this meal.
What is lemon pasta?
Lemon pasta is a first course made with a sauce similar to the more famous Italian aglio olio, but with the addition of lemon zest and lemon juice.
The combination of those simple ingredients - the lemon juice and zest, the olive oil, the garlic, and the chili flakes - create a meal that is simple but incredibly delicious and satisfying.
In my lemon pasta, I like to add spinach (for colour, flavour and nutrition) and also a little vegan butter at the end, to make this recipe creamier and richer.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Pasta: we like a long pasta shape for this recipe. Spaghetti, linguine, bavette, are all great pasta types. Of course, you can use whatever pasta shape you prefer for this recipe.
- Olive oil: we like to use a good extra virgin olive oil as it gives a better flavour to the dish than regular olive oil.
- Garlic: perfect with the lemon.
- Chili flakes: if you don't like spicy, you can remove chili flakes. However, if you do like some spice, chili flakes are perfect in this recipe. You can replace them with fresh chili, or dry chili.
- Lemon: we like to use both grated zest and juice of the lemon to have a good lemon flavour. Since we are eating the zest, it would be best to chose and organic lemon.
- Spinach: optional, but highly recommended if you want to make this pasta a main dish, or if you just want to add some extra colour. You can replace spinach with asparagus.
- Vegan butter or margarine: either works, sometimes we use vegan butter, sometimes margarine.
- Salt: we use coarse salt to season the pasta water, and fine salt to seasons the sauce.
How to make lemon pasta
Put the water to cook the pasta in to boil, then in the meantime start prepping the sauce.
To a large non-stick-pan add olive oil, grated zest of 1 medium lemon, finely sliced garlic, and chili flakes.
Fry gently, on low heat, for about a minute. Make sure the garlic doesn't burn.
Add the spinach, season them with a pinch of salt, and mix well with the other ingredients, and cook them for 3 minutes, until soft. If the pan is too dry, add a dash of water.
Now the pasta water should be boiling, salt the water heavily, and cook the pasta in the boiling water. Pasta should be very al dente, that is 3 to 4 minutes undercooked.
Save 1 cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.
Now add the pasta to the pan, add ½ cup of pasta cooking water and finish cooking the pasta and the spinach in the pan.
When the pasta is cooked al dente, turn the heat off, then add the juice of ½ a lemon, and the vegan butter.
Mix well till the butter melts and the pasta is coated in the sauce. If necessary, add some extra pasta water.
Serve the lemon pasta immediately and enjoy.
- Chop the garlic finely: for this recipe the garlic needs to be sliced as thin as you can, so that it will melt in your mouth and it's flavour won't be too strong.
As an alternative to slicing, you can turn the garlic into a pasta with a garlic masher, or by finely chopping it with a knife.
If you want a lighter garlic flavour, you can just add crushed garlic to the oil, and then remove it before serving the pasta.
- Do not burn the garlic: garlic burns very fast, so make sure that the pan and the oil don't get too hot and that you always keep an eye on it. Fry it with gentle heat without making it brown.
- Undercook the pasta: it is best to slightly undercook the pasta (2 to 4 minutes less than indicated on the package) to then finish cooking it in the pan with the sauce.
This way, the pasta will release some of it's starch into the sauce, making it extra creamy and delicious.
- Keep and use the pasta cooking water: pasta cooking water is full of starch. Add it to the pasta wile you toss it in the pan to make the pasta creamy.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, you can add your favorite cream, we like to use soy cream or any other plant-based creams. Add it once the spinach is cooked.
Yes, sometimes I love to make lemon pasta with asparagus instead of spinach. To do that, chop the asparagus in chunks, then add them to the pan with the oil and lemon and gently fry them for a few minutes, adding some pasta water if necessary.
The secret to making pasta creamy is to first undercook the pasta and finish cooking it in the pan with the sauce while adding some of the pasta cooking water.
This way the pasta will release its starch in the pan, making the dish super creamy. Also, the pasta cooking water contains starch from the pasta. Adding it to the sauce will make the sauce creamier.
Lemon pasta is best eaten straight after is made, but if you have some leftover, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours max.
To reheat it, put it in a pan with some olive oil and warm it up on medium heat, adding some water if necessary.
Do not reheat pasta more than once, it will become all mushy and not really nice to eat. I do not recommend freezing it.
Lemon pasta with asparagus: substitute the asparagus for the spinach. Cut them in chunks or discs, then cook them in the pan with the oil, garlic, lemon zest, and chili. Add water as required and cook for about 5 minutes, before adding in the pasta.
No-veggies: for an even quicker, last-minute pasta dish, you can make this recipe without the spinach. It's still going to be delicious!
Did you know that we develop our recipes to go together for a complete dinner meal plan? Serve this tomato cucumber and onion salad with:
Lemon pasta recipe
- 180 grams (6.3 oz) spaghetti
- 2 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 lemon juice and zest
- 250 grams (9 oz) spinach
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter or margarine
- Put the pasta water to boil in a large pot. While the water gets to boiling temperature, to a large non stick-pan add olive oil, grated zest of 1 medium lemon, thinly sliced garlic, and chili flakes. Fry gently, on low heat, for about a minute. Make sure the garlic doesn't burn.
- Add the spinach, salt them with a pinch of salt, and a cook them for 3 minutes, until soft. If the pan is too dry, add a dash of water.
- In the meantime, cook pasta in a large pot with heavily salted boiling water. Pasta should be very al dente, that is 3 to 4 minutes undercooked. Save 1 cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.
- Now add the pasta to the pan, add ½ cup of pasta cooking water and finish cooking the pasta and the spinach in the pan, until the pasta is al dente.
- When the pasta is cooked al dente, turn the heat off, then add the juice of ½ a lemon, and the vegan butter. Mix well till the butter melts and the pasta is coated in the sauce.If necessary, add some extra pasta water.
- Serve the pasta immediately and enjoy.
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