This Pasta al Limone is a super creamy, quick 15-minute pasta recipe with a classic Italian flavor.
It's a perfect weeknight dinner idea and a sure hit with kids and adults alike.
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Check out our Easy Pasta Recipes
Pasta al limone is a creamy lemon pasta recipe popular in Italy. This recipe is from my family cookbook.
My grandma used to make this dish with delicious ripe lemons from the Amalfi coast or Sorrento in the Campania region in Italy, mixing the fragrant lemon zest with fresh ricotta from the local farm.
The final dish is kind of a lighter Fettuccine Alfredo without garlic, butter, and heavy cream.
The protagonist of this recipe is the lemon flavor, which is given to the sauce by freshly grated lemon zest.
The sauce has ricotta and parmesan cheese and does not require cooking. All you have to do is cook the pasta al dente and toss it in the ricotta mixture.
Let's see how!
You can use any pasta. We like to make this with rigatoni because they fill up with lemon ricotta sauce.
Other pasta types that work well are penne, fusilli, rotini, and conchiglie. Long pasta such as spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, and bucatini is also excellent.
You can also use gluten-free pasta.
You can use regular whole milk ricotta or our dairy-free ricotta.
You can use grated parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano) or dairy-free cheese.
Add grated lemon zest to the sauce, and save some for garnishing the pasta al limone.
If you like your pasta al limone extra lemony, you can add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice to the ricotta (we don't do that - we think the zest is enough).
Tip: Only zest the yellow peel of the lemon, the white pith can be bitter.
Nutmeg is optional, but if you have it in your pantry, add a small amount to make the dish warmer and aromatic.
Crushed walnuts add crunch and nuttiness to the dish. Make sure they are toasted; if not, toast them for a couple of minutes on a nonstick pan.
You can make this recipe with either black pepper (freshly ground would be best) or a pinch of red pepper flakes.
Thyme, lemon, and ricotta are a match made in heaven. Try to use fresh thyme leaves if you can. Alternatively, you can substitute fresh parsley or basil for thyme.
Avoid dried herbs for this recipe, as their flavor can overpower the lemon sauce.
Extra virgin olive oil adds richness and a mild fruity flavor to the pasta al limone.
Add more or less salt based on your taste and how aged and salty your parmesan cheese is.
Cook the pasta
Boil the pasta al dente per package instructions in a large pot with plenty of salted boiling water.
While the pasta cooks, make the sauce.
Tip: you'll need about 3 quarts (12 cups or 3 Liters) of water and 1 ½ tablespoon (21 grams) of salt for 12 ounces (340 grams) of pasta.
Make salsa al limone
To a mixing bowl, add ricotta, grated parmesan, olive oil, grated lemon zest, grated nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.
Tip: Only zest the yellow peel of the lemon, the white pith can be bitter.
Add a ladleful of pasta cooking water and whisk well until the sauce is smooth and the ingredients well combined.
Toss the pasta
When the pasta is al dente, reserve one cup of pasta water, drain it, and toss it into the ricotta mixture until it's thoroughly coated.
If the sauce is too thick, stir in the more starchy pasta water.
Serve immediately with grated lemon zest, freshly ground pepper, and fresh thyme (or basil) leaves.
Optionally, you can add a few crushed walnuts on top. Make sure your walnuts are toasted; if not, toast them on a non-stick pan for a couple of minutes.
Lemon ricotta pasta with peas (or other veggies)
Ricotta and lemon are excellent with green peas. Cook frozen green peas with the pasta in the same pot. Drain and add pasta and peas to the ricotta sauce.
Check out our lemon ricotta pasta with peas.
If you want to try adding other veggies, here's a list of what we recommend:
|Roasted butternut squash||Roast it in the oven, then toss it in with the pasta.|
|Roasted cauliflower florets||Cook small florets in the oven, then toss them in with the pasta.|
|Sautéed asparagus||Sauté on the stovetop, then toss in with the pasta.|
|Roasted broccoli florets||Toss in with the pasta.|
|Steamed artichokes||Steam, then mash the artichokes with a fork and mix them with the ricotta sauce.|
|Roasted eggplant cubes||Toss them in with the pasta. Add basil leaves on top.|
|Roasted red peppers||Roast them, peel them, chop them up, and toss them with the pasta.|
|Sautéed or roasted mushrooms||Sauté on a pan or roast in the oven, then toss with the pasta.|
|Arugula||Toss it in with the pasta.|
|Cherry tomatoes||Halved, seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper,and tossed with the pasta.|
|Roasted zucchini||Bake in the oven, then toss them with the pasta.|
Lemon ricotta pasta with spinach
Spinach and ricotta are a classic Italian combination in many recipes, from gnocchi to ravioli.
In this variation of pasta al limone, we cook the spinach with the pasta; then we mix everything with the lemon ricotta sauce. It's a delicious and easy way to add veggies to this creamy pasta.
Check out our lemon ricotta pasta recipe.
Simple lemon pasta
If you want something simpler, still with lemon flavor, try our simple lemon pasta with a sauce similar to our garlic and oil pasta.
If you like garlic and lemon together, you've got to try this one.
Check out our easy lemon pasta.
Mix with veggies for a vibrant and wholesome dinner idea:
- Roasted cauliflower is a great vegetable pairing with ricotta
- Garlic and lemon roasted broccoli
- One-tray rainbow roasted veggies
- Roasted pepper to serve on top of the pasta or blend into the sauce
Serve with a green salad such as:
- Easy side salad with only 5 minutes of prep time
- Shaved Brussels sprouts salad with cranberries and walnuts
- Chickpea salad with fresh greens and mustard dressing
- Tomato salad with onion and fresh leaves of basil
Pasta al limone tends to dry up quickly; therefore, it's best eaten shortly after you make it.
If you have some leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Ideally, keep some of the reserved pasta water too.
Reheat it on a skillet with a dash of reserved pasta water (or tap water) until the sauce turns creamy again.
More easy pasta recipes
If you're looking for more easy pasta recipes ready within 20 minutes, take a peek at these pasta greatest hits:
- Broccoli pasta with a mashed creamy broccoli sauce
- Aglio e olio pasta: an Italian classic with garlic, oil, and fresh parsley
- Pasta Pomodoro with fresh basil and a rich tomato sauce
- Chickpea pasta salad with fresh vegetables and a creamy mustard dressing
- Pasta puttanesca with rich tomato sauce, capers and olives
More recipes with lemon
Got lemons leftover? No problem, try these savory and sweet lemon favorites chosen by our readers:
- Lemon tofu cutlets ready in 15 minutes
- Roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon-mustard vinaigrette
- Vegan lemon cake with only 7 ingredients
- Lemon blueberry pound cake with glaze
For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.
Pasta al Limone
- 12 ounces rigatoni or other pasta
- 1½ cups ricotta or dairy-free ricotta
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup parmesan cheese grated, or dairy-free cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest or more to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg grated
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or a few basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons walnuts toasted and chopped
COOK THE PASTA
- Boil the pasta al dente per package instructions in a large pot with plenty of salted boiling water.While the pasta cooks, make the sauce.
MAKE SALSA AL LIMONE
- To a mixing bowl, add ricotta, grated parmesan,olive oil, grated lemon zest, grated nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.Tip: Only zest the yellow peel of the lemon, the white pith can be bitter.
- Add a ladleful of pasta cooking water and whisk well until the sauce is smooth and the ingredients well combined.
TOSS THE PASTA
- When the pasta is al dente, reserve one cup of pasta water, drain it, and toss it into the ricotta mixture until it's thoroughly coated.If the sauce is too thick, stir in some starchy pasta water.
- Serve immediately with grated lemon zest, freshly ground pepper, and fresh thyme (or basil) leaves.
- Optionally, you can add a few crushed walnuts on top. Make sure your walnuts are toasted; if not, toast them on a non-stick pan for a couple of minutes.
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