Classic lemon pasta (otherwise known as “pasta al limone” in Italian) is one of my favorite dishes of Southern Italy. Lemon-scented cream sauce – that’s silky, peppery, and bursting with cheesy parmigiano goodness – coats each piece of pasta. It’s a true Italian masterpiece and an ode to my trip to the Amalfi Coast! Not to mention it’s such an easy dinner!
I so fondly remember sitting at a trattoria in Amalfi, Italy on my first night there, listening to corny Italian music – ready to try as many pasta dishes that could fit in my belly. I wanted to try all of the classics like bolognese, carbonara, puttanesca, etc. (the real, authentic way!). I asked our waiter, a burly Italian man, “so what’s a pasta I shouldn’t miss?” Without hesitation, he pointed to Spaghetti Al Limone on the menu.
In broken English, he explained that this mystery dish is a lightly creamy, simple lemon-infused pasta dish (of course featuring the lemons grown down the road). I was a bit thrown off by this strange concoction, but I was blown away when the first bite hit my mouth.
It was absolutely incredible: lemon scented, silky and peppery, with nutty and salty undertones from finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The pasta was al-dente to balance the creaminess of the lemon sauce.
This is my best interpretation of the creamy Lemon Pasta (Pasta al Limone) I ate in Amalfi!
Origin of Lemon Pasta
Lemon Pasta (AKA “Pasta al Limone” in Italian) is a classic, simple dish from the Campania region in Italy. It is most often enjoyed on the Amalfi Coast, in towns like Amalfi and Sorrento, where they’re famous for growing and making all-things lemon!
How to Make Lemon Pasta
Making lemon pasta is so easy! The full instructions and step-by-step video are in the recipe card below!
- Make sauce.
In a large skillet, add butter, lemon juice and zest over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, let the butter melt and simmer for 20 seconds. Pour in the cream, black pepper, and salt to taste.
- Reduce sauce.
Over medium/low heat, bring the cream mixture to a very gentle simmer. Once simmering, start boiling your pasta. Let the cream mixture thicken and reduce by about one-quarter while your pasta is boiling. Stir often. Cream mixture will reduce by one-quarter in about 10 minutes.
Add parmesan cheese and toss over low heat. Drain pasta and use tongs to toss pasta into the cream mixture.
Plate with more black pepper, cheese, and a sprinkle of lemon zest.
- Fettuccine or spaghetti – both fettuccine and spaghetti are classic pastas used for lemon pasta. I particularly love fettuccine!
- Heavy cream – heavy cream is the base for classic creamy lemon pasta. There’s really no good substitute for it!
- Parmigiano-Reggiano – Parmigiano-Reggiano is the traditional cheese used, adding both flavor and texture.
- Butter – butter enhances the flavor of the lemon.
- Fresh lemon juice – lemon juice cuts the richness of the cream.
- Lemon zest – lemon zest adds true lemon flavor.
- Black pepper – black pepper adds a subtle peppery flavor!
Additions & Variations (Protein & More!)
Although lemon pasta is so perfect as-is, here are a few of my favorite additions (including proteins) and variations:
- Add chicken, like juicy baked chicken breast.
- Add Italian sausage, crumbled out of the casing or sliced.
- Add shrimp.
- Add herbs, such as fresh parsley or basil.
- Add garlic or roasted garlic, which is included in some versions of lemon pasta (2 minced cloves).
- Hot pepper flakes instead of black pepper, for a more fiery kick.
- Parmesan cheese instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is a cheaper and less-aged version of parmigiano.
What to Serve With Lemon Pasta
My favorite way to serve lemon pasta is as an appetizer (that’s how many Italians do it!). If you serve lemon pasta as a main dish, I recommend these fresh side dishes to accompany it:
- Simply Delicious Radish Salad
- Broiled Asparagus
- Raw Shredded Brussels Sprout Salad
- Warm Red Cabbage Salad
- Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette Salad
Storage & Reheating Tips
There’s no doubt that lemon pasta is best served right away, although it can be stored and reheated. Store it, covered, in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Reheat in a large skillet over medium/low heat, adding a splash of cream and lemon juice to loosen the sauce. You can also microwave it in increments of 20 seconds, stirring and adding a splash of cream and lemon juice as it heats through.
- 1 pound fettuccine or spaghetti
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more to garnish
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest packed
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Salt to taste
- In a large skillet, add butter, lemon juice and zest over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, let the butter melt and simmer for 20 seconds. Pour in the cream, black pepper, and salt to taste. Stir.
- Over medium/low heat, bring the cream mixture to a very gentle simmer. Once simmering, start boiling your pasta. Let the cream mixture thicken and reduce by about one-quarter while your pasta is boiling. Stir often. Cream mixture will reduce by one-quarter in about 8-10 minutes.
- Add parmesan cheese to sauce and stir over low heat. Drain pasta and use tongs to toss pasta into the cream mixture.
- Plate with more black pepper, cheese, and a sprinkle of lemon zest.
- Zest lemons before juicing them.
- Pasta should be al-dente, with a nice bite to it!
- If the cream mixture reduces by one-quarter before the pasta is done cooking, keep cream mixture on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is done.