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Creamy Lemon Pasta (Spaghetti al Limone)

This creamy lemon pasta is an easy, 15-minute meal great for busy weeknights and something the whole family will love. This adaptable recipe is dairy-free with a gluten-free option.

What Is Pasta Al Limone?

Pasta al limone (also known as spaghetti al limone) is a simple Italian dish that originated on the Sorrento peninsula and Amalfi Coast regions and is especially popular during the summer months. 

Traditionally, it consists of long pasta noodles such as spaghetti tossed in a lemon cream sauce made with fresh lemons, olive oil or butter, parmesan cheese, heavy cream, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Today there are many variations, but minimal, fresh ingredients are key.

Ingredients

This dairy free creamy lemon pasta recipe only uses a handful of simple ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pasta – you can use any kind of pasta, but I prefer to use long pasta noodles such as bucatini or spaghetti.
  • Extra virgin olive oil – helps build the flavor for the sauce.
  • Lemon zest and fresh lemon juice – the zest gives it that true lemon flavor and the acidity helps to cut the richness of the cream and add tanginess. You can use either Meyer lemons or regular lemons for this recipe depending on what you have on hand.
  • Dairy-free butter – for more depth of flavor and added creaminess.
  • Cashew cream – the perfect replacement for dairy cream.
  • Salt and pepper – to taste.

See the recipe card at the bottom of this post for full measurements.

How To Make Creamy Lemon Pasta

Step 1. Cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water according to the package directions until al dente. Reserve one cup of the cooked pasta water.

Step 2. Remove the zest of one large lemon and squeeze out the juice yielding to 2 tablespoons. Set the lemon juice aside. 

Step 3. As the pasta finishes cooking, make the creamy lemon sauce. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, and lemon zest. Cook for 2 minutes before adding in the butter and cashew cream. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until combined.
Step 4. Use tongs to transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet (it’s perfectly fine if some excess water clings to the noodles) along with ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss the sauce throughout the noodles until well-coated, adding more pasta water as needed. The sauce will seize up as it cools, so use a little more than you think. Add in the fresh lemon juice, and season with more salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Serve with more freshly zested lemon and fresh basil or parsley to garnish.

Make It Your Way: Substitutions & Variations

Please remember that recipes are just a starting point.

How can you make this creamy lemon pasta using what you already have? Here are some ideas

  • Make it gluten-free – use your favorite gluten-free spaghetti noodles.
  • Make it nut-free – use full-fat coconut cream.
  • Not dairy-free? – use regular butter and dairy cream instead.
  • No fresh basil? – sub fresh parsley.

​Variations

When it comes to his simple pasta recipe, less is more in terms of ingredients. If you want to make it a more substantial meal, here are a few ideas of how you can do so.

  • Vegetables – you can add sauteed asparagus, peas, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, or sundried tomatoes.
  • Protein – add cooked chicken or shrimp to make it even more filling.
  • Extra flavor – to add even more dimension to the creamy sauce, you can add in a dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc.
  • Make it spicy – although not traditionally a spicy dish, if you’d like to add a little heat, you can add red pepper flakes to the sauce when you add in the lemon zest.

How to Store

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. To reheat, place back in a large skillet over medium-low heat, adding a little water to rehydrate the sauce and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Helpful Tips

Have everything prepped. This pasta dish comes together really quickly, so it helps to have everything prepped and ready.

Don’t forget to save the cooking liquid. The starchy water helps the creamy lemon pasta sauce emulsify and coat the noodles.

Recommended tools. To make this easy recipe, you’ll just need a few basic kitchen tools such as a chef knifecutting boardmicroplane to zest the lemon, citrus reamer, a large skillet, and a pasta pot to cook the noodles.

More Pasta Dishes

Creamy Lemon Pasta (Pasta al Limone)

5 from 6 votes
A plate of dairy free creamy lemon pasta.
This creamy lemon pasta is an easy, 15-minute meal great for busy weeknights and something the whole family will love. This adaptable recipe is dairy-free with a gluten-free option.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Serving Size 2

Ingredients
 

  • 8 ounces long pasta noodles such as spaghetti or bucatini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • lemon zest from 1 large lemon about 1 ½ tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dairy-free butter
  • ½ cup cashew cream
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • lemon zest for topping
  • fresh basil or parsley to garnish (optional)

Instructions

  • Cook the spaghetti in a pot of salted boiling water according to the package instructions until al dente. (It'll continue to cook further in the pan in the sauce.) Reserve one cup of the pasta water.
  • Remove the zest of one large lemon and squeeze out the juice yielding to 2 tablespoons. Set the lemon juice aside.
  • Add the olive oil and lemon zest to a large warm skillet over medium-low heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes before adding in the dairy-free butter and cashew cream. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir or whisk until combined.
  • Using tongs transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet (it's perfectly fine if some excess water clings to the noodles) along with 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water.
  • Toss the noodles throughout the sauce until the noodles are well coated, adding more pasta water as needed. The sauce will seize up as it cools, so use a little more than you think. Add in the fresh lemon juice, and season with more salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Serve with more freshly zested lemon and fresh basil or parsley to garnish.

Notes

Make It Your Way: Substitutions & Variations

Make it gluten-free – use your favorite gluten-free spaghetti noodles.
Make it nut-free – use full-fat coconut cream.
Not dairy-free? – use regular butter and dairy cream instead.
No fresh basil? – sub fresh parsley.
See blog post for variations.

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