Pasta al Limone Recipe

A bowl of pasta al limone on an olive wood cutting board with a dark blue linen napkin.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Using the starchy pasta water to emulsify the sauce creates a cleaner flavor than you'll find in renditions of this dish made with cream.
  • Cooking the pasta in a smaller volume of water than the frequently recommended "large pot" produces starchier water, which helps to better emulsify the sauce.

Lemon zest and juice perk up this classic buttery and cheesy pasta dish. The secret lies in emulsifying the sauce to a satiny consistency using the starchy pasta water, not cream.

Recipe Facts

Active: 10 mins
Total: 15 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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  • 5 tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter

  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus fresh juice to taste and additional grated zest for serving

  • 1 clove garlic

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 pound (450g) fresh spaghetti

  • 1 ounce (30g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat until foaming. Lower heat to low, add lemon zest and garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, in a medium pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until just shy of al dente. Reserve about 1 cup (240ml) of the starchy pasta water, then drain pasta.

  3. Add pasta to butter mixture, along with 1/2 cup (120ml) reserved pasta water. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring and tossing to coat, until pasta is glazed in a satiny, emulsified sauce.

  4. Add grated cheese and toss and stir rapidly until sauce thickens; if it becomes too tight and dry at any time, add more pasta-cooking water to loosen it sufficiently. Add lemon juice to taste, starting with 1 tablespoon (15ml), then adding more until desired tartness is reached. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Serve spaghetti right away, topping each serving with additional grated lemon zest and cheese.

Special equipment

Microplane grater

This Recipe Appears In

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
512 Calories
21g Fat
64g Carbs
17g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 512
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 21g 27%
Saturated Fat 11g 57%
Cholesterol 132mg 44%
Sodium 444mg 19%
Total Carbohydrate 64g 23%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 17g
Vitamin C 2mg 9%
Calcium 145mg 11%
Iron 4mg 22%
Potassium 242mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)