Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone)

Jump to RecipeLeave a Comment

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) is a silky lemon cream sauce bursting with fresh flavors and rich parmigiano cheese to coat the pasta perfectly. This recipe is indulgent and made without cream! A simple pasta recipe that reminds me of the Amalfi Coast. Ready in 20 minutes!

Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) in a serving bowl with basil on the side. Pan with pasta in the background and lemons as decoration.
Want to save this recipe?
Just enter your email and get it sent to your inbox! Plus you’ll get new recipes from us every week!
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

More savory recipes highlighting lemon Easy Lemon Ricotta Pasta with Asparagus, BEST Salmon Piccata (Lemon Butter Caper Sauce), Shrimp Scampi Recipe, Roasted Green Beans Recipe with Garlic and Lemon.

Pasta al Limone is a simple dish usually made with a long pasta shape (spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini), lemon (zest and juice), butter or olive oil, parmigiano (parmesan cheese), salt, and black pepper.

This is one of my favorite pasta dishes! With only a handful of ingredients, you can make the best lemon butter sauce for pasta and serve it for a special occasion or a busy weeknight. It is a great sauce to make often.

More easy pasta recipes Authentic Italian Fettuccine Alfredo Recipe Creamy, Spinach and Lemon Orzo, Spaghetti with Tomato Paste Pasta Sauce, and Easy Brown Butter Pasta Recipe.

Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) in a serving bowl with basil on the side. Pan with pasta in the background and lemons as decoration.

This recipe is made WITHOUT heavy cream. The secret in this recipe, similar to Authentic Italian Pasta Carbonara (no cream), is reserved starchy pasta water and quality parmigiano cheese mixed with lemon juice to thicken the lemon sauce.

I find that heavy cream with the lemon drowns out the beautiful brightness and essence of the pure lemon flavor in the lemon sauce. I’ve had this famous Italian pasta dish with and without heavy cream, and I prefer it without! I am sure you will too.

You will also love these authentic and easy Italian pasta dishes: Authentic Italian Amatriciana Sauce, Authentic Pasta alla Puttanesca Recipe (Video), and Restaurant Style Italian Cacio e Pepe (Best Tips).

Simple Ingredients

This lemon butter sauce for pasta dish uses a few quality ingredients. It is an easy pasta sauce made with minimal effort that the whole family will love! Add spaghetti al limone to your menu this week.

ingredient shot for recipe
  • Spaghetti or pasta of choice, read why Cheap vs. Expensive Pasta (Why Pasta Quality Matters!)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Pecorino Romano Cheese 
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons), divided
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Good quality butter
  • Grated lemon zest
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Reserved pasta water
  • Fresh basil or fresh parsley (optional), for serving

See the recipe card for quantities.

Pasta al Limone originates in Campania, specifically the Sorrento peninsula and the Amalfi coast. Amalfi and Sorrento are famous for their lemons.

Although lemons are grown in all the south Italian regions (like Sardegna, where I am from), the lemons from the Campagna region are considered some of the best in the world.

Sorrento’s aromatic and sweet lemons are known the world over. They are large, with a medium-thick bumpy rind and pulp with a balanced sugar content that tastes almost sweet. These lemons made the world’s first Limoncello.

This lemon butter sauce for pasta recipe is especially popular in southern Italy regions known for their great lemon crops. Enjoy this authentic lemon pasta recipe.

How to Make Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone)

This easy lemon butter pasta sauce is simple to prepare with minimal effort. Enjoy!

how to make Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone)- making the parmigiano and olive oil mixture in a bowl

In a small mixing bowl, whisk parmigiano, pecorino cheese, and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice to make a paste. Gradually add the oil while constantly whisking until smooth. Whisk in the lemon zest, salt, and pepper.


how to make Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone)- melting the butter in the pan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous salt (it should taste like the sea!).
Cook pasta, occasionally stirring, for 8 minutes or until al dente according to the package directions. 
While the pasta is cooking, finish the sauce. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, melt the butter, and reduce the heat to low. 

how to make Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone)- adding the hot pasta to the pan with lemon cheese mixture and melted butter.

Drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add pasta to the pan with lemon butter sauce on low heat, (not medium heat!) Toss to coat.

Add the cheese and lemon mixture to the pasta. Toss to coat and add pasta water to the spaghetti. Keep stirring. It will take a few minutes to thicken and create a silky sauce. Turn off the heat and serve hot. 

Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) in a serving bowl with basil on the side. Pan with pasta in the background and lemons as decoration.

Variations

  • Garlic. Add a clove of garlic to create a garlic lemon butter pasta sauce. Smash one garlic clove while heating the butter and create a rich lemon butter garlic pasta sauce.
  • Spicy. Add red pepper flakes for a spicy kick to this fresh lemon pasta recipe.
Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) in a serving bowl with basil on the side and fork in the plate.

Expert Tips

  • Cook Pasta Perfectly. Make sure to salt the water to flavor the pasta from the inside out. Only cook until al dente. Read:  How Long to Boil Spaghetti Pasta Perfectly Every Time
  •  Use Freshly Grated Parmigiano. It helps to grate the cheese finely, so it mixes well with the lemon juice and melts nicely into the sauce. I wrote an entire article on why using freshly grated cheese makes a difference. 
  • Reserve Pasta Water. Save a cup of the pasta water to make the sauce extra creamy without using cream. After the pasta is cooked, gently toss the sauce and pasta water in the warm pan and watch the magic unfold! This is an Italian secret.
Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) in a serving bowl with basil on the side and fork in the plate. Real parmigiano on the side and lemons in the background.

FAQs

Can you make pasta al limone without cream?

Yes, you can make pasta al limone without cream. This isn’t a cacio e pepe, but the pecorino romano and parmigiano cheese add a wonderful creaminess to the spaghetti al limone that you do not need cream. This pasta al limone is perfect the way it is. Follow the tips to get it silky smooth without heavy cream.

Pasta al Limone Origin

Pasta al Limone originates in Campania, specifically the Sorrento peninsula and the Amalfi coast. Amalfi and Sorrento are famous for their lemons. This simple butter and lemon pasta sauce highlight fresh lemon flavors beautifully and deliciously!

What Is The Best Pasta To Use In This Recipe?

lemon spaghetti). You can use your favorite pasta shape and change depending on your personal preference but some popular options are: Angel Hair, Bucatini, Spaghetti, Fettucini, and Linguine.
You can also make it with shorter pasta varieties such as: Campanelle, Fusilli, Gemelli, or Farfalle (bowtie pasta).
Read this article Cheap vs. Expensive Pasta (Why Pasta Quality Matters!) includes what pasta pairs with what pasta sauce.

What Are The Best Lemons To Use In This Recipe?

Since lemons are the primary flavor for this lemon pasta recipe, it is essential to buy quality lemons for that vivid lemon flavor. When buying lemons, choose organic lemons that have not been treated with pesticides. Look for those with rough, rather than smooth, skins, as they contain more of the essential oil that gives lemons their bright, fresh, and zesty aroma.

What Kind Of Butter Should I Use In This Recipe?

Since butter is one of the main ingredients in this lemon butter pasta sauce, we want to make sure to use good-quality butter. I prefer European butter for its high-fat content and rich yellow color. You can use either salted or unsalted butter according to your taste preferences.

What Wine Goes With Pasta Limone?

When considering wine pairings for this dish, the most important thing to remember is that the acidity of the lemon in this sauce needs an acidic wine to pair with it. Some popular acidic wines include: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Chablis.

Why Did My Lemon Butter Sauce Separate?

The most common culprit of a split lemon butter sauce is temperature. If your sauce splits it’s probably because the temperature was too high to begin with or you heated it too quickly. The secret to making this sauce creamy is to use a low temperature and to vigorous, constant stirring or whisking.

How to Store Leftovers

  • Refrigerator Storage: Place leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Reheat: Warm pasta in a large skillet on the stove over low heat, adding a splash of water as needed to thin the sauce. Toss the pasta often and brighten it with a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with extra parmigiano.
Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) in a serving bowl with basil on the side. Pan with pasta in the background and lemons as decoration.

What To Serve With This Recipe

Pasta al Limone may be served alone, as a primo piatto (first course), as a side dish with fish, or with a meat dish.

Here are a few more delicious recipes to try after making this pasta al limone:

💙 MADE THIS RECIPE AND LOVED IT? 💙 Please leave a ⭐️STAR rating and COMMENT below- I love connecting with you! Tag me with your creations on Instagram and find me on Pinterest.

Print
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
cover photo.

Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce Recipe

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 30 reviews

Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone) is a silky lemon sauce bursting with fresh flavors and rich parmigiano cheese to coat the pasta perfectly.

  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 46 servings 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 1 lb spaghetti or pasta of choice
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
  • 4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons good quality butter
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water
  • Chopped fresh basil or fresh parsley (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk parmigiano, pecorino cheese, and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice to make a paste. Gradually add the oil while constantly whisking until smooth. Whisk in the lemon zest, salt, and pepper.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous salt (it should taste like the sea!).
  3. Cook pasta, occasionally stirring with your favorite pasta utensil, for 8 minutes or until al dente according to the package directions. 
  4. While the pasta is cooking, finish the sauce. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, melt the butter, and reduce the heat to low. 
  5. Drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add pasta to the pan with butter sauce on low heat. Toss to coat. Add the cheese and lemon mixture to the pasta. Toss to coat and add pasta water to the spaghetti. Keep stirring. It will take a few minutes to thicken and create a silky sauce. Turn off the heat and serve hot. 
  6. Toss in torn basil or chopped parsley if desired. Serve with additional Parmigiano on top. Enjoy!

Notes

Expert Tips

  • Cook Pasta Perfectly. Make sure to salt the water to flavor the pasta from the inside out. Only cook until al dente. Read:  How Long to Boil Spaghetti Pasta Perfectly Every Time
  •  Use Freshly Grated Parmigiano. It helps to grate the cheese finely, so it mixes well with the lemon juice and melts nicely into the sauce. I wrote an entire article on why using freshly grated cheese makes a difference. 
  • Reserve Pasta Water. Save a cup of the pasta water to make the sauce extra creamy without using cream. After the pasta is cooked, gently toss the sauce and pasta water in the warm pan and watch the magic unfold! This is an Italian secret.

  • Author: Elena
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Savory
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

You May Also Like

About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

58 Comments

  1. I made this last night for my husband and myself. Made the recipe as written knowing it would feed more than 2. We have lots of left overs. Next time I will adjust ingredients based on people served. I did add some garlic to recipe and next time will consider some shrimp or even cut up cooked asparagus. Was quick and easy, thank you!






  2. So easy to make and super flavorful!
    This will be a summer recipe and great to add fish or shrimp to especially during the Lenten season.






  3. This is truly my husband’s favorite meal of all the meals I make. He raves to people how amazing it! I can’t tell you how many times I have made this dish now. It’s super easy to make and very flavorful!






  4. We had this dish in Rome, served in an Amalfi lemon rind cut in half (like a cup). Amalfi lemons are the size of grapefruit! It was deliciously life-changing. I’m so glad I found your recipe. It’s gorgeously decadent, yet its simple zesty flavor is so light and refreshing.
    thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Thomas
    Michigan






  5. LOVE THIS RECIPE. I could eat this right out of the pot with a bottle of wine. It’s that good. And, super simple to put together!!






  6. I’ve made this once. So simple and delicious. I’m making it again today! Love your recipes, Elena!