This bright, fresh Creamy Lemon Pasta is topped with crunchy breadcrumbs making it one of my favorite warmer weather comfort foods.
This recipe is inspired by a recipe that originally comes from Cuisine at Home magazine. Many years ago a co-worker and her husband invited me over for dinner when I was in Connecticut on a business trip. She made lemon pasta for dinner and I liked it so much I just had to have the recipe. As I often do, over time I put my own spin on it. This is one of a collection of recipes that I’ve been making for years but have never published on the blog. Since it’s become a favorite of mine for a light, yet slightly elegant weeknight dinner I thought it was time to share it!
If you search through cookbooks and on the internet, you’ll find many versions of lemon spaghetti out there. One of the reasons I like this kind of recipe is that it’s easy to adjust and make it your own. Want to add some protein? A bit of grilled chicken or some crab meat is a wonderful addition. Trying to get more veggies into your diet? Toss in a bit of broccoli or some artichoke hearts.
Making Creamy Lemon Pasta
This is a really easy recipe but since it comes together quickly, planning is key!
Start by zesting THEN juicing your lemons. It’s really hard to zest them after you juice them so don’t skip this step! Measure out your other ingredients so you have them ready to go.
Get your pasta water going. Add water to a large pot and bring it up to a slow boil. Once the water is boiling add the salt and then the pasta.
Make the breadcrumbs. These can go from golden brown to burnt quickly so I don’t advise multi-tasking while they are cooking!
Let’s Talk about these Breadcrumbs
While we are on the subject, these breadcrumbs are to die for! The crunchy panko breadcrumbs combine with the tangy lemon and nutty parmesan cheese for a simple yet delightful pasta topping.
You can make them a day or two in advance if you like or make a double batch and toss them in salads or other pasta dishes.
Once the breadcrumbs are ready it’s time to create the tangy lemon sauce. You start by sautéing the garlic. Then you’ll whisk in the lemon juice, wine and cream. Add a bit of cremè fraîche and a touch of the pasta water to create a nice creamy sauce.
Add the pasta to the sauce, toss, serve, top with breadcrumbs and enjoy!
My favorite wine for pairing with this Lemon Pasta is Chardonnay – it’s creamy, with notes of citrus, just like this pasta! I normally use it in the sauce as well though I’ve made the sauce with a variety of different white wines, including Sauvignon Blanc and it always turns out well so experiment with your favorite white wine.
Salting Pasta Water
Let’s talk a little bit about salting your pasta water. A few years ago, I went through a phase where I didn’t salt pasta water. For some reason, I felt like it was an unnecessary step. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Salt really brings out the flavor in food and can be a game changer when it comes to taste.
There are a lot of factors that go into how much salt should go into your water – one big one is the type of salt you are using. I don’t recommend table or iodized salt for salting pasta water or for much in general. It has a slightly bitter taste. I happen to like sea salt however kosher salt is a good choice and probably the most highly recommended.
If you google “how much salt should you put in pasta water” you’ll get a lot of answers. When I finally got back into the habit of salting my water I did a lot of experimenting. The short answer the question of how much is “probably more than you are using now”. The most common recommendation seems to be ½ tablespoon of salt per 4 cups (1 quart) of water. Start slow – you can always add more! Pasta like bucatini which cooks for longer will need less salt than something that’s only in the water for a few minutes. Taste the water until you get an idea of how much salt you prefer.
More Notes from the Kitchen
- Cook your pasta just short of al dente. I like to cook my pasta for about a minute less than the package directions suggest. This is because the pasta will continue to cook as it’s tossed with the lemon cream sauce, and we don’t want it becoming mushy.
- Save your pasta cooking liquid. In many situations, adding a bit of the starchy water is the key to achieving the perfect pasta sauce. I always recommend reserving the water when you drain your pasta. If you don’t use it, just pour it down the drain later!
- Can you make it ahead of time? While this dish can be reheated it is really best when served right after making it so I don’t recommend it as something you’ll want to meal prep in advance.
- If you want some ideas for using up the rest of the creme fraiche check out this Skillet Lemon Chicken recipe or my favorite artichoke dipping sauce.
Looking for more great pasta recipes? This Lighter Mac and Cheese with Greek Yogurt is favorite for easy lunches and quick dinners. This Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad is always a hit a summer parties. And this Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Shrimp Linguine is a popular option for both date night and upscale weeknight dinners.
things you may want for this recipe
Panko Bread Crumbs – I generally use Whole Foods brand of these because I like the texture and the fact that they come in a resealable container. Just about any brand will work well. I use these instead of regular breadcrumbs about 95% of the time.
Redmond Sea Salt – Ever since I got introduced to this sea salt at a blogging conference last year it has become of favorite of mine. You can find it in most major grocery stores as well as online.
Creamy Lemon Pasta
- 8 ounces uncooked bucatini pasta
- ½ tablespoon kosher or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup white wine
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
- Cook the pasta. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a slow boil. Add the salt and then the pasta. Cook until just slightly less than al dente. About 8-9 minutes.
- Make the breadcrumbs. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and stir to coat with oil. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a small mixing bowl. Stir in the parmesan cheese and lemon zest.
- Saute the garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low and add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the garlic and sauteé for 30 seconds.
- Make the sauce. Add the lemon juice, wine and cream to the pan. Whisk until smooth and then cook for two minutes, whisking constantly. Stir in the creme fraiche. Check the consistency of the sauce and add a small amount of pasta water (about a tablespoon to start). Stir to incorporate. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook for 1 minute, using tongs to toss the pasta with the sauce.
- Serve. Divide the pasta and sauce between two bowls. Top with a generous helping of breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.
- Keep a close eye on the breadcrumbs while they are cooking. They can go from golden brown to burnt very quickly.
- Using a small fork to stir the parmesan and lemon zest into the breadcrumbs works well.