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The Best Lemon Pepper Pasta Recipe

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Ready in about 15 minutes, this lemon pepper pasta is made with just a few ingredients. Yet it is bursting with flavor, and it’s a great recipe for busy weeknight dinners or guests.

plate with a tangle of spaghetti with a halved lemon and parsley behind.

Quick and delicious, this lemon pepper pasta recipe or pasta al limone is one of our favorite Italian recipes. And if you like noodles, have a look at these 10 Fast Pasta Recipes.

Why will you love this recipe?

  • Bursting with fresh lemon flavor: You can taste the lemon juice, zest, and pepper.
  • Quick: Ready in about 15 minutes, depending on how long it takes for the noodle water to boil.
  • Few ingredients: You will only need a handful of simple ingredients to make a fantastic dinner.
  • Versatile: You can add your favorite veggies, chicken, bacon, shrimp, or fish. But we adore the original recipe; I seldom add anything else.
  • Guests: It is a simple pasta dish, yet so delicious and elegant looking, that you can serve to guests.

And if you like peppery, bright flavors, check out the Honey Lemon Pepper Chicken Wings, and the Hot Lemon Pepper Wings, both made with lemon pepper seasoning.

Recipe ingredients

listed ingredients for making lemon pepper pasta.

Pasta:

  • I use spaghetti most of the time, but your favorite shape is excellent. It doesn’t even have to be long-shaped pasta like linguine or fettuccine; short pasta (penne, fusilli, macaroni, gemelli) is also great.

Lemon:

  • You will need the juice and the zest, so buying organic, unwaxed lemons is preferable.
  • One lemon weighs about 4.5 oz (130 g). I was able to zest 2 teaspoons lemon zest and press 3 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon so that you will need a total of 3-4 teaspoons lemon zest (to taste) and 5-6 tablespoons juice.

Pepper:

  • Coarsely ground black pepper. It tastes best if it is freshly ground. I use about one teaspoon for this recipe, making it really peppery. If you are unsure about it, start with less and add more after tasting.
  • Finely ground black pepper is not great in this dish, at least not as good as coarse pepper is.

Butter:

  • I prefer to use unsalted butter to make this lemon butter sauce, but salted is ok. In this case, adjust the salt you need accordingly.

Olive oil:

  • Preferably good quality extra-virgin olive oil: I use my best oil for this lemon pepper pasta dish, the one I usually keep for salad dressings.

Parmesan cheese:

  • From a block of hard cheese and not pre-grated Parmesan, that’s not good.

Other ingredients: fine sea salt or Kosher, fresh parsley.

Step-by-step instructions

  • Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. To speed up the process, boil at least half of the water in a kettle first or start with hot water from the tap. Once the water boils, add salt generously. Cook the spaghetti al dente. Remove about ½ cup of the cooking water before draining the pasta (1).
  • While the spaghetti cook, prepare the rest of the ingredients; everything should be ready as soon as the pasta is al dente.
  • Fresh lemons: Wash the lemons with hot water and rub them dry. Zest the yellow skin only, nothing of the white peel. Juice the lemons.
  • Prepare ingredients: Grate the cheese finely and set it aside. Chop the parsley and set it aside. Grind the pepper now if you want to measure out the amount you need.
  • Lemon sauce: Start making the pasta sauce a few minutes before the pasta is done.
  • Gently heat the butter and the oil in a large skillet on low heat. The butter should melt, but the mixture should not get too hot (2).
collage of two pictures of cooking spaghetti and melting butter in a pan.
  • Add lemon juice and zest, Parmesan, chopped parsley, sea salt, and pepper. Add about ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water and the drained hot pasta (3).
  • Toss well with two spoons until the noodles are coated with lemon pepper sauce (4). Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper if necessary.
collage of two pictures of making lemon sauce and mixing it with spaghetti.

Expert tips

  • Use the best quality, fresh ingredients, this dish is made with just a few ingredients, but they all have to be at their best. Use fresh lemon juice, real butter, best quality olive oil, and Parmesan from a block of cheese.
  • Only scrape off the yellow skin and not the white peel when you zest the lemons. The white peel is bitter, and it would ruin the dish.
  • Keep about ½ cup of the noodle water and add a little bit of it to the sauce. The starch it contains will bind the rest of the sauce ingredients together and allow it to coat each strand of pasta.
  • Don’t let the pan with the sauce get too hot, or the Parmesan will clump. Heat the butter and the oil only briefly to help melt the butter, then remove the pan from the hob and add the rest of the ingredients. Combine quickly.
  • If available, use smoked black pepper; it imparts the dish a fantastic flavor. Smoked pepper is not easy to get, but if you find it anywhere, do use it for this dish; you will love it.
close up of tangled pasta with lemon black pepper sauce.

Recipe FAQ

Is this recipe vegetarian?

No, it uses Parmesan, which is traditionally made with animal rennet. If you want to make the dish vegetarian, use good quality vegetarian hard cheese.

Can I add anything else?

You can add cooked chicken breasts or shrimp, canned and drained tuna, steamed veggies like peas, broccoli, spinach, kale, a few chopped olives, roasted tomatoes, one grated garlic clove, and so on. You can also use other fresh herbs instead of parsley, for instance, basil.

How to store leftovers?

The lemon pepper pasta is best served immediately. However, you can refrigerate the leftovers in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

How to serve?

Serve the lemon pepper spaghetti immediately with lettuce or a simple arugula salad with vinaigrette dressing and sauteed vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, green beans, or peas.

You can also serve the lemon pepper pasta as a chicken breast or fish fillet side dish.

overhead view of a plate of lemon pasta with black perpper, sprinkled with parsley.

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overhead view of a plate of lemon pasta with black perpper, sprinkled with parsley.

The Best Lemon Pepper Pasta Recipe

Ready in about 15 minutes, this lemon pepper pasta is one of our favorite pasta dishes. It is bursting with flavor, and it’s perfect for a regular weeknight dinner or guests.
5 from 2 votes
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Course: Pasta Recipes
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 587kcal
Author: Adina

Equipment

  • Large pot
  • Large pan

Ingredients  

  • 1 lb spaghetti 450 g, Note 1
  • 2 lemons 4 teaspoons zest and 6 tablespoons juice, Notes 2,3
  • 3 tablespoons butter 45 g/ 1.6 oz, Note 4
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup Parmesan 50 g/ 1.8 oz, Note 5
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt or Kosher Note 6
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste

Instructions

  • Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water boils, add salt generously. Cook the spaghetti al dente. Remove about ½ cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.
  • While the pasta cooks, prepare the rest of the ingredients; everything should be ready as soon as the pasta is al dente.
  • Lemons: Wash the lemons with hot water and rub them dry. Zest the yellow skin, nothing of the white peel (bitter). Juice the lemons.
  • Prepare ingredients: Grate the cheese finely and set it aside. Chop the parsley and set it aside. Grind the pepper now if you want to measure out the amount you need.
  • Sauce: Start making the sauce about one minute before the pasta is done.
  • Gently heat the butter and the oil in a large pan. The butter should melt, but the mixture should not get too hot, or the Parmesan clumps. Add lemon juice and zest, Parmesan, chopped parsley, sea salt, and pepper. Add about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water and the drained spaghetti.
  • Toss well with two spoons until the noodles are coated with sauce. Add a little more pasta water if necessary and toss again. Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper if required.

Notes

  1. You can use other pasta shapes if you like.
  2. Preferably organic and unwaxed as you will need their zest.
  3. One lemon weighs about 4.5 oz (130 g). I was able to zest 2 teaspoons lemon zest and press 3 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon so that you will need a total of 3-4 teaspoons lemon zest (to taste) and 5-6 tablespoons juice.
  4. I have unsalted most of the time; if using salted, adjust the amount of salt you need for the dish accordingly.
  5. Freshly grated Parmesan from a block of cheese
  6. If using table salt, start with less and add more to taste.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 587kcal | Carbohydrates: 91g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 10mg | Sodium: 666mg | Potassium: 355mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 130IU | Vitamin C: 29mg | Calcium: 201mg | Iron: 2mg
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