Easy Lemon and Garlic Pasta (Without Cream) – 20 Mins Recipe

Zesty bursts of lemon intertwine with the savory warmth of garlic in this vibrant pasta dish. This combination isn’t just a classic for a reason – it’s a culinary testament to the power of simplicity. Each element shines, yet together they create a harmonious melody that dances on the taste buds. The bright acidity of the lemon cuts through the richness of the garlic, while the pasta provides a comforting canvas for these bold flavors.


Lemon and Garlic Pasta

What truly sets lemon garlic pasta apart is its elegant simplicity. With just a handful of ingredients, you can create a dish that’s both sophisticated and satisfying. A drizzle of olive oil, a generous amount of garlic, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese are all you need to transform ordinary pasta into an extraordinary meal.

A Personal Touch

I’ve always been drawn to the freshness and vivacity of lemon garlic pasta. It’s a dish that reminds me of sunny afternoons and al fresco dining. The aroma of garlic sizzling in olive oil is enough to transport me to the heart of Italy. Over the years, I’ve experimented with countless variations, adding a pinch of red pepper flakes for a touch of heat or tossing in a handful of fresh herbs like parsley or basil for an extra layer of flavor. The beauty of this dish is its versatility – it’s a blank canvas that allows for endless creativity.

Why You’ll Love Lemon Garlic Pasta Sauce

  1. Ready in a Flash: This recipe is your new best friend for those nights when you crave something delicious but don’t have much time. In under 20 minutes, you can have a restaurant-quality meal on the table. It’s a fantastic back-pocket pasta recipe that always delivers.
  2. Simple Ingredients, Big Flavor: The beauty of lemon garlic pasta lies in its simplicity. Most of the ingredients are likely already in your fridge or pantry. Fresh lemon zest is the star of the show, infusing the pasta with a beautiful, vibrant flavor that’s perfect for spring and summer. It’s a lighter alternative to heavy tomato or cream sauces.
  3. Endless Customization: While the basic lemon garlic sauce is amazing on its own, it’s incredibly easy to customize. This recipe is a blank canvas for your culinary creativity. You can add more garlic for extra punch, or more lemon for a brighter flavor. Adding protein like grilled chicken or shrimp is a great way to make it a heartier meal. And if you’re feeling indulgent, a dollop of ricotta cheese or burrata cheese takes it to the next level. The possibilities are endless!

What Kind of Pasta to Use for This Lemon Pasta Recipe?

For this recipe, you’ll want to use 12 ounces of a thin, long pasta. My personal preference is spaghetti, but angel hair pasta works beautifully as well. These types of noodles are ideal for lighter sauces like this lemon spaghetti sauce because they’re easier to coat evenly, ensuring that every bite is bursting with zesty flavor.

READ: Aglio e Olio Linguine

The Lemon Pasta Sauce

This light, lemony pasta sauce is a revelation. We’ll use a bit of the starchy pasta cooking water as a thickener, which, when combined with olive oil, creates a silky sauce that clings beautifully to the noodles. Fresh garlic adds a pungent kick, while the sharp, nutty Parmesan cheese contributes loads of flavor. The best part? There’s no heavy cream or butter needed, making this a lighter, brighter option that still delivers on taste.

Lemon Garlic Pasta Recipe

Recipe by Whisk and NibbleCourse: MainCuisine: Italian


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A vibrant and zesty pasta dish featuring fresh lemon, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.


  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This sauce relies heavily on the quality of your olive oil, so use the best kind you can find. It’s one of my favorites for its fruity notes that complement the lemon and garlic beautifully.

  • Garlic, 6 Large Cloves, Minced: Garlic is the backbone of this sauce, so don’t be shy with it! Six large cloves of minced garlic might seem like a lot, but it infuses the sauce with incredible flavor.

  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional): A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes adds a subtle heat to the lemon pasta without making it taste spicy. If you prefer a milder option, you can swap them out for Aleppo pepper flakes.

  • Lemon Juice and Zest: The zest of two lemons and the juice of one provide just enough tang to balance the richness of the olive oil and garlic. The zest, in particular, adds a bright, citrusy aroma that elevates the entire dish.

  • Fresh Parsley, ½ Cup, Chopped: A generous amount of chopped Italian parsley adds a burst of color and a peppery bite to the finished dish. Stir it in at the very end to preserve its vibrant green hue.

  • Parmesan Cheese, Freshly Grated: Freshly grated Parmesan cheese melts into the light lemon pasta sauce, creating a perfectly creamy texture and adding a nutty richness. Start with ¼ cup and add more to your liking.


  • Cook the Pasta: Cook 12 ounces of spaghetti in a large pot of well-salted, boiling water according to the package instructions. You’ll want to cook it until it’s al dente, which means it’s tender but still has a slight bite. This usually takes about 8 minutes.
  • Make the Lemon Spaghetti Sauce: About 5 minutes into cooking the pasta, start on the lemon sauce. Heat ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet until shimmering. Add 6 large cloves of minced garlic and ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Then add the fresh lemon juice and about ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water.
  • Combine the Pasta with the Sauce: Once the pasta is al dente, save some of the cooking liquid before draining it. Then add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce and toss to combine. Remove from heat, and stir in ½ cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley and the zest of 2 lemons. Add ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Toss well, and add more pasta water or olive oil as necessary to achieve your desired sauce consistency. Garnish with additional fresh parsley, and spoon the pasta into bowls. Serve hot!


  • This dish is easily customizable. Add protein, vegetables, or different cheeses to make it your own.

Lemon Pasta with Chicken

While this vegetarian spaghetti dish is super satisfying on its own, it also pairs wonderfully with chicken piccata. You can shred leftover baked chicken or rotisserie chicken and throw it in for a quick and easy weeknight meal. This is one of my go-to chicken recipes when I’m craving a lighter spaghetti al limone. If you’re in the mood for seafood, toss in some sautéed shrimp for extra protein.

READ: Oregano Pesto Recipe

Serve Lemon Spaghetti With

Serving this zesty lemon spaghetti with crunchy garlic bread or blistered tomato bruschetta makes for a quick starter that complements the flavors of the pasta perfectly. For a fresh side dish, a big salad is always a winner. A quick lemony arugula salad, a summery peach salad, or a colorful pomegranate tomato salad would all be delicious options.

Leftovers and Storage

Your homemade lemon spaghetti is just as delicious the next day! Simply store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where it will stay fresh for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to enjoy it again, gently reheat it in a skillet over medium heat on the stovetop. Add a splash of water to keep the pasta from drying out, and stir until it’s warmed through.

Tips for Making the Perfect Lemon Garlic Pasta

  1. Prioritize Freshness: While this recipe is beautifully simple with just a handful of ingredients, prioritize fresh ingredients for the best possible flavor. Fresh garlic, lemons, and parsley will elevate your dish to a whole new level. Avoid using bottled, jarred, or dried alternatives whenever you can.
  2. Salt Your Pasta Water Generously: Don’t be afraid to add a generous amount of salt to your pasta water. It should taste as salty as the sea! This is crucial for flavor development, as the pasta absorbs the salt as it cooks.
  3. Achieve Al Dente Perfection: Cook your pasta al dente, meaning it’s tender with a slight bite. A helpful trick is to cook it for a minute less than the package instructions suggest. The pasta will continue cooking in the sauce, so this prevents it from becoming mushy.
  4. Utilize the Pasta Water: Don’t discard the starchy pasta water! It’s the secret weapon in creating a luxuriously creamy lemon garlic sauce. The starch in the water helps the sauce emulsify and cling to the noodles, resulting in a silky, flavorful coating.

A Symphony of Serving Options

While lemon garlic pasta is a star on its own, it also shines in a supporting role. Elevate your meal by pairing it with succulent grilled chicken or shrimp for a protein boost. For a taste of the sea, try it with pan-seared salmon. To keep it light and fresh, toss in some chopped fresh herbs like basil or mint.

Make-Ahead Magic

Short on time? This recipe is a lifesaver. Prepare the lemon garlic sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to eat, simply cook the pasta, reheat the sauce, and toss to combine. This is also a great option for meal prepping – portion out the pasta and sauce into containers for a quick and easy lunch or dinner throughout the week.

A Symphony of Cheeses

While Parmesan cheese is the classic choice for lemon garlic pasta, don’t be afraid to experiment with other cheeses. A sprinkle of Pecorino Romano, a salty, sheep’s milk cheese, adds a depth of flavor that complements the lemon and garlic beautifully. For a creamy indulgence, try adding a dollop of ricotta or mascarpone cheese to each serving.

A Vegan Symphony of Flavor

For a plant-based twist, swap Parmesan for nutritional yeast, a deactivated yeast with a cheesy, nutty flavor profile that complements the bright lemon and garlic beautifully. Its umami notes add depth and richness, while its flaky texture mimics grated cheese.

To enhance the heartiness of your vegan lemon garlic pasta, consider adding roasted vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts. Roasting brings out their natural sweetness and adds a delightful textural contrast to the dish. If you’re looking for a protein boost, chickpeas or white beans are excellent additions that absorb the flavors of the sauce wonderfully.

READ: Creamy Pumpkin and Sausage Pasta Bake

A Spicy Variation

If you’re a fan of heat, elevate your lemon garlic pasta with a fiery kick. A pinch of red pepper flakes is a classic choice, but for a more nuanced flavor, experiment with different chili peppers like Calabrian chili peppers or chipotle powder. Alternatively, a dash of harissa paste adds a smoky, complex heat that pairs beautifully with the lemon and garlic.

Lemon and Garlic Pasta

Seafood Serenade: A Perfect Pairing

Lemon garlic pasta is a natural partner for seafood. The bright, acidic sauce cuts through the richness of the fish or shellfish, creating a harmonious balance of flavors. Try pairing it with succulent shrimp, flaky white fish like cod or halibut, or even scallops for a luxurious touch. For best results, cook the seafood separately and toss it in with the pasta just before serving.

Wine Pairings

The bright, zesty flavors of lemon garlic pasta call for a wine with similar characteristics. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio is a classic pairing that complements the citrus notes of the dish. For a more complex option, try a dry Riesling or a Vermentino, both of which have a refreshing acidity that cuts through the richness of the olive oil and garlic.

A Flavorful Journey Through Time

The origins of lemon garlic pasta can be traced back to ancient Rome, where garlic was a staple ingredient and lemons were prized for their medicinal properties. Over time, the dish evolved, with different regions of Italy adding their unique twists. In Naples, it’s often served with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, while in Sicily, it’s often garnished with fresh herbs like basil and mint. Today, lemon garlic pasta is enjoyed worldwide for its simple yet sophisticated flavors.

Troubleshooting Tips

  • Sauce too thin: If your sauce seems too thin, add a bit more pasta water. The starch in the water will help thicken the sauce and bind it to the noodles.
  • Pasta sticking together: To prevent the pasta from sticking, toss it with a drizzle of olive oil after draining. You can also add a splash of pasta water to the sauce to help it coat the noodles more evenly.
  • Bland flavor: If the flavor is lacking, try adding a pinch more salt, pepper, or lemon juice. You can also add a touch of honey or sugar to balance the acidity.

Nutritional Information

Saturated Fat2.1g
Polyunsaturated Fat1.3g
Monounsaturated Fat7g
Vitamin A503.4IU
Vitamin C7.6mg


Lemon garlic pasta is a testament to the fact that simple ingredients, when combined thoughtfully, can create a symphony of flavors that dance on your palate. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a kitchen novice, this versatile dish offers endless opportunities for culinary exploration. So go ahead, embrace your creativity, and discover the magic that unfolds when zesty lemons, aromatic garlic, and humble pasta unite.


Frequently Asked Questions

How can I thicken pasta without cream?

You can use cornstarch to thicken your pasta sauce without cream. Make a slurry of half water and half cornstarch, and whisk until smooth. Cornstarch is a powerful thickener, so start by whisking in no more than 1 tablespoon of the mixture per 2 cupsof simmering sauce. Stir and simmer for 2 minutes, then check the thickness. Repeat with more slurry as needed.

Can I use milk instead of cream in pasta bake?

Yes, you can substitute milk for cream in a pasta bake. Mix 1/2 cup of milk with a tablespoon of flour, ensuring there are no lumps. Add this mixture to the pan and bring it to a boil, then add your pasta. The flour will help thicken the milk, creating a creamy texture similar to cream.

Why do people add lemon to pasta?

Lemon zest and juice are the star ingredients in this dish. The zest infuses the sauce with a bright, citrusy flavor, while the juice adds a tangy kick that balances the richness of the olive oil and garlic. Fresh herbs like parsley or basil can also be used to garnish the dish, adding a fresh, aromatic finishing touch.

Should I add lemon to my pasta sauce?

Absolutely! Adding a few tablespoons of lemon juice can dramatically impact the viscosity of the sauce. Make sure to fully anticipate the broken mixture at the end of cooking. You’ll be delighted that everything stayed well combined and luxuriously rich.

Whisk and Nibble

Whisk & Nibble is a blog devoted to all things related to food - from sharing recipes for meals and drinks to highlighting the latest dessert trends and culinary lifestyle content. Visitors can find ideas and inspiration for all eating occasions while enjoying engaging writing about food culture. Whisk & Nibble aims to bring readers together over the shared joy of cooking and dining.

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