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May 30, 2023

Pasta al Limone with Asparagus

Bright and zesty pasta al limone with asparagus calls for a few basic ingredients, yet feels so rich and luscious when you’re twirling noodles on your fork!

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Pasta al Limone with Asparagus topped with pecorino Romano, lemon zest, and pepper in a pasta bowl with a fork
Photography by Gayle McLeod

Sunshiny Citrus And Italy’s Perfect Lemons

Italy is serious about lemons. When was the last time you thought about the varietal last time you bought a lemon? Beyond “yellow” and “round,” there isn’t too much to think about when you’re shopping for citrus at the American grocery store. Southern Italy is especially well known for its lemons, and Sicilian lemons are famous for their taste and essence. The bright flavor of lemons goes well with many savory dishes, including Linguine with Lemon Garlic Sauce and Garlicky Beans with Lemon Dill and Trout.

Pasta al Limone with Asparagus topped with pecorino Romano, lemon zest, and pepper in a pasta bowl

What is Pasta al Limone

Since we saw Stanley Tucci sniffing lemons in “Searching for Italy,” we’ve had citrus on the brain. Traditional pasta al limone with asparagus is a popular dish in southern Italy, and even though it’s a cream-based sauce, it’s nice and light because of the zesty citrus. Recipes for lemon pasta call for a variety of cheese–from fresh ricotta to aged Parmigiano Reggiano–and we like to use pecorino Romano for its sharp saltiness. Our pasta al limone recipe also includes asparagus, because why not?

spaghetti, olive oil, asparagus, garlic, pepper, lemon zest, romano, heavy cream, salt, butter, parsley & basil

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Pasta – This recipe is best with long noodles like spaghetti or cult classic bucatini.

  • Asparagus – When it’s good, it’s so good. And asparagus cooked quickly with garlic is just delicious.

  • Lemon zest – Makes so many things taste *that* much better, like Shishito Peppers!

  • Heavy cream – We don’t call for heavy cream unless it’s worth it, and we’ll just say, it’s really worth it in this sauce for pasta al limone.

  • Pecorino Romano – Folks often use Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano interchangeably, and with good reason. They’re both sharp, a little salty, and super dry. For this lemon spiked pasta, we think that Percorino Romano plays better with the lemon, but feel free to substitute parm if it’s what you have on hand.

asparagus being peeled into ribbons with a vegetable peeler on a cutting board
asparagus ribbons and thinly sliced garlic being cooked in olive oil in a skillet
heavy cream being added into a skillet with olive oil, asparagus ribbons, garlic, pepper, lemon zest & salt
butter being added into a pan with olive oil, asparagus ribbons, garlic, pepper, lemon zest, heavy cream & salt

How to Make Pasta al Limone

  • Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve a cup of the starchy and salty pasta water to add to the sauce.

  • Cook the asparagus and garlic in a large saucepan.

  • Make the sauce. Stir in the pepper, lemon zest, heavy cream, and salt. Add in the butter, and stir until melted and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.

  • Stir in the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce along with the parsley, basil, cheese, and reserved pasta water. Stir until the pasta is coated and the cheese is mostly melted.

  • Serve! Divide the pasta between bowls and sprinkle with more grated pecorino Romano, lemon zest, and a few more turns of freshly ground pepper.

homemade pasta al limone with asparagus made with romano, parsley and basil in a skillet

How to Store Pasta al Limone + Tips

  • If we’re following tradition, this pasta al limone, would be eaten while hot. All of it, with nothing going into the fridge or freezer for future pasta cravings. This isn’t one of those pasta dishes that freezes well. We’ll direct you over to our Classic Lasagna Recipe if you’re looking for something that freezes well!!

  • When life gives you lemons, zest them. It seems intuitive, but we were today years old when we discovered that you use your dominant hand to move the citrus zester over the surface of the lemon, and not the other way around. You can definitely move the lemon over the zester, but you won’t have as much control over the zesting.

  • Reserve the pasta water! This is something we’re getting more accustomed to doing. It helps to add body and to season the sauce. It’s easy to control the amount you’re using, which will also help you get a better feel for the technique, with a glass measuring cup.

Pasta al Limone with Asparagus topped with pecorino Romano, lemon zest, and pepper in a pasta bowl

Lemon Makes Everything Better

Here’s a few more of our favorite lemon-forward recipes from The Modern Proper:

For more recipe inspiration you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest. Have you tried this recipe? We love when you share your meals. Tag us on Instagram using#themodernproper. Happy cooking!

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Pasta al Limone with Asparagus

  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time:  15 min
  • Cook Time:  15 min
  • Calories: 644

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces spaghetti (or other long pasta of your choice)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 large asparagus spears, trimmed and peeled into ribbons
  • 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup minced Italian parsley
  • 10 basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup finely grated pecorino Romano, plus more for serving

Method

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain.

  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is glistening, add the asparagus and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the pepper, lemon zest, heavy cream, and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender. Add in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, and stir until melted and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.

  3. Add the pasta to the sauce along with the parsley, basil, pecorino Romano, and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Stir until the pasta is coated and the cheese is mostly melted. If the sauce is too thick, add more of the reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time.

  4. Divide the pasta between bowls and sprinkle with pecorino Romano, lemon zest, and pepper.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories644
  • Protein16 g
  • Carbohydrates66 g
  • Total Fat34 g
  • Dietary Fiber4 g
  • Cholesterol86 mg
  • sodium952 mg
  • Total Sugars4 g

Pasta al Limone with Asparagus

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

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  • Merideth

    Would this recipe also work with artichokes in lieu of, or in addition to, the asparagus?

    Sure!

  • Sam

    Very good, very easy! Only addition would be lemon juice as zest isn’t enough flavor

    Thanks Sam, glad you loved it!

  • Katie

    YUM! This pleased both of the male picky eaters in my house, including my husband, who usually braces himself for disappointment when there isn't any meat in a recipe and is generally skeptical of green things. This dish was tasty, satisfying, AND made my husband look favorably upon asparagus. It's a win!

    YAY! What a win! We are so happy you all loved it, thanks Katie!

  • Jenny

    This was the pasta of my dreams, already can't wait to make it again!

    So glad you liked it Jenny!