Easy Lemon Garlic Pasta with Zesty Breadcrumbs

Some pasta dishes deserve to be called easy. As in under 30 minutes easy. Easy Lemon Garlic Pasta is a one pan pasta (!) starring a sauce that can be made in 30 minutes or less for weeknight dinners or weekend gatherings. And the zesty breadcrumbs on top make the whole thing sing like Pavarotti.

a bowl of bucatini with lemon garlic sauce topped with parmesan and lemon breadcrumbs on a tiled marble background with a serving pan of pasta and a bottle of wine, wineglass and a bowl of toasted breadcrumbs and sprinkling of crushed red pepper

Like a good Italian opera, this pasta is a memory-maker. Who knew that purchasing a big bag of fancy lemons at Costco would spark a taste memory of an amazing bowl of pasta from back in the day? There was a little neighborhood Italian restaurant with the best Tortellini Alfredo (coming soon, I promise!). And second place was an unforgettable scallop linguine with a lemon garlic white wine sauce. 

And that right there is what we call a taste memory.

ingredients for bucatini with lemon garlic sauce with spinach, white wine, olive oil

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Choosing the Right Swirly Pasta

Bucatini. Spaghetti. Fettuccine. Tagliatele. 

Long pastas that hold their own with silken sauces like this one.. And the perfect choice here is bucatini because it has the right—well… “heft”. Nothing is better than twirling bucatini on a spoon —the hollow center soaking up lemon garlic sauce creating the perfect singular bite  — especially when it’s coated with parmesan. 

skillet of sauteed onions, garlic in a lemon and white wine sauce with a pat of butter in the center and pan of pasta and juiced lemons

the secret to MAKING LEMON GARLIC PASTA SAUCE

It’s not the pasta. The secret is the water. 

Pasta water is the key ingredient to the texture and the thickening of this sauce (and for that matter, many sauces like this Tomato Sauce). 

Why?

  • Initially, pasta water thins the sauce but as it cooks, it simultaneously thickens it just enough to marry the sauce to the pasta. 
  • And it’s a technique that allows you to thicken any pasta sauce without cornstarch or flour, which is helpful if you’re making a gluten-free pasta dish.
pan of bucatini and lemon garlic pasta sauce with empty measuring cup, white wine and olive oil

How to Assemble a QUICK PASTA SAUCE

Prep Tips

  • Prep the onion and garlic
  • Zest, then juice, the lemons (always in that order because it’s harder to zest a juiced lemon)
  • Reserve about a cup of pasta water from cooking the pasta
  • Have your wine bottle open and wine measured
sauteed onions and garlic in a skillet with a wooden board of chopped garlic nearby

Making the Sauce

Saute the onions first before adding the garlic right at the last minute. Only cook the garlic till you can smell it – about 30 seconds. You don’t want burnt garlic.

skillet of sauteed onions, garlic in a lemon and white wine sauce with a pat of butter in the center and pan of pasta and juiced lemons
  • Make sure to cook off your white wine for at least two minutes to burn off the alcohol.
  • Use the broth left over from my Foolproof Chicken Breasts in this recipe. It’s loaded with flavor and the chicken is amazing with this sauce.
  • Start with 1 tablespoon of butter adding the second after tasting, if needed.
pan of bucatini and lemon garlic pasta sauce with fresh spinach on top with lemon and bowls of parmesan and crushed red pepper

Tossing the Pasta

  • Undercook your bucatini by a minute or two as it will continue to cook in the lemon garlic sauce.
  • Add the spinach after you have tossed the pasta in the sauce because it wilts quickly. You can even add the spinach off the heat right before topping with more parmesan (always MORE) and breadcrumbs.
pan of olive oil and butter with breadcrumbs and parmesan bowls nearby with blue salt and pepper shaker

Making Crispy Lemon Breadcrumbs

While the lemon garlic pasta sauce is the prima donna of the dish, the Lemon and Parm Breadcrumbs are an aria in their own right.

finished bowl of toasted lemon breadcrumbs with bowls of breadcrumbs and parmesan

Breadcrumb Making TIps:

  • Use medium heat. Once the breadcrumbs start browning, they move faaaast.
  • Butter browns better and adds the flavor. The olive oil crisps them up.
  • Add the parmesan cheese and lemon zest off the heat or you’ll risk the cheese clumping. 
pan of seared and cooked chicken breasts with a tong and blue napkin tied to the handle

Eat With shrimp, with scallops, with chicken

Scatter your favorite seafood or chicken on top a giant bowl of bucatini and lemon garlic sauce and watch your tribe go to town. Getting someone to do the dishes after a meal like this won’t be an issue because the pasta bowls will be so clean. Now that’s one taste memory you won’t forget.

a bowl of bucatini with lemon garlic sauce topped with parmesan and lemon breadcrumbs on a tiled marble background with a serving pan of pasta and a bottle of wine, wineglass and a bowl of toasted breadcrumbs and sprinkling of crushed red pepper

tips

For a crowd: The best thing about this recipe is you can make as much sauce as you need for the amount of pasta you have. Easily double or triple this recipe.

For a few: Double the recipe for leftovers accented with different proteins or used over your favorite greens.

recipes to pair with lemon Garlic Pasta

Foolproof Chicken

a bowl of bucatini with lemon garlic sauce topped with parmesan and lemon breadcrumbs on a tiled marble background with a serving pan of pasta and a bottle of wine, wineglass and a bowl of toasted breadcrumbs and sprinkling of crushed red pepper.
4.58 from 7 votes

Easy Lemon Garlic Pasta with Zesty Breadcrumbs

A one pan pasta dish that can be on the table in under 30 minutes.
Prep Time:5 minutes
Cook Time:15 minutes
Breadcrumb Prep:3 minutes
Total Time:23 minutes

Ingredients
 

Lemon + Parmesan Breadcrumbs

For the pasta

Instructions

For the breadcrumbs

  • Melt butter and olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. 
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Add the breadcrumbs and salt and toast stirring constantly for approximately two minutes until golden brown.
    ½ cup panko breadcrumbs, ½ teaspoon salt
  • Off heat, stir in parmesan and 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, reserving the remainder for the sauce, and set aside.
    ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1 lemon

For the pasta:

  • Cook the pasta according to package directions in at least  quarts of salted water. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water before draining.
    ½ lb bucatini
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.
    2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sauté the onion for about 3 minutes adding salt and pepper. You want the onion to be golden brown. Then add the garlic and sauté briefly for about 30 seconds.
    1/2 onion, 4 cloves garlic
  • To onions and garlic, add the white wine -cook for 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Add the chicken broth, the lemon juice and remaining zest. Continue cooking over medium heat and add the butter to help thicken the sauce.
    ½ cup dry white wine, 4 tablespoons chicken broth, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • Add the pasta to the sauce, stirring to meld the sauce and pasta together for a minute or two.
  • Starting with 1/4 cup, add the reserved pasta water and continue to cook for about a minute or two, tossing gently with tongs.
    1 cup reserved pasta water
  • Next, add the spinach lightly tossing until wilted. Remove from heat.
    Toss in parmesan, stirring to coat. Sprinkle over a generous topping of breadcrumbs and sprinkling of crushed red pepper, if using. 
    1/2 bag fresh spinach leaves, 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper
  • Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. 
    salt and pepper

Notes

*I recently adjusted this recipe due to some reader feedback and you’ll now add the parmesan cheese off the heat right at the end of tossing the pasta, pasta water and sauce.
Course: Dinner, Pasta, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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11 Comments

    1. Yay! Thanks Betsy! So glad that you liked it and thank you for sharing your experience with the recipe 😊. I too made it this past week and we devoured it!

  1. Well, followed the recipe to a T, even the part about adding the Parmesan and continuing to cook. Should have listened to my instinct. Cheese melted, of course, clumped up and stuck to the spinach, spoon, and bottom of the pan. Was on pretty low heat by this point. Removed from the heat to try to save. Had to pick out all the spinach and clumped up cheese. Disappointed. Can NOT work the way it’s written.2 stars

    1. Hi Dee! I completely understand your frustration. I’ve tested and made this recipe many times and have not experienced that with the cheese but I plan on making it this week again to make sure that my directions as written are accurate. I fresh grate the parmesan and don’t use shredded so that’s the only thing I can think of (and I realize I don’t specify to not use shredded). I’ll update you here and via email and thank you for trying my recipe.

  2. I made this for dinner tonight and I have to say it was AWESOME! The flavors were wonderful. The lemon, Parmesan, garlic, dry white wine mixture was the perfect medley and the Lemon and Parmesan breadcrumb topping was the perfect flavorful crunch on top of this delicious dish served with Foolproof Chicken. Thanks Lori, a definite winner in my house!!5 stars

    1. Hey there Joyce! So happy that you liked it and I agree the breadcrumbs seal the deal with this one. And so happy you liked the Foolproof Chicken! My kids make it all the time too!