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.
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.
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.
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).
- 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.
How to Assemble a QUICK PASTA SAUCE
- 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
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Easy Lemon Garlic Pasta with Zesty Breadcrumbs
Lemon + Parmesan Breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon
- ½ cup
(or 1-2 slices leftover bread tossed in the food processor or blender)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 lemon, zested (and divided), then juiced
For the pasta
- ½ lb bucatini, or any other long strand pasta, cooked reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 tablespoons chicken broth, see note below*
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice, from 1 lemon
- 1-2 tablespoons butter, as needed
- 1 cup reserved pasta water
- 1/2 bag fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried
- 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, or more
- crushed red pepper, optional
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the breadcrumbs
- Melt butter and olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat.
- Add the breadcrumbs and salt and toast stirring constantly for approximately two minutes until golden brown.
- Off heat, stir in parmesan and 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, reserving the remainder for the sauce, and set aside.
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.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 followed by the Parmesan and continue to cook for about a minute or two, tossing gently with tongs.
- Next, add the spinach lightly tossing until wilted.Finish with more parmesan, a generous topping of breadcrumbs and sprinkling of crushed red pepper, if using.
- Serve immediately.