Creamy Lemon Pasta Without Cream Recipe

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by Maggie Turansky

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If you’re searching for a zingy, flavourful and easy lemony pasta that can come together in a flash, I’ve developed it.

This wonderful dish is the answer if you’re craving a creamy pasta but don’t want to use actual cream. I’ve employed some traditional Italian techniques to get you the desired results in very little time.

This sauce uses a very similar technique that I use in my traditional fettuccine alfredo recipe, my mushroom bucatini recipe, creamy tomato pasta recipe and pesto pasta recipe and even in my salmon pasta recipe.

Basically, I simply make an emulsion with parmesan cheese and butter and a bit of starchy pasta water to make an easy, quick and delicious lemony pasta in about fifteen minutes. Honestly, the sauce takes about as long as the pasta does to cook, so it’s perfect as a weeknight dinner.

Lemon Pasta Without Cream
Lemon Pasta

How to Make Lemon Pasta without Cream

The first step is to cook the pasta. I call for spaghetti in the recipe, but you really can use any kind of pasta you’d like. I would easily use bucatini or linguine here, but something like rigatoni would also be really good.

Make sure to generously salt your pasta water, bring it up to a rolling boil and add your pasta. Cook it for about two minutes less than the package suggests (we’ll finish cooking it in the sauce) and drain, making sure to reserve a good amount of the cooking water because you’re going to need it for your sauce.

Ingredients for this pasta recipe
Ingredients for this pasta recipe

Now, onto said sauce! You can start to build it while the pasta is cooking – much like my pasta puttanesca recipe.

Slice a lemon into thin slices and make sure to pick out any seeds. In a cold skillet, add your butter and garlic and turn the heat to medium. Arrange the lemon slices all in one layer once the butter is melted.

As the butter begins to bubble, the lemons will brown and begin to caramelise. Once they’re browned, remove the lemon slices from the pan and set them aside for later.

Sauteing the lemons and garlic in butter
Sauteing the lemons and garlic in butter

Now, ladle in a bit of your reserved pasta cooking water. This is really essential to build a creamy and thick sauce as the water is enriched with a lot of starch – this sauce won’t work if you just use regular water to make sure you do not completely drain away all of your pasta cooking water!

Sprinkle over a good amount of finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese. I like to use a rasp-style grater for this because it grated the cheese extremely finely and allows for it to melt and emulsify more easily.

Stir the cheese into the butter, garlic and pasta water mixture until it is fully emulsified. The sauce will look pretty watery at this point, but do not be discouraged – this is how it should look!

Whisking in the parmesan cheese
Whisking in the cheese

Now, add your cooked pasta to the skillet. Toss the pasta constantly in order to maintain a stable emulsion. This step is really necessary to ensure that your sauce does not break and become greasy.

Keeping the pasta moving will ensure that you end up with a creamy pasta sauce.

Adding the pasta to the sauce
Adding the pasta to the sauce

If you think it’s necessary to loosen the sauce, add a bit more pasta cooking water. The actual amount you end up using can vary so that is why I suggest reserving as much as possible.

I tend to use tongs to lift the pasta directly from the pot into the skillet rather than draining the water so I know I will have enough to work with, but if you don’t want to do this, make sure you’ve reserved about 125-250 ml of pasta water — about 1/2 to 1 cup.

Tossing the pasta in the sauce
Tossing the pasta in the sauce

Continue tossing and cooking the pasta in the sauce until the pasta is al dente and cooked through – taste it to make sure you’ve reached this stage! Then, add the lemons back into the skillet and toss to combine.

Turn off the heat and, if desired, add some chopped fresh parsley. Toss to combine.

Stirring the parsley into the lemon pasta
Stirring the parsley into the lemon pasta

Serve the pasta immediately because the sauce will become very thick and not as viscous as it sits. Top with even more parmesan cheese if you’d wish and serve with a side of garlic bread!

Lemon Pasta Without Cream

Lemon Pasta Without Cream

This lemon pasta uses only a handful of ingredients, comes together in a snap and is absolutely delicious. It's the perfect way to add some brightness and zest to a weeknight dinner without much effort!
5 from 6 votes
Servings 4
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes


  • 500 g (1 lb) spaghetti
  • 50 g ( tbsp) butter
  • 4 cloves garlic sliced
  • 1 lemon thinly sliced
  • 75 g (¾ cup) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese grated


  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Add pasta and cook for about 2 minutes less than the package suggests. Reserve about 120ml (1/2 cup) of the pasta water before draining.
  • While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and arrange the lemon slices so that they are all in one layer in the pan. Allow the lemons to sizzle until the butter beings to brown and the lemons and garlic start to turn slightly golden, about five minutes.
    Sauteing the lemons and garlic in butter
  • Remove the lemons from the pan and set aside. Add about 60ml (1/4 cup) of the pasta water to the pan, Sprinkle over 3/4 of the cheese and whisk to melt. Add the pasta to the pan and toss to combine.
    Tossing the pasta in the sauce
  • Continue tossing the pasta until the sauce becomes more homogenous and thickens, adding more pasta water, if needed to loosen the sauce. Turn off the heat and return the lemon slices to the pan. Season with salt and pepper taste.
    Stirring the parsley into the lemon pasta
  • Portion out the pasta and top with the remaining parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
    Lemon Pasta Without Cream



Calories: 639kcal | Carbohydrates: 97g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.4g | Cholesterol: 40mg | Sodium: 389mg | Potassium: 348mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 465IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 264mg | Iron: 2mg

Disclaimer: Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

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And that is all there is to making this delicious creamy lemon pasta without cream recipe! It is incredibly simple and quick but packs a biting lemon flavour that is sure to brighten up even the most dreary of days!

Are you wondering how to make a dreamy lemon pasta? Have any questions about the recipe? Let me know in the comments!

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Maggie is the creator behind No Frills Kitchen. She is a world traveller, home cook and recipe developer who loves to experiment with new cuisines and techniques at every chance she gets. No stranger to improvising and making do with the equipment and ingredients she has available, she is passionate about sharing her knowledge with others. Read More

5 from 6 votes (6 ratings without comment)

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