Eating Sunshine – Spaghetti al Limone

I love lemons, they taste like sunshine and wake up everything they touch – pastries, lemon curd, squirted over sauteed greens or any kind of salad, in a glass of water. Often I find lemon things are not lemony enough. At our favorite Italian restaurant, my husband’s number one pick is spaghetti al limone. They serve it with spinach and capers. Theirs is good, but sometimes I find it too tart, and I usually like really lemony things. This inspired me to figure out how to make perfect spaghetti al limone at home.

spaghetti al limone

spaghetti al limone
I’ve experimented with many different sauce variations – with cream, with some of the pasta cooking water, with butter, with varying amounts of lemon juice, cooked and not cooked. The method I like best uses the juice of 3 lemons, some lemon zest, olive oil and parmesan. The ingredients are simply whisked together, then tossed with the hot pasta coating every strand in mellow liquid sunshine.

spaghetti al limone


For the cheese use parmigiano reggiano and grate it yourself. Don’t use the pre-grated dried out kind that comes in a plastic tub. I used to zest lemons with a the finest side of a box grater, but most of the zest would remain caught in the grater and it gave off a weird metallic smell. A lemon zester works beautifully. Take off only the thin top surface of the lemon; the white pith is bitter.


Spaghetti al Limone

Serves 4.

1 lb (457 g) of spaghetti
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
lemon juice from 3 lemons, freshly squeezed
zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 cup parmigiano reggiano, finely grated, plus extra for sprinkling
1/3 bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
capers, to serve

In a large bowl mix together lemon juice, lemon zest, a good pinch of salt, and smashed clove of garlic. Leave garlic to infuse in the lemon juice while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water according to package directions till al dente. While the spaghetti is cooking, you can finish up the sauce.

Very slowly whisk olive oil into lemon juice. Remove and discard garlic clove. Whisk in parmigiano cheese.

When spaghetti is al dente, drain briefly. Do not run cold water over pasta. You want the pasta to be hot as it hits the sauce so it melts the cheese. Toss pasta with sauce till all the strands are coated. Add parsley and a few good cracks of freshly ground black pepper, toss again.

Serve each portion with a drizzle of olive oil, a dusting of parmigiano, and top with capers. Excellent with a side of sauteed bitter greens. Or you can toss a few huge handfuls of baby arugula or spinach right in with the hot pasta to wilt.

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  1. sam
    Posted May 7, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    i want now.

  2. karen tracanelli
    Posted May 8, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    good morning!!!!

  3. Sam
    Posted May 8, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    If you take out the parsley, capers and even the garlic, and just use lemon, black pepper and parmesan, you end up with a Roman dish called Cacio e Pepe… which, when I had it, almost sent me off the roof. The classic Roman dish actually doesn’t call for lemon but, like you, I could resist adding a bit of sunshine. Try it!

    • Oscar
      Posted May 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Sam, I’ve almost ordered this when eating out so many times, but I always seem to get seduced by something more showy. Will definitely try it, I know I’ll love it!

      • Sam
        Posted May 8, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        I hope so too! But, I bet after a few goes, you’ll make it just as well at home yourself. You know, that’s something that always fills me with wonderment when I’m in Italy; so many of their pasta dishes are really just a combination of 3 or 4 ingredients.

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