A Trick to Make Almost Any Pasta Sauce Brighter

Watch this video and be amazed:

Okay, now you probably didn't really understand what you just saw. It was this: Fresh pasta tossed with butter and lemon zest before it met tomato sauce. This simple dusting of lemon zest adds a touch of brightness without any additional acid, Kristen Miglore—who got the tip from David Mawhinney, Culinary Director and Executive Chef at Haven's Kitchen, and showcased it in her Genius Recipes column—points out.

And while the fresh tomato sauce shown above is wonderful, tomatoes aren't in season just yet—and this trick is too good to wait until summer for. So, unless you think a bit of lemon and butter will drastically alter the flavor profile of a pasta dish, you can use this tip to make any pasta a bit brighter-tasting. Here's what to do:

  • Make your sauce.
  • At the same time or after the sauce is finished (this depends on what kind of sauce you're making), cook your pasta.
  • Drain the pasta, place into a bowl, and toss with a knob of butter until it melts followed by a dusting of lemon zest, grated on a Microplane, if you please. Toss again.
  • Add your sauce.
  • If you're topping the pasta with cheese, do as Mawhinney does and "finish "with Parmesan, tapping the same Microplane he used on the lemon."

If you don't already have a pasta in mind (or 10), here are some ideas to try the tip with first:

Do you have a pasta pick-me-up trick? Tell us about it in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Windischgirl
  • Amandadp
  • Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
    Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
I fall in love with every sandwich I ever meet.


Windischgirl January 29, 2017
I love adding a sprinkle of lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice to finish risotto and brighten the flavors. My cheese-averse, risotto-loving son, once a skeptic, now requests it!
Amandadp January 24, 2017
Thanks, I'll have to give this a try. When I make tomato sauce I add a splash of sherry vinegar at the end. It's unidentifiable but gives the sauce that extra something.
Riddley G. January 25, 2017
That's a great tip, too! I'll be trying it.