Genius Recipes

This Genius Pasta Recipe Pretty Much Makes Its Own Sauce

March 15, 2017

This might be the most luxurious-feeling dinner you can conjure from near-thin air. It takes something like 15 minutes and three ingredients (no, not counting salt and pepper—you have those), and it sparkles in just about any situation you can hurl its way. It’s good for a dinner party, good for making the masses at the table happy, good for when you’re feeling off-kilter and need righting. It’s just good.

The recipe was published in a 1999 in the New York Times by Barbara Kafka, the legendary author of Roasting and Microwave Gourmet, and perhaps our most famously no-nonsense cooking expert. So it’s not surprising that her Creamy Lemon Pasta rivals boxed macaroni and cheese in its ease and time investment (and ability to turn you into a cream-comforted puddle), with an infinitely fresher taste.

If you thought that making your own gloriously creamy pasta sauce might require making a roux, or tossing your pasta expertly to emulsify pasta water with butter, or cooking anything for more than 10 minutes, this will come as a pleasant surprise for nights when you don't feel like doing any of that.

Its ease is all thanks to the acid in lemon juice, which, as we’ve seen before, naturally thickens heavy cream without curdling. So all you need to do is warm up a cup of cream with some lemon zest, salt, and lots of black pepper, dump it over just-cooked egg noodles, add some lemon juice and cook until it’s as thick and glossy as you like.

Kafka had no use for fancy zesting gadgets in 1999. “I use a sharp vegetable peeler, which removes zest easily and provides 10 to 12 strips, two inches long and a half inch wide, per lemon,” she wrote, slicing these down further into skinny 1-inch strips for the pasta. I suspect this is partly because Microplanes hadn’t taken off just yet—by the time she wrote Vegetable Love in 2005, she was on board. Both forms of zest will work here, though the hand-sliced version will add a little more texture and spikes of color that you might like (and extra handy if you don’t have a Microplane).

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When Molly Wizenberg wrote about this pasta over at Orangette, she was pretty adamant about topping with Parmesan. Kafka advises that you can stir in peas or asparagus, or serve it alongside roast chicken or broiled fish. But if we can interpret the definition of complete meal to mean feeling complete, you can also just stop right here.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

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Top Comment:
“The cheese ,butter, pasta water and lemon juice will form a lighter brightly flavored sauce. Add cheese per taste, salt and pepper. Hope you enjoy it. ”
— Jeannette F.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thanks to Food52er Heidi Reinberg for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • rebecca
  • Jeannette Festa
    Jeannette Festa
  • girlwithaknife
  • lora
  • Laurie
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


rebecca December 25, 2017
Are you channeling your best self with this comment?
(If you're not sure, check out our Code of Conduct.) This is what is noted under the "write in box"...LOVE it! Tried this - slightly addicted and I DO NOT Love lemon. Imagine that? The idea of Anchovies and arugula - blew my mind - AWESOME!
Jeannette F. October 6, 2017
Sharon in DC--if not egg noodles: I use Cipriani's close to my grandmother's homemade pasta in a box. Available at fine groceries. Expensive but worth it. Be sure not to overcook to allow time to combine with sauce.
girlwithaknife September 25, 2017
So glad I made this on a Sunday. That night I had it with salmon. A couple nights later when I got home late I had leftover noodles with a can of sardines dumped in and a handful of arugula. I have not had a better 3 minute meal!
lora May 20, 2017
We had a "microplane" zester 40 years ago, when I was a kid. It was on the side of the cheese grater, and it was probably one of those things around since my mom was a kid. Why does it annoy me that this generation feels like they invented everything?
Mary May 20, 2017
Right on!
Barb December 20, 2017
Every generation thinks that, but on this one I"m with you. Plus, I bought an actual wood rasp from Home Depot in the 90's because I liked how fluffy it made my parmesan cheese. Still have it.
Laurie March 26, 2017
I made this tonight for dinner. It was delicious. I'll definitely make this again.
DragonFly March 22, 2017
Anything lemony is always so delicious! I'm making this soon!
Jennifer D. March 21, 2017
Quick question Im for canada and just need clarification of Heavy cream. Is that half and half or whipping cream or ????
Scott March 21, 2017
Jennifer- You want the real deal... From the internet-- "Half-and-half contains 12 percent fat; Light cream contains 20 percent fat; Whipping cream contains 35 percent fat; Heavy cream contains 38 percent fat".
I'd imagine whipping cream would work if that's what you have on hand, but I don't think the half and half would thicken up enough.

Barb December 20, 2017
As a part time Canadian, you want the stuff with the highest cream content. I'm not there often enough to remember the %, but it's the really good stuff they serve with coffee.
Kevin O. March 20, 2017
Less pith on the pictured zest and a finer (thinner) strip would make for a more elegant, palatable result. Zesting wins over microplaning for this minimalist recipe IMO. Great recipe, thanks!
Sharon March 20, 2017
Oh no, not again. Now we're battling over the word kosher? Can't I go anywhere without people bringing their petty ethnic grievances to the table? Are people REALLY squabbling over this? Kosher, sea salt, coarse salt, iodized, no iodine, who gives a damn? Just salt or DON'T SALT to taste with a few grains of whatever salt you've got because NOBODY CARES. Give it a rest. PLEASE.
kareema March 20, 2017
Sorry you feel that way, but please remember that 1 t. table salt is NOT the same as 1 t. kosher salt. Different size crystals = different amount of salt. Also, the crystal size is supposed to affect how the salt does its job in different situations.
So just calm down and for pete's sake, this is NOT a damned ethnic issue.
Sharon March 20, 2017
Thank you, but I don't need your lecture on how to use SALTS. If you read some of the comments, some people MADE it a silly ethnic issue. Of course, it isn't. FOOD52 has been invaded with this sort of thing lately and it's spoiling the joy of being here. What's really important is with a plate of noodles and cream it doesn't really matter what salt you use. It won't make or break the dish. Frankly, I don't want to crunch on kosher salt in this simple Cooking 101 plate of food. I wouldn't use it. The choice is for everyone to make for themselves.
Donna March 22, 2017
:( to Sharon
DragonFly March 22, 2017
Just enjoy the recipe, salt or no salt, kosher or not!
Msgoldilocks March 19, 2017
I made this dish for dinner tonight and it came out great!
I added a few ingredients to the recipe.
I sautéed 3 cloves of garlic and 1 tsp of lemon zest in 1 TB of butter before adding the cream and the rest of the lemon zest.
When the cream was just starting to thicken, I added 2 egg yokes, a splash of fish sauce (anchovies would be a great too!) and a pinch of red pepper flakes to the sauce.
Right before serving I topped the pasta with Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley! It was delicious!
Donna B. March 19, 2017
The world has bigger problems than to be arguing about salt? Be nice or stay out of the kitchen please.

Donna March 22, 2017
:) Thank you Queenkool
NYRangersfan March 19, 2017
Thank you for the recipe Jeanette, going to try this with sliced grilled chicken, either added or as a side to it :)
Jeannette F. March 19, 2017
For the person who asked for my lactose free recipe --here it is: use best ingredients--Kerrygold butter, Parmigiano reggiano , Meyer lemons ( if possible) and Cipriani tagliatelle. Per person: one lemon--zest and juice into small saucepan with 4 TBS butter add 1/4 cup or more fresh grated Parmesan. Cook tagliatelle in salted water, cook to just shy of al dente. Heat lemon juice,butter and cheese to gentle bubbling, add cooked pasta (do not drain) directly to lemon juice with the grated cheese . Stir to coat completely If too dry, add pasta water by the tablespoon.I f too watery, add more cheese. The cheese ,butter, pasta water and lemon juice will form a lighter brightly flavored sauce. Add cheese per taste, salt and pepper. Hope you enjoy it.
eboyd March 23, 2017
Jeannette, Ciprianni pasta and Meyer lemons! You've won me over! Can't wait to make your version of this!
NYRangersfan March 19, 2017
Really? Name calling over salt..stop being rude, there's too much of it in the world as it is. Let us enjoy a recipe.
Lisa March 19, 2017
I was thinking the same thing... Apparently they haven't eaten the pasta (with choice of salt or NO salt) because no one is that crabby after eating pasta!
Julia March 19, 2017
IS it possible to make this in an electric pressure cooker?
Lorraine March 19, 2017
How would you make this without cream?
Sharon I. October 5, 2017
Lorraine, see Jeannette's posting above. She's got it all worked out for a lactose-free dish.
Mary March 19, 2017
I've become a huge fan of preserved lemons which I always have on hand. Has anyone tried it with preserved lemons? I will give it a try!
kareema March 20, 2017
Please tell us. I make preserved lemons and am always ready to try them in something else!
Mary October 15, 2017
I tried it and like it! Preserved lemons have a brightness in flavor to me. I always mince fine and even after rinsing they still have salt on them so I would go easy on the salt and add more if you need to.
Msgoldilocks March 19, 2017
I made this pasta a few nights again and it came it heavenly! The only think I did differently was I sautéed about 5 cloves of garlic in a bit of butter before adding the heavy cream to the pan.
It was simply delicious!!
soo March 19, 2017
i love that! it's really hard for me to resist adding garlic to everything :) perhaps anchovies for another twist?
Msgoldilocks March 19, 2017
Ooooooh anchovies would be AMAZING in this dish! I will have to add those next time! Thank you for the idea!
Pieter J. March 19, 2017
Why 'kosher' salt? Let's remove religion out of the kitchen! The term 'coarse salt' will do.
Lisa March 19, 2017
Who cares? Why do you?
Des March 19, 2017
Kosher salt is generally preferred by chefs for a variety of reasons including, but not limited, to its coarser grains. It’s also iodine free (iodine has a slightly bitter taste, which occasionally becomes enhanced when combined with certain foods).
Pieter J. March 19, 2017
Read my remark, dumbo.
Pieter J. March 19, 2017
Most coarse sea salt don't contain iodine. Here in Europe we do not use the term 'kosher'.
Des March 19, 2017
Here in the US (where we have freedom of religion), the term "sea salt" generally refers to an imported specialty item which is reflected in its price. Most chefs, and home cooks, use products such as Maldon and Fluer de Sel as a finishing salt.
Pieter J. March 19, 2017
Yes Des, we are more liberal than what other country, but let's keep religious terms out of the kitchen unless it's really necessary. Kosher salt, schmosher salt.
Pam P. March 19, 2017
On Food52, we treat each other courteously. Please be kind to a fellow food lover.
Julia March 19, 2017
In the US it is *called* kosher salt, so that is what someone would look for on the label if they wish to buy it. Perfectly valid reason to use the term in the recipe.
Pat F. March 19, 2017
my box of salt says "Kosher Salt". So I guess that's what it is.
Maggie March 19, 2017
You know, growing up as the only Jewish kid in a very conservative rural town, the kind where I was in the biblical Christmas play in the (public school) third grade because being not being in it was not an option and prayers were said on the loudspeaker before ball games, I never specifically felt any anti-Semitism, rather a benign ignorance. Until today. If kosher salt offends you that much, send it to me: I'm sure it'll be happier here with a cook who appreciates it.

Religion will be removed from the kitchen when food traditions are removed from religion. So, likely never.
Juliebell March 19, 2017
Kosher salt refers to the salt that is used to Kosher meat and is a common term used in the US to distinguish a large grain salt recommended for cooking as the taste is more subtle than table salt. I assume that you joined this list today to learn and share your ideas about cooking and food but you are registering your personal offense at a common term used in the food world among others while referring to a member as dumbo. How about backing up and redoing your first sound a little trollish.
Juliebell March 19, 2017
Sorry that was directed to new member Pieter...
Zoe March 19, 2017
Please bring your manners to the community. There is no need for name-calling. We are here to learn and enrich other's lives by way of our shared love of food. Ingredients have different names sometimes depending on geography.
Pieter J. March 19, 2017
My apologies. Sometimes I'm too impulsive.
Pat F. March 19, 2017
way to go Pieter
kareema March 20, 2017
BFD. The term - at least here - means the crystal size. And why are you being so trollesque about this? You don't need to name-call.
kareema March 20, 2017
ETA: Also, by the very definition, sea salt is going to have iodine in it. It's in SEAWATER. Google it.
Lisa March 21, 2017
I've begun a list of foods and ingredients with cultural heritage modifiers, such as Kosher salt, Easter bread, Dutch apple pie, Swedish pancakes, Mexican chocolate, New York cheese cake, Indian corn, Greek salad, Hungarian goulash, Italian sausage. So many more, what's your favorite?
Sharon I. October 5, 2017
Thank you, Pieter, for apologizing. We need more of that, sometimes. We're all making our way here as best we can . . .
Jeannette F. March 19, 2017
I make a lemon pasta that uses no cream . Just lemon juice, zest and butter and Parmesan. The pasta water transforms the ingredients into a creamy loveliness. Very brightly flavored. Never over egg noodles. This is more of an unbaked kugle than a pasta recipe.
Bernice March 19, 2017
Would you share your recipe as it sounds nice and I like the idea of less or no cream.
Julia March 19, 2017
In the US it is *called* kosher salt, so that is what someone would look for on the label if they wish to buy it. Perfectly valid reason to use the term in the recipe.
Julia March 19, 2017
sorry! accidentally replied to the wrong comment
Vickie J. March 20, 2017
Yes! please tell us how you do that - sounds divine and my hubby has heart disease so a bit worried about cream.
Sharon I. October 5, 2017
Jeannette, if not over egg noodles, what then? Ideas?
Roger P. May 22, 2019
Could I use reduced fat Greek yogurt?