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This Genius Pasta Recipe Pretty Much Makes Its Own Sauce

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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.

Barbara Kafka’s Creamy Lemon Pasta
Barbara Kafka’s Creamy Lemon Pasta

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.

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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.

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Barbara Kafka’s Creamy Lemon Pasta

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Serves 2 to 4
  • 12 ounces wide egg noodles
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons; zest removed with a vegetable peeler and cut in very thin strips 1 inch long (see note)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Go to Recipe

Photos by Bobbi Lin

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!