Barbara Kafka’s Creamy Lemon Pasta

March 14, 2017

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: 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.
Adapted slightly from the New York Times (March 10, 1999).
Genius Recipes

Serves: 2 to 4
Prep time: 25 min
Cook time: 15 min


  • 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
In This Recipe


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles, and stir to separate. Cook for 8 minutes, or until just barely tender (the noodles will cook a bit more in step 3, and you don't want mush). Drain, then return to the cooking pot.
  2. Just before noodles are done, in a small saucepan combine the lemon zest, cream, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until cream comes to a boil.
  3. Pour cream mixture over drained noodles, and add the lemon juice (you may want to start with 3 to 4 tablespoons and add to taste). Stir to coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with additional pepper, if desired.
  4. Note about lemon zest: Alternately, you can grate on a Microplane. The flavor will be a bit stronger as more flavorful oils are released this way, and you won't get the texture of the hand-sliced version. Dealer's choice!

More Great Recipes:
Pasta|American|Cheese|Lemon|Milk/Cream|5 Ingredients or Fewer|Fall|Christmas|Summer|Valentine's Day|Winter|Father's Day

Reviews (25) Questions (0)

25 Reviews

Kendall March 28, 2018
I made this last night as written. I liked it a lot, as did my guest.

I think your enjoyment of this recipe depends on whether or not you appreciate simplicity. To me... this is the sort of thing cooks come up with at two in the morning. The restaurant is closed, most of the staff gone, and you've just finished squaring away the kitchen. The grill is gleaming- you hit the surface with lemon water for that as new sheen- the ovens are cold, and the prep, and morning orders, are taken care of. Just as you reach for the light switch... That special person comes back to the kitchen.

You know the one. The one you find yourself looking at, twenty times a night, and you can't quite figure out why. Though you have ideas. Wait staff, front of the house staff, a fellow cook. Whatever, whoever. They've lingered. And you find yourself wanting to be... impressive.

So you make this. Simple, direct, as subtle as a velvet wrapped brick through a window. You make this because you want to be busy, keep moving- gain a little time to think about what's happening- and- you're a cook. You reach out to people through your food.

So you make this- spur of the moment, an idea- and plate it up. Your guest goes out to the house and brings in a couple of glasses of wine. You don't sit, you don't go to a table. You stand, leaning over the line, and eat. Trying not to spend too much time looking over. Trying not to get ahead of yourself.

This is not something for a menu- where you probably want a broader palette of flavors. You'd want to add chicken stock into the cream reduction, maybe finish with a splash of tarragon infused oil and a grated Pecorino. Which would be good- but it would not be this.

This is something for a quiet night and a little romance.

Janet R. January 6, 2019
This is the best online recipe comment/review I've ever read! It sounded like a good recipe, but now it sounds like something really special and I can't wait to try it.
Shireen January 10, 2018
Easy and so delicious, especially with homemade egg noodles!
kduffy102 December 3, 2017
I make this a lot. I now make it with half and half & it works great. Also, because it's easier to not worry about having fresh lemons around all the time, I use Hansen's organic 100% lemon juice in the small bottle and instead of zest I use Vitality Lemon Essential Oil which is safe to ingest. I don't really measure ingredients anymore, just add sauce to however much pasta I have and refrigerate any extra for moisturizing the pasta dish when reheating leftovers. I do add more spices to it and love it with any number of add-ins: rotisserie chicken, jalapeño-cheddar sausage, tuna, various veggies, etc. It is a great canvas to play with for so many varied tastes. Yum.
anne R. November 16, 2017
Excellent instructions and easy to prepare. I ate half the bowl!
Christine September 30, 2017
This was super easy and satisfying. Add lemon juice to taste--you may not need the full amount.
Lesley W. August 21, 2017
Probably the best recipe I have ever found and made. A huge family hit and it's affordable and easy. Thank you for adding this delicious dish to my small repiotore of meals!
peggyg July 25, 2017
I make this often - just delicious! To make it more substantial i saute a pkg of Trader Joe's "Just Chicken" in a dry pan just to get some color on it. add 6 cloves (sections) of their frozen Crushed Garlic in a little olive oil (tonight I added some dried oregano) saute a minute and then add the cream + zest. Add a pkg of thawed frozen broccoli and the lemon juice - all of the 2 lemon's worth (more than 4 tbsp). Then add pasta - 12-14 oz. of fusilli or farfalle or whatever- doesn't matter - it's good with anything! Stir all together for a minute or two. I top it with some of the Ciliegine mozzarella balls (Trader Joe's again) and some garlic salt (no judging here, I like it). Add some Kalamata olives also - yum! Worth making once a week!
Janet July 17, 2017
this was a pretty great base to add stuff. i added zucchini, onions, and mushrooms. my mom isnt a fan of cream sauces, but the lemon cut the heaviness, so she enjoyed it. and we made lemonade from the leftover lemon juice!
Tazmin A. April 23, 2017
I've made this twice now.... Fettuccine alfreddo is my all time fave pasta dish! Thank you for this simplified version.... so much yummier. Love the taste but my sauce doesn't thicken. I added Parmesan cheese while cooking it, thinking it would speed up the thickening but no. What dd I do wrong?
Kristen M. April 24, 2017
Hi Tazmin, first of all, you didn't do anything wrong! Do you know how much lemon juice you used? If you had super juicy lemons, it might have been more than the 3 to 4 tablespoons I recommend starting with—and although the lemon juice naturally thickens the cream, a whole lot of lemon juice might be more than the cream can handle. But either way, it should reduce down and absorb into the pasta as you cook it. I also just want to confirm that you're using heavy cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice?
Sharon I. October 5, 2017
Question, Kristen. My husband doesn't enjoy little things like zest in his food. I'd like to strain out the zest before pouring the cream mixture over the noodles. Do you think that will make much of a difference in the lemon strength? I'll still be adding the juice, a bit at a time, tasting along the way.
Kristen M. October 6, 2017
No, that should be fine, and you'll still get the extra lemony dimension from infusing the cream!
Marti March 31, 2017
Made this tonight with sauteed shrimp on the side...delicious and comforting for a cold early Spring evening! Will make this again.
Heather G. March 20, 2017
I just made this tonight...topped it with charred broccoli and grilled/sliced chicken. Oh my!!! So Good! I used a micro plane on one lemon and a traditional peeler for the zest on the second. two enthusiastic thumbs up!
RaquelG March 20, 2017
I'm not a huge egg noodle fan.... Wondering if this would work with straight-up spaghetti? It seems to be on the same trajectory as my favorite simple pasta recipe of Pasta Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino (which, incidentally, can also be found at the NYT website ). Thoughts?
Kristen M. March 20, 2017
I made it last night with fusilli! I think pretty much any noodle you fancy would work.
fuzzytop March 19, 2017
A question, rather than a comment: Would it be possible (without too much loss of flavor) to reduce the calorie count by subbing fat-free half-and-half for at least some of the heavy cream ?
Peppa March 20, 2017
Using half and half will result in a watery sauce. Perhaps simply make a smaller amount of sauce.
Susanna March 19, 2017
Thinking about trying this using Trader Joe's lemon-pepper pappardelle but wonder if that would be lemon overkill?
RaquelG March 20, 2017
Maybe use a little less zest in the sauce to compensate? I'd be interested to hear the results if you try!
Victoria C. March 18, 2017
I was recently going through a book of recipe clippings I have saved over the years and found the 1999 NYTimes article that included this recipe. Barbara Kafka is one of a very few writers whose books I bought as soon as they were published. Her Food for Friends in on a special shelf in my kitchen that holds my very favorite books. I have given many copies of this book to friends. Barbara Kafka may be unknown to a lot of FOOD52ers, but she is a national treasure.
NancyFromKona April 17, 2017
Oh you are so right about her being a treasure! Her book Roasting is one of my all time favorites. I will have to look out for Food for Friends so thanks for the recommendation.
rlsalvati March 16, 2017
This looks yummy, can't wait to try it. I love a Barbara Kafka cookbook.
LauriL March 15, 2017
Was thinking Vodka sauce tonight until this lil gem came along! Gotta luv having lemons as a kitchen staple!