Lukewarm and extremely low-stakes take: The only creamy, lemony pasta that's ever been worth talking about is the spaghetti limone from Lil’ Frankie’s in New York City's East Village. The alchemy that they use to transform lemons, Parmesan, butter, and starchy pasta water into a sauce so rich, so silky, so bursting with lemon flavor is utterly magical, completely inimitable.
So why bring up Lil' Frankie's in a recipe that specifically does not attempt to re-create that famed spaghetti, and in fact calls for neither butter nor Parmesan? While this pasta is almost nothing like the Lil’ Frankie’s dish, if you close your eyes and wiggle your nose just so, it might very faintly remind you of it. And even if you've never been to Lil' Frankie's, or otherwise have no idea what I'm talking about, rest assured that this pasta is very creamy, very lemony, and very tasty in its own right. It's also completely vegan for the dairy-avoidant among us.
Here, raw cashews bring the creamy and fatty properties that we usually get from butter, and allow the sauce to blend into a uniform mixture that stays stable and unbroken even when refrigerated. This means you can make the sauce (and in large quantities) in advance, thinning it out as needed with pasta water when you’re ready to serve it. Nutritional yeast makes for a great stand-in for the funk of Parmesan, especially when coupled with fruity olive oil. And the juice and peel of an entire lemon—I don’t even bother with the zester and Y-peel thick strips—let the tart, bright, just-bitter-enough vibes be front and center. Seems fitting for this lemon of a year. (Too soon?) —Brinda Ayer
- Prep time 1 hour
- Cook time 15 minutes
- Serves 2 very generously, 3 less so
raw cashews, soaked in very hot water for at least an hour, then drained
dried spaghetti or linguine
Kosher salt for pasta water, plus 1 teaspoon for sauce
Peel or zest of 1 lemon
freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 to 1 1/2 lemons)
extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Finely grated lemon zest from another lemon, chile flakes, and flaky salt for serving (optional)
- Cook the pasta in a large pot filled well-salted boiling water to al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving at least 1 cup of the cooking water. Discard remaining cooking water and hang onto the pot.
- In a blender, combine soaked cashews, lemon peel and juice, olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and ⅓ cup reserved pasta water. Blend on high speed until extremely smooth and creamy, adding more pasta water as needed, until the sauce reaches the consistency of a creamy, pourable salad dressing.
- Return the cooked noodles to the same pot you boiled the pasta in and pour the sauce on top (I suppose you could do this in a big mixing bowl, but I don’t like to do dishes). Toss the pasta to coat each noodle in the sauce, thinning out the mixture with additional pasta water until desired consistency is reached. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
- Divide the pasta between bowls and top with flaky salt, red chile flakes, and lemon zest for a non-traditional, but very delicious, garnish.