Vegan Pasta al Limone(ish)

February 17, 2021
7 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis.
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 2 very generously, 3 less so
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in very hot water for at least an hour, then drained
  • 8 ounces dried spaghetti or linguine
  • Kosher salt for pasta water, plus 1 teaspoon for sauce
  • Peel or zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 to 1 1/2 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • Finely grated lemon zest from another lemon, chile flakes, and flaky salt for serving (optional)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Divide the pasta between bowls and top with flaky salt, red chile flakes, and lemon zest for a non-traditional, but very delicious, garnish.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Joelle Bradley
    Joelle Bradley
  • Haley Michelle
    Haley Michelle
  • Kaye Sivic
    Kaye Sivic
  • Brinda Ayer
    Brinda Ayer
  • Lovely Dardompre
    Lovely Dardompre
Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

11 Reviews

Joelle B. January 28, 2023
Same here about needing to really be quite thinned out. It is our first time with cashew cream. After we plated it, it got more congealed, and I wished I had used even more pasta water. I am glad we were not serving it guests. Tho congealiness did not look great, mouth feel was Devine. Next time more pasta water. In the realm of maybe the full cup.

We are not vegan but loved this and will eat again!
Anywhere June 7, 2022
Very good. Will make it again for sure. I needed quite a bit more pasta water so I'm glad I reserved more. But pretty sure I used more than 8 ounces of pasta since I didn't measure and we had lots of leftovers. Don't skimp on the crushed red pepper. Very nice balance to the lemon. Also added some parsley and served it with roasted broccoli.
Kate January 16, 2022
Delicious! I added some leftover sautéed spinach after mixing the pasta and sauce together. I found that I needed about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to get the sauce to the right consistency, and it made enough for about 12 ounces of pasta (I used gemelli because that's what I had on hand).
Brinda A. January 19, 2022
So glad you liked the recipe! Thanks for trying it out :)
Haley M. May 9, 2021
This was SO delicious and easy to make! Just wanted to note I did end up needing over a cup of pasta water to thin out the sauce.
Brinda A. January 19, 2022
Thanks so much for the note, Haley! Really glad you liked the sauce!
Kaye S. May 9, 2021
Wondering if I could prepare double or triple the sauce and freeze it.
Brinda A. January 19, 2022
I imagine that would work! You would probably need to let it thaw and thin it out with pasta water before serving. Also, side note—apologies for the very late response!
snelso382 March 5, 2021
I love seeing vegan recipes on here! This recipe was delicious. The flavor was so bright and fresh with the lemon. It's not hard to make at all and is easy to pull together fairly quickly. I did find that I needed to add quite a bit of extra pasta water to the saucy to thin it out.
Judi F. March 3, 2021
Hubby and I enjoyed this one! Easy to throw together and very lemony. My only difficulty was that hubby's gluten-free and gluten-free pasta isn't ideal here ... well, it's never "ideal" ... but this sauce, in particular, would mix in much more nicely with traditional (more slippery) pasta. That's not this recipe's fault, tho, of course.
Lovely D. May 8, 2021
Rice noodles r naturally gluten free and very ez to digest and less time to cook as well hope that helps