With citrus season here, I thought I’d share one of my favorite ways to use lemons. This comforting and tangy lemon cream sauce pasta is the perfect dinner to cozy up to during the cooler months and a wonderful way to make the best of prime lemons.
Lemon Cream Sauce Pasta
I use lemons year-round when I cook and bake. A splash of lemon juice in cooking provides a touch of acidity that really rounds out most dishes, and in baking, it adds a touch of vibrancy to most sweet treats.
It isn’t until citrus season that I really go beyond the splash of lemon juice and make lemons the main star of my meals. For one, lemons are much more affordable when they’re in season, and secondly, they’re obviously much more delicious.
Whether it’s a lemon ricotta cake or this lemon cream sauce pasta, now’s the time to take advantage of the abundance of lemons and make them shine in your kitchen.
This creamy pasta is my kind of comfort food. While I love pasta that’s cheesy and indulgent, I’m also someone who craves an aspect of “freshness” in really rich foods.
I always love when there is some kind of zesty flavor in these kind of dishes. In this case, I love that the lemon adds brightness to the pasta and balances out the heaviness of the meal.
The fresh arugula tossed in between is just my personal touch and added bonus. Feel free to add prosciutto and/or green peas to this pasta as well. They all taste great in this recipe.
While this lemon cream sauce pasta has the word “cream” in it, there isn’t any actual cream in the pasta. Instead, the base of the sauce is made up of a little butter, pasta water, lemon zest, and garlic – all combined in a large pan.
The cooked pasta gets tossed in this simmering liquid before its topped with grated parmesan and some cream cheese. Once the pasta is coated in these cheeses, fresh lemon juice is squeezed over the pasta and stirred in. I toss in the fresh arugula just before serving.
The recipe below will make 2 very generous portions, 3 medium portions, or 4 small portions. Even though there’s the burst of fresh lemon, this is still a comparatively rich pasta, so I like to serve a small portion of this pasta with a side of grilled chicken for a lighter meal.
Lemon Cream Sauce Pasta
A comforting yet tangy pasta that's perfect for winter and citrus season. Makes 4 small (appetizer size) portions or 2 very generous dinner portions.
- 1/2 lb. fusili pasta
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 clove of garlic minced
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 2 oz. cream cheese room temperature, diced
- 1/2 lemon both juice and zest (or more to taste)
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup fresh arugula
- olive oil (about a teaspoon)
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions in a pot of boiling, salted water. Reserve the pasta water - do not discard.
Once the pasta is almost done cooking, heat a large pan over high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Once the pan is hot, lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.
Pour in 1/2 a cup of pasta water into the pan along with the zest of 1/2 a lemon. Lower the heat to low and let this mixture simmer until the pasta is ready.
Once the pasta has cooked, use a slotted spoon to scoop the pasta into the pan. Top the pasta with the grated parmesan and give it a toss. Add in the cream cheese pieces and stir it in until melted - this may take a few minutes for the cream cheese to fully melt and become incorporated. Just keep stirring.
Add the lemon juice (from half a lemon) along with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. If you want more lemon flavor, feel free to squeeze in more lemon juice. Otherwise, if you like the taste but want to thin out the consistency of the pasta, scoop more pasta water into the pasta - a couple tablespoons at a time.
When you're ready to serve, toss the pasta with fresh arugula (and any other ingredients like prosciutto or green peas). Top with grated parmesan, if desired.
Cut your cream cheese into pieces to make it easier to stir it into the pasta.
If you want to make this pasta for entertaining and you want to make it right before your guests come, make the pasta as instructed but don't add the arugula quite yet. Reserve the pasta water too. When your guests have arrived and you're ready to serve, simply reheat the pasta over the stove for a few minutes, streaming in some pasta water to loosen up the pasta a bit. Toss with fresh arugula just before you serve.