Not up for cream sauce in hot weather? We hear you. That’s why we’ve tweaked the classic recipe for Pasta al Limone (Pasta with Lemon) to create a lighter dish. Our version has all the flavor but none of the heavy stuff.
We’ve added artichoke hearts because they pair beautifully with lemon. The result is a dish that’s quick and easy enough for weeknight dinner. But good enough to serve weekend company.
Time to send out the invitations.
Classic Pasta al Limone generally includes a fair amount of cream – which we omit to make a lighter, more summery dish. Artichoke hearts are not traditional, but they add a great flavor boost.
Pasta dishes with thin, clingy sauces (like this one) usually are made with long strands of pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine. We instead use orecchiette (which means “little ears”) because the sauce nestles nicely into the hollows of the pasta “ears.” In addition, because the pasta is similar in size to the bite-sized artichoke heart pieces, this is a very forkable dish. But of course, you can use any pasta shape you prefer.
Speaking of artichoke hearts, what kind to use? Frozen work well. But you can also use jarred artichoke hearts (if they’re packed in water, drain and rinse them lightly before using; if they’re packed in brine, drain and rinse them thoroughly). Jarred artichoke hearts are convenient, of fairly good quality, and you can keep them in the pantry.
Prep time for this dish is 10 to 15 minutes. Cooking time adds 10 minutes or so.
This recipe serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter.
- 6 to 8 ounces dried pasta (we’re using orecchiette, but see headnote)
- enough water to cover the pasta by about 2 inches (see Notes)
- ~1 tablespoon kosher salt for seasoning the pasta cooking water (to taste; see Notes)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons butter (to taste; either salted or unsalted butter works)
- 6 to 10 ounces artichoke hearts, cut into bite-size pieces (frozen or jarred; see headnote)
- zest of 1 lemon
- ~2 tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)
- ~1½ ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (divided)
- additional salt, if needed (the cheese usually makes this dish salty enough for us)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)
- Measure out the pasta, put water on to boil, measure out the salt you’ll use to season the pasta water, then do the prep work for the dish while the water comes to a boil.
- When the water reaches a boil, add the pasta and the salt. Stir to make sure the pieces aren’t sticking together, then bring the water to a simmer. Cook the pasta according to the package directions (usually 7 to 10 minutes; we like to cook until it’s al dente).
- Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a large frying pan over stovetop heat. When the butter is melted, add the chopped artichoke hearts and cook them (about 2 minutes for jarred artichoke hearts, 5 for frozen). About halfway through the cooking, add the lemon zest and half the lemon juice. Once the artichoke hearts are fully cooked, taste the sauce, then add more lemon juice if necessary (we almost always do). If the pasta isn’t fully cooked by this time (it probably won’t be), turn off the heat under the frying pan.
- When the pasta is cooked, use a measuring cup to scoop out about a cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta, then add it to the frying pan.
- Turn the heat up under the frying pan. Add about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, then toss the pasta with the sauce. Cook for a minute or two to reduce the sauce and allow it to coat the pasta with a thin layer.
- Add about 1 ounce of the grated cheese (reserve the rest for garnish). Toss quickly with the pasta, adding a bit more pasta cooking water if the cheese gums up. Add salt (if needed) and pepper to taste, then toss to combine. Add the chopped parsley, if using, and toss again.
- Plate the dish, garnishing with the rest of the grated cheese (and extra chopped parsley, if you wish), and serve.
- You can substitute extra-virgin olive oil for butter if you wish. But we think butter works better with lemon – especially since we’re not using cream in this dish.
- You could add garlic to this dish, though we think its flavor might be overkill. If you want to use it: Add a whole peeled garlic clove to the melted butter, let it cook gently for about a minute (don’t let it brown), then remove the garlic and proceed with the recipe.
- Alternatively, you could use minced shallots (cook them in the butter for about a minute, then add the artichoke hearts and proceed). Again, we don’t think this is necessary, but it would add extra flavor.
- Need a substitute for artichoke hearts? Asparagus would work. Cut it into pieces of an inch or less.
- How much water to use when cooking the pasta? In the past, we used vast vats of it. Lately, though, we’ve been cooking pasta in much smaller amounts of water – typically just enough to cover it by an inch or two. Why the change? Because pasta cooking water has more flavor and “body” if we use a smaller quantity – which makes a difference when we use the cooking water in a sauce (some of the pasta starch leeches into the water as it cooks; using less water concentrates the starch). But use as much water as you prefer.
- We initially add just half the lemon juice in Step 3 to make sure we don’t add too much, then add the rest later. We think about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice is perfect for this dish, but you may prefer less.
- We sometimes zest an extra lemon and use the zest as additional garnish.
- When you add grated cheese to this dish (Step 6), it can clump up a bit. Tossing usually corrects that, but adding a bit more pasta water can also help.
- Fresh parsley makes a great addition to this dish. Fresh basil would also work. Or maybe tarragon.
- Freshly ground black pepper is a must for this dish, in our opinion. We like to use lots (a couple dozen grinds).
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“I can’t resist artichokes,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Or lemon. This is such a tasty dish.”
“Aww, shucks,” I said. “I’m artichoked up.”
“Did a Russian general give you that joke?” said Mrs K R. “I think it misfired.”
“Hey, I’m a creative guy,” I said. “When life gives me lemons, I make pasta!”
“Just don’t quit your day job in the kitchen,” said Mrs K R. “Standup comedy might not pan out.”
“Pan out?” I said. “Good one! I can use that in my next Kitchen Laffs routine.”
“Be ready to dodge the lemons,” said Mrs K R. “Not to mention the tomatoes.”
That struck a sour note. Guess it’s time to zest my case.
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I adore artichoke hearts and this is a great way to enjoy more veggies while loading up the carbs ( bet palm hearts would be great for this recipe too) . An awesome recipe, John.
Hi Angie, ooh! I like the idea of palm hearts! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Simple and delicious! A great idea for a quick summer dinner.
Hi Liz, simple r us. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love the brightness the artichoke hearts add to this dish, John. Actually having a Pavlovian response right now. Thanks for a cool update to a classic dish!
Hi Terry, we make several different variations of this dish, but the one with artichoke is the best. At least it's the one we like the best! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Now this is my kind of pasta! Delicious.
Wonderfully simple pasta recipes that highlight a few wonderful ingredients are the best!
Being a lemon and artichoke lover, my husband would be thrilled with this recipe and I'm going to make it for him. Thanks
Hi Pam, it's really, really good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, even though we like hearty, long-cooked tomato sauces, this type of pasta dish is really our favorite. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Judee, enjoy! :-) Thanks for the comment.
artichokes and lemon are a match made in heaven!
Hi Ashley, perfect match, we'd say. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Your flavor choices sound really terrific. It’s scary how sometimes the cheese makes a perfect sauce and sometimes it clumps up and doesn’t work.
Best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, cheese really can be a bit tricky to handle in a sauce like this. We've had pretty good luck with the method we describe, though. Thanks for the comment.
Great pasta dish. I love artichoke hearts. Great addition with the lemon.
Hi Dahn, we love artichoke & lemon, too. A lot. :-) Thanks for the comment.
tried artichokes just once , rarely get them over here but love a good pasta dish and this one looks very light and tasty
Lemons and artichokes are such a lovely pairing. Tis the season for artichokes and this is a delicious recipe to celebrate it to the fullest.
I am bookmarking this for a quick "sit-in' on the porch" summer meal. It sounds delicious.
Pile on the artichoke hearts 'cuz those are my favorite! YUM!
Hi Nammi, it is really tasty. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bobbi, we love artichokes! So nice with lemon. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Anne, it's really a quick dish to make, and perfect for lazy meals. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, you may want to use double the amount we suggest! :-) Thanks for the comment.
A delightful combination of flavors.
Hi Bernadette, it really nice, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Well this is perfect timing! We love pasta and artichoke hearts and I just ordered a case of artichokes hearts a couple of days ago. A lot cheaper to buy by the case than individual cans. I'm keeping this to make very soon. Love the simplicity and butter lemon flavor rather than heavy cream.
Hi MJ, why have I never thought to buy a whole case?!! Great idea -- I will. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This recipe will certainly fly to the kitchen files and I do not even have to wait for the artichoke season a few months away ! That said I have not seen frozen hearts at my local supermarkets - hope I can find some as, for reasons of health, am not so keen on anything out of a tin :) !
Hi Eha, frozen artichoke hearts are really worth searching for.And I think taste just a bit better than the canned, but if you can find decent canned, the difference isn't much. Thanks for the comment.
i had a giggle at the end. you guys are so funny! i use evaporated milk these days instead of cream (35% less fat) if i have to use anything but this dish sounds wonderful. i love artichokes tho i don't think we can get frozen ones here.
This sounds perfect for the warm weather. I love the artichoke hearts. Sounds delicious.
Hi Sherry, bummer that you can't get the frozen -- they're nice. But the good brands of the canned are pretty good. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, it's a really nice dish! Thanks for the comment.
Sherry - no frozen at Coles or Woolies but lovely and reasonable tinned ones from Spain available at both :) !!!
Good quality tinned ones are quite good. I wouldn't fret over not being able to find frozen ones. :-) Although if you DO find them, really worth trying.
What a lovely recipe! I need to try this ASAP! I was used to some lemon-cream tagliatelle dish, but I've never thought about adding artichoke to it, but it's a nice idea :)
Hi FT, we really like the artichoke in this dish -- adds loads of flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This dish is definitely on my list when we feel like pasta, always have a jar of artichokes in the pantry, they are so versatile but I've never bought frozen ones, I must look for them. One of your best comedy routines as the finale yet I think, great work. Really enjoyed your post John.
Hi Pauline, glad you like the ending -- we always enjoy writing them. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I really like such dishes
Hi Izaa, we do too! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I can hardly wait to make this, I already know it's gonna be so good!! It's a wonderful summer dish, John!!
Hi Marcelle, it really is rather good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I haven't had bought jarred artichokes in a long time. Now I have a craving for this pasta. Looks delicious.
Hi Balvinder, we usually have a jar of artichoke hearts in our pantry in case a craving strikes. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is absolutely my kind of pasta!
Hi Taruna, ours too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I just love this recipe, John! Will be making this in the next few weeks — we still have tons of local lemons! And we always keep artichokes on hand!
Hi David, isn't this nice? Very crisp, clean flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I like this lighter version that still has all the lovely cheesiness. Plus, that way I can still eat dessert afterward -- with little guilt. ;)
Hi Carolyn, always important to have dessert! :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a delicious vegetarian pasta with fresh, tangy flavors!
Hi Denise, good stuff, huh? :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love artichoke hearts, but I've actually never tried them in pasta; such a lovely idea! Loving this simple and fresh pasta - juts perfect for spring and summer.
Hi Ben, aren't artichoke hearts wonderful? And you must try them with pasta -- a great pairing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
A perfect summer pasta dish. We make a similar pasta dish using asparagus and OVOO, but I've never tried it with artichoke hearts. No problem getting good Spanish canned artichoke hearts or bottoms here, but like our friends down under, we don't get the frozen.
Hi Ron, asparagus and olive oil is a good combo. Hard to beat butter with artichokes, though. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a nice and perfect summer recipe!
Hi Raymund, perfect for this time of the year! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've been on a pasta kick lately, which is unusual for me and this looks wonderful. Love anytime a dish has a vegetable and artichokes are always great in pasta!
Hi Inger, we love veggies in pasta, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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