Summary List Placement
Ina Garten says her three-ingredient lemon pasta is “just about the fastest weeknight pasta meal you can make.”
Garten demonstrated how to make the dish on “Barefoot Contessa,” telling her viewers that “weeknight dinner doesn’t get any easier than this — or more delicious.”
I’ve made many of Garten’s delicious pastas, which range from her pantry-friendly broccoli and bow ties to her more complex baked rigatoni with lamb ragu. But none of the recipes had included just three ingredients, which made her lemon pasta all the more intriguing.
Could you make a dinner-worthy pasta with just lemon and butter? I decided to find out.
You only need three ingredients for Garten’s lemon pasta.
Garten’s lemon pasta dish includes:
- Unsalted butter
- Lemon (juice and zest)
And that’s really all there is to it!
I should note that I was unable to find capellini at my local grocery store when I shopped for this recipe. But a quick Google search informed me that thin spaghetti was a perfectly acceptable alternative, so I went with that instead.
Before we got cooking, I put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil and zested my two lemons.
“It’s a lot of lemon zest, but you really want a lot of flavor,” Garten says while making the dish on her show.
The zesting took just a minute or two, and I was already halfway through all my prep.
Then it was time to juice the lemons.
Unlike Garten, I do not have a cool electric juicer or even a handheld one! But a fork works just fine for this task (and gives you a free arm workout).
Garten also noted it’s very important to use juice that’s been freshly squeezed on the spot.
“You definitely want to use fresh lemon juice,” she says. “Even if you juice lemons in advance, like a day or two, and leave them in the fridge it just isn’t the same.”
Then it was time to get cooking.
I threw my thin spaghetti into the pot of boiling water, albeit not very gracefully.
Whether you go with capellini or thin spaghetti, make sure to keep an eye on your pasta — and the clock. These noodles cook much faster than most varieties, and Garten said they should be “just al dente” before you mix them in the sauce.
As the noodles began to cook, I got started on my sauce.
Garten’s recipe calls for two sticks of butter, which amounts to half a pound.
“I know I know, it’s a lot of butter,” Garten says on her show. “But after a bad day at work, it’s always good.”
Half a pound of butter still sounded a little overwhelming, especially on a night when I was also cooking Chrissy Teigen’s steak for myself and my friends. And when I took a look at the comments on Garten’s recipe on Food Network’s website, I saw that many readers had felt the same and cut the butter down by half. So I followed suit, only adding one stick to my pan.
Then I added the lemon juice and zest.
I also added two teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of pepper to the sauce, per Garten’s instructions, and swirled the pan to mix everything together.
Once the pasta was ready, it was time to add it to the sauce.
Garten throws her pasta right in the sauce, using tongs to transfer the noodles to the pan.
I followed suit, letting the pasta sit in the sauce for a minute so that it could absorb all that butter and lemon.
Per Garten’s instructions, I also added some pasta water to the sauce to help keep my noodles moist.
Ten minutes hadn’t even gone by and the pasta was already ready.
Garten recommends serving her lemon pasta with a little more lemon zest and juice on top, as well as some salt and pepper.
My friend Zach — who acted as my sous chef for the night — also had some fresh dill growing in his garden, so we added that on top as well.
Garten’s lemon pasta is simple and fresh, but it works better as a side dish than the main event.
Garten’s pasta has a lovely brightness to it that makes it perfect for spring, but there’s not a lot of depth in its flavor. My friends who helped me test the recipe that night also agreed.
“I totally get the appeal if it’s so quick and easy,” my friend Sara said. “But for a more satisfying meal, if that’s the only dish, it could use one more element. Like adding shrimp, for me personally, would make it complete.”
“The pasta was super yummy and had me mad at myself for every time I’ve bought a $20 pasta limon from a restaurant when it’s so simple to make,” my friend Tyler added. “It was great alongside the steak, but if we were just having the pasta on its own I would have been a little disappointed because it wasn’t anything too special.”
I think Garten’s pasta would be a great side at a dinner party, or a quick weeknight dinner with some protein or veggies mixed in as well.
I would definitely serve Garten’s lemon pasta alongside her incredible “Outrageous” garlic bread, which goes well with just about everything — and would give this meal some more flavor and heft.
I’d also try the pasta with Garten’s delicious salmon teriyaki and broccolini, which I made when I lived like the “Barefoot Contessa” star for a day. The fresh spring flavors would easily complement each other, and I think salmon (or shrimp) always goes great with a bright pasta dish.