Lemon Asparagus Pasta

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This lemon asparagus pasta is bursting with zippy and bright spring flavors. It features crisp-tender asparagus, fresh herbs, and a citrusy olive oil sauce that’s naturally creamy (without any cream or flour). Perfect for a weeknight spring dinner or date night!
Prep 25 minutes
Cook 20 minutes
Total 45 minutes
5 from 373 votes

What better way to welcome spring with open arms than with this Lemon Asparagus Pasta? It’s bright, zingy, packed with delightful spring flavor and an amazing sauce.

The creamy sauce is made with a combination of olive oil, pasta water, and walnuts, creating a velvety texture that will leave you wanting more. And the best part? It’s naturally dairy-free and vegan!

As soon as asparagus comes into season, this lemon asparagus pasta recipe is a must-try. It’s fresh, flavorful, and perfect for any occasion. Whether you’re looking for a quick weeknight meal or a fancy dinner party dish, this recipe is sure to impress. So grab your apron and let’s get cooking!

Table of Contents:
1. Why this recipe works
2. Ingredient notes and substitutions
3. Step by step instructions
4. Tips for making this recipe
5. Frequently Asked Questions
6. Recipe card with notes

bowl of twirled lemon asparagus pasta

Why this recipe works

Perfect marriage of spring flavors.

Inspired by Evan Funke’s Spaghetti al Limone, this pasta has all the best flavors of spring.

With the juice and zest of two whole lemons, this pasta is delightfully lemony, while the addition of basil and parsley lends it an herbaceous note. Capers and olives add a zingy, briny flavor (but feel free to leave them out if you prefer), while the crushed walnuts provide a slight nuttiness. And of course, we can’t forget the star of the show – asparagus, the king of spring!

A great way to cook asparagus

In season asparagus doesn’t need much help to taste amazing. Here, asparagus gets lightly pan-fried in olive oil alongside shallots, garlic, and lemon zest. The result is a wonderful crisp-tender texture, which is a nice contrast with the creamy pasta.

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Gourmet but easy

This is the kind of dish you might find at a fancy restaurant but it’s simple to make at home! With prep time included, you can get this dish on the table in 45 minutes.

Ingredient notes and substitutions

Lemon Asparagus Pasta ingredients in various small bowls on a wooden cutting board.

Asparagus

One of my favorite spring vegetables, it works wonderfully here alongside the other flavors. If it’s not in season where you are, feel free to swap it out for another green vegetable. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, or even legumes like green beans or snap peas would work well here.

Spaghetti

Spaghetti is the classic pasta option here but any noodle or ribbon shaped pasta would work well here (fettucine, bucatini, linguine, etc.).

Walnuts

Walnuts are a fantastic plant-based source of umami. Here, they get finely ground which helps them cling to the olive oil sauce, much in the same way parmesan cheese does. Alongside the nutritional yeast, walnuts provide a great savory backbone to this dish.

Olives and Capers (optional)

I know olives can be divisive, so please feel free to leave them out if you can’t stand them. But Castelvetrano olives–the olives in this recipe–are very mild in flavor so you might want to give them a try.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Use a good-quality extra virgin olive oil, as it’s the primary ingredient in the sauce. Good quality doesn’t need to be expensive though (I used the California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil (affiliate link) – a great olive oil for everyday use).

White beans

While the dish is still satisfying without them, white beans are an optional ingredient that provides some serious heft and protein. Don’t have white beans? Navy beans would also be a fine choice.

How to make this recipe

Trim the asparagus and discard the tough woody ends. Slice each asparagus spear deeply on the diagonal into pieces (about 1/2 to 1 inch).

Make the Lemon Sauce. Juice the two lemons into a jar. Add the Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, and salt/pepper. Shake vigorously until emulsified. Or, whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Heat a bit of extra virgin olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan (or Dutch oven). Cook the sliced shallots and garlic cloves until golden. Add the red pepper flakes (if using) for 30 seconds.

Add the sliced asparagus and half of the lemon zest (from one lemon).

Cook for 3 minutes, until asparagus is crisp-tender. Take off the heat and let sit until the pasta is ready.

Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water. While cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Chop the basil and parsley, slice the olives, crush the walnuts, rinse and drain the white beans (if using).

Once the pasta is just al dente, reserve up to 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain (do not rinse!). Transfer the hot cooked pasta and Lemon Sauce to the pan with the asparagus.

Add the crushed walnuts and nutritional yeast.

Pour in 1/2 cup (120 mL) of pasta water and return the pan to medium-high heat. Use tongs to toss the mixture quickly and vigorously, until emulsified. Add more pasta water as needed.

Add the remaining ingredients – basil, parsley, capers and olives if using, remaining lemon zest (from one lemon), and white beans (if using).

Toss again to combine and briefly cook. Serve warm.

lemon asparagus pasta in saute pan.

Tips for making this recipe

Use less water than you’d think.

Without any cream or cheese, we need a very starchy pasta water to bind our sauce together.

To achieve this, use a bit less water to cook the pasta than you might typically use. For 10 to 12 ounces (285-340g) of pasta, that translates to about 9 cups (~2.1 liters/quarts) of water. 

And of course generously salt the pasta water – about 2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt (use less if using table salt or sea salt) to ensure the pasta itself has flavor from within.

Cook the pasta until just al dente.

Aim to remove the pasta from the water as soon as it’s al dente, or even a minute beforehand, as the pasta is going to continue to cook in the lemon sauce for a few minutes. Otherwise, the texture might be a bit overdone.

For the sauciest texture, enjoy this pasta shortly after making it. That’s not to say the leftovers aren’t tasty. They are. But this dish is the most luscious when eaten on day one. The color also starts to fade after a few hours.

Choose the right pan.

When cooking the shallots, garlic, and asparagus, use a large 12-inch sauté pan with relatively deep sides, or a Dutch oven. All of the pasta and mix-ins will be added into this pan at the end, so it helps to have a large enough pan to avoid any spills or mess.

Make it quicker with the right tools.

While you can definitely use a sharp knife to slice the shallots and walnuts, you’ll save some time by using (1) a mandoline for the shallots (and garlic, if the cloves are on the large side and you have a handheld mandoline slicer like this); and (2) a spice grinder to pulse the walnuts a few times until mostly crushed.

pan full of spaghetti with fresh herbs and lemon zest.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best way to cut asparagus?

Most of us have been taught that to cut asparagus, you bend it until it snaps. And the bottom portion that snaps off is too woody and tough to eat. WRONG!
Instead, use your eyes to see where the asparagus look like they’re starting to get tough, about an inch or two up the ends. Then, you can slice a big batch of them in one fell swoop. This is the technique that the fine people over at Serious Eats also recommend.

Or, if you want to be more precise, you can slice each asparagus spear for this recipe. And once your knife starts to feel some tension, you know that this particular spear has hit its tough end. Watch this video to see how I cut my asparagus for this recipe.

Can I use gluten-free pasta?

You can, with a few caveats.

First, gluten-free pasta tends to get mushy, so you’ll really need to ensure you stop cooking the pasta once it’s just al dente.

And second, gluten-free pasta tends to be more absorbent, so you may want to add more pasta water (up to 1 full cup) when you coat the pasta.

What should I serve this lemon asparagus pasta with?

If you add the white beans to this recipe, this is a complete meal on its own (perhaps only more complete with a crisp glass of white wine).

If you omit the beans, it’s still quite satisfying, but you can serve the pasta along with a salad (a Caesar salad or simple mixed greens work well). Or on the side of blanched or roasted vegetables, such as broccolini/broccoli. For a protein option, a simple white bean salad works great (mix cooked or canned/drained/rinsed white beans with a bit of good-quality extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper).

How do you can I store and reheat lemon asparagus pasta?

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. The pasta is best shortly after making, when the sauce is creamy and satiny. 

I actually prefer leftovers cold over warmed up. If you want to reheat, heat the leftovers in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add a splash of water as needed to thin and toss frequently. If needed, perk the pasta up with some fresh lemon zest and/or juice.

In the mood for even more pasta? I’ve rounded up 30 of the best vegan pasta recipes from around the web! There are so many great choices, though I’m partial to the Lentil Bolognese during winter and the Vegan Pasta Salad in summer. Check it out!

shallow bowl of creamy lemon asparagus pasta on neutral backdrop.

If you love this Lemon Asparagus Pasta, please be sure to leave a rating and review below! It’s always much appreciated :) And tag me on Instagram – I love seeing your remakes!

Lemon Asparagus Pasta

5 from 373 votes
This lemon asparagus pasta is bursting with zippy and bright spring flavors. It features crisp-tender asparagus, fresh herbs, and a citrusy olive oil sauce that’s naturally creamy (without any cream or flour). Perfect for a weeknight spring dinner or date night!
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Italian-Inspired
Diet Vegan
Serving size: 4

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces (285g) of spaghetti, bucatini, linguine, or fettuccine (see Note 1)
  • 2 medium-large lemons (see Note 2)
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 bunch of asparagus (about 14 ounces), sliced thinly on a bias into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
  • ½ cup (60g) toasted walnuts, finely crushed (see Note 3)
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ cup (8g) Italian flat-leaf parsley, (leaves and tender stems), chopped
  • ½ cup (8g) fresh basil leaves, slivered
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)
  • ¼ cup (30g) Castelvetrano olives, sliced in half (7 to 9 olives) (optional, see Note 4)
  • 1 (15-ounce/425g) can of navy beans or other white beans rinsed and drained (optional, for a main meal)

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
    Tip: Don’t use too much water, otherwise the pasta water won’t be very starchy. I recommend about 9 cups (~2.1 L) of water for 10 ounces of pasta. Once the water is nearly boiling, add a generous amount of salt (~1 TBSP kosher salt).
    Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, stirring occasionally, until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup (240 mL) of the pasta water.
  • Zest the lemons and divide the zest into two piles. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, make the Lemon Sauce. In a mason jar, combine 5 tablespoons (75 mL) of the lemon juice, 5 tablespoons (70g) of the extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Shake until emulsified.
    No jar? Just whisk all the ingredients in a bowl until emulsified.
  • Cook the asparagus. Meanwhile, heat 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once warmed, add the shallots and garlic. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the garlic is just golden, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the red pepper flakes (if using) and cook for 30 seconds.
    Add the asparagus and one half of the lemon zest. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes until the asparagus is crisp-tender. Remove from heat and set the pan aside until the pasta is done.
  • Add the hot cooked pasta and the Lemon Sauce to the asparagus mixture, along with the crushed walnuts and nutritional yeast. Add ½ cup (120 mL) of pasta water.
    Return the pan to medium-high heat. Use tongs to vigorously toss everything together, shaking the pan as you go, adding more pasta water as needed, until the sauce is emulsified and clings to the pasta.
  • Add the remaining half of the lemon zest, basil, parsley, and the capers, olives, and white beans, if using. Toss again and briefly cook for 30 to. 60 seconds.
    Sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt and pepper and finish with a nice drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Notes

This recipe is inspired by Spaghetti al Limone with Asparagus from Bon Appétit
  1. You can use up to 12 ounces (340g) of pasta but it’s sauciest with 10 ounces (285g). 
  2. The lemons should feel heavy for their weight. If you can’t find lemons that are medium-large, buy an extra third lemon to ensure you get enough zest and juice.
  3. To toast raw walnuts, add to a dry skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until a bit browned and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Or roast a large batch on a sheet pan in the oven at 350ºF/175ºC for 8 to 10 minutes, tossing halfway. You can also use raw walnuts, but you’ll get more flavor from toasted. To crush walnuts, the quickest way is to add to a spice grinder and pulse several times. Otherwise, very finely mince with a knife.
  4. If your olives are already pitted, slice them in half. If they have the pits inside, here’s how to remove the pits

Calories: 610kcal | Carbohydrates: 70g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 31g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g | Monounsaturated Fat: 21g | Sodium: 543mg | Potassium: 723mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1628IU | Vitamin C: 47mg | Calcium: 100mg | Iron: 5mg

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4.95 from 373 votes (58 ratings without comment)

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605 comments on Lemon Asparagus Pasta

  1. Cheryl Ramsey

    5 stars
    This dish is absolutely phenomenal. I had to substitute a few ingredients due to availability. Onions for shallots, just olives, no capers and penne pasta. Huge hit. I will add this to my favorite dish rotation.

  2. Sam

    5 stars
    Love this adaptation – the combination of lemon and asparagus is perfect for this time of the year, and my partner and I really enjoyed how creamy the pasta turns out with so few ingredients. Also, you basically taught us how to make vegan parmesan; I’m quite surprised that it was so simple!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Sam, thanks for the kind words! It’s lovely to hear you and your partner are such fans of the pasta!

  3. Jeana Albers

    5 stars
    Absolutely incredible!!!! Tastes like something I would have at a fancy restaurant. Delicious.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hey Jeana! Wow, I can feel your enthusiasm about this recipe through the screen! Love it!

  4. Jess

    5 stars
    Omg Nisha! Another banger of a recipe! I love how fresh, bright and satisfying this dish is. I really like the creaminess you end up with without adding an any sort of creamer.

    Thank you for sharing another great recipe!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Jess, thank you so much for your kind review and for trying many of the RPL recipes :)

  5. Tina

    5 stars
    Made this with homemade gnocchi and it was absolutely delicious! The dish comes together quite quickly yet it is bursting with bright, beautiful flavour. Thank you for the recipe!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Tina, thank you so much for your kind review!

  6. Krystle Bowers

    5 stars
    Your recipes have changed my life! And this is another one that i will definitely be adding to the weeknight rotation. Thank you for coming up with such delicious dishes and sharing them with us. The lemon pasta is so good! I did alter it a bit, I used green beans instead of asparagus.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the kind words, Krystle :) It’s so awesome to hear the RPL recipes have had such an impact on you!

  7. Sandy

    5 stars
    Outstanding!! I completely devoured this pasta for lunch and dinner because I couldn’t resist how good it tasted—SO GOOD. RPL recipes always blow me away with how gourmet they taste and that I can cook gourmet food following Nisha’s recipes! <3

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the amazing review, Sandy! :)

  8. Kat

    5 stars
    The lemon sauce and herbs made the dish. Great combination of flavors.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Kat, it’s great to hear you had success with the recipe. Thanks for the review!

  9. Jackie Ealy

    5 stars
    This recipe is amazing! I’m eating the leftovers now, and the flavors and textures yield a beautiful surprise in every bite. There’s a wonderful creaminess, and the hints of walnut and still crisp/tender asparagus bites are perfection. Thank you so much, Nisha!!!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Your review made our day, Jackie! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and for trying out the recipe.

  10. Virginia

    5 stars
    Great combination of flavors!!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Virginia!

  11. Lewis

    5 stars
    Made this minus the beans, red pepper flakes, olives, and capers so the kids would eat as well.
    Now I’m making it for the fourth time. Too good and too easy. Thank you so much for this recipe!
    May try adding some kale in too.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Lewis. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  12. Robert

    Delicious! I’ve done it twice in a week now, and everyone loves it.

    One small modification I’ve done:
    If you’re using white beans – I’m adding them to asparagus and onions, once the asparagus is done, warming/frying them up a bit. You end up with a more creamy sauce, instead of whole beans. But the upside is there are no cold-ish/almost room temperature beans on the plate.
    It also means you can start everything all at once.
    The pasta takes ~ 10-11 minutes.
    The ingredients (from onion and garlic, to asparagus) ~ 7 minutes.
    So if you use the remaining 3-4 minutes to fry the beans with the asparagus, you can just start everything at once and move pasta as soon as it’s done.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Robert, happy to hear you’re a fan of the pasta. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  13. Carolina

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious! I just had it for dinner today!
    Thank you Nisha, you are the best!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Your positive feedback is the best reward for our hard work. Thank you, Carolina!

  14. Sharon White

    5 stars
    Made without the beans. Used chilli flakes in place of red pepper flakes. Delicious!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We appreciate your feedback and support, Sharon. Thank you for leaving a review!

  15. Ammie

    5 stars
    You are amazing. I loved your recipes this week. Oh my God delicious. 😘

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re so happy that the pasta turned out well for you, Ammie. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and for trying out the recipe!

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