Lemon Asparagus Pasta

Jump to Recipe
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 quick weeknight meal or a fancy dinner party!
Prep 25 minutes
Cook 20 minutes
Total 45 minutes
5 from 342 votes

What better way to welcome spring with open arms than with this Creamy 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 out the olives 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.

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

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.

If you do leave them out, consider adding 1 extra tablespoon of capers for a little more of a briny/salty bite

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 and creamy. Add more pasta water as needed.

Add the remaining ingredients – basil, parsley, capers, olives, 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 creamiest and 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.

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 342 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 quick weeknight meal or a fancy dinner party!
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Italian-Inspired
Diet Vegan
Serving size: 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 10 to 12 ounces of spaghetti, bucatini, linguine, or fettuccine
  • 2 medium-large lemons (see Note 1)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 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 pieces
  • ½ cup (60g) toasted or roasted walnuts, finely crushed (see Note 2)
  • 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
  • ¼ cup (30g) Castelvetrano olives, sliced in half (7 to 9 olives) (optional, see Note 3)
  • 1 can of navy beans or other white beans rinsed and drained (optional)

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 to 12 ounces of pasta. Once the water is nearly boiling, add a generous amount of salt (2 to 3 teaspoons of kosher salt).
    Add the pasta and once it returns to a boil, cook according to the package directions, stirring occasionally, until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
  • Zest the lemons and divide the zest into two piles (you'll get about 1 tablespoon zest per lemon). Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, make the Lemon Sauce. Add the juice from both lemons (about 6 tablespoons) to a mason jar. Add ¼ cup (56g) extra virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, and season with 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 extra virgin olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once warmed, add the shallots and garlic. Cook for 2-3 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 pieces 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 the reserved 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, capers, olives, and white beans (if using). Toss again and briefly cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle with a final pinch or two of salt and black pepper before serving. Serve warm.

Notes

This recipe is inspired by Spaghetti al Limone with Asparagus from Bon Appétit
1. 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. 
2. To toast raw walnuts, just add to a dry skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until a bit browned and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. 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. 
3. If your olives are already pitted, slice them in half. If they have the pits inside, here’s how to remove the pits

Calories: 485kcal | Carbohydrates: 61g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Sodium: 641mg | Potassium: 663mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 705IU | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 93mg | Iron: 4mg

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @rainbowplantlife and hashtag it #rainbowplantlife

Leave a Comment & Rating

If you enjoyed this recipe, please consider giving it a star rating along with your comment! It helps others discover my blog and recipes, and your comments always make my day :) Thank you for your support!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe




557 comments on Lemon Asparagus Pasta

  1. Barbara

    5 stars
    So delicious! Came together so easily and perfectly. And I didn’t have fresh herbs on hand and got lazy at the end and didn’t include the walnuts. Will be on rotation this season. Thank you!

  2. KZ Cakes

    5 stars
    This was crazy good— will be making again and again! Especially liked the flavor pairing of lemon with the salty olives and capers. It was a really nice balance. Very pantry friendly and seasonal (spring).

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you for your lovely comment, KZ! It makes us happy to know that you enjoyed the recipe.

  3. Rei

    5 stars
    Another home run recipe from RPL in our household! It’s creamy without being too heavy, tangy from the lemon, has a good crunch from the walnuts, nice olive-y flavor from the capers and olives, and has good bite from the asparagus. I used white beans too for that added protein. I love everything about this pasta. It still blows my mind how good this tastes with such wholesome ingredients.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  4. Heather

    Hi,
    It looks delicious and I would love to try it. Unfortunately, I have a walnut allergy. Can I use pecans instead? What would you recommend?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi there Heather, we can’t wait for you to try it either! We think you could skip them entirely if you’d like. The walnuts provide texture and subtle umami. If you have pine nuts or panko at home, those would be a nice alternative. 

  5. Shelby

    5 stars
    I did not have any fresh herbs on hand, nor did I have capers, HOWEVER… it was still delicious. I added a couple spoonfuls of olive brine to my lemon sauce to make up for the lack of capers and *chefs kiss* winner winner chicken dinner, except not because it’s vegan, which is better.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      LOL, loved reading your review, Shelby! It makes us happy to hear you enjoyed the pasta. We agree it’s even better because it’s vegan :)

  6. Rachel Imsland

    5 stars
    Delicious! I used my asparagus from my garden, plus cut way down on the salt. Next time I’ll try it with a different type of pasta, and perhaps a different green veggie. But it’s great as it is:)

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      I bet the asparagus from your garden made this pasta even more delicious than I know it to be, Rachel! Thank you for trying the recipe and for leaving a review. :)

  7. Allyson

    4 stars
    I couldn’t follow the the recipe exactly because my partner does not like asparagus. I know! So I opted to make it with broccoli. I also forgot to buy the fresh herbs, olives, and capers. To sub, I still had muffaletta mix and picked out the olives for this. Ultimately, this still turned out as a fulfilling and great meal. I tried adding more olive oil and balsamic vinegar to serve, but I don’t recommend the balsamic. My partner really enjoyed it as is! He enjoyed the lemon sauce. He said it reminded him of a zucchini lemon pasta I make, but I told him its completely different (walnuts, dijon, beans, olives), but he ignored all that and served himself some more! I think it would be nice with zucchini or green beans if
    you have asparagus picky eaters.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lengthy review, Allyson! :) So happy to hear the pasta was well-loved!

  8. Zoe P.

    I made it, and right on time for the April 2023contest too. It was very flavorful with accessible ingredients. The only drawback was that it took me a very long time to make, about an hour and a half or longer. But it was fun, and enjoyed by the whole family.

  9. Hana

    5 stars
    I just made this recipe and it was delicious. I used whole wheat pasta because that’s what I had, but it still tasted good. I especially liked the lemon taste. I had never made a lemon sauce like this before but the flavor really worked. I’m thinking of making it again maybe trying it with other vegetables. Also the capers and olives were a nice addition. This was my first time using both.

  10. Alison

    5 stars
    This was a yummy recipe, I had never tried capers before, and they were a nice addition! I love your recipes, thank you!!

Development Alchemy + Aim