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Pasta with lemon and asparagus

Updated: Mon, 22 April, 2024

Pasta with lemon and asparagus is an easy, light and simple springtime dish. And it can be adapted for any other green vegetables beside asparagus!

pasta with lemon and asparagus

Three tricks pasta

It’s a recipe based on cacio e peppe, where the sauce is created purely from the pasta cooking water, grated Parmesan and lots of black pepper.

It’s a variation on the theme, because in this instance the dish gets a hit of vibrant asparagus, and the sauce – zingy lemon flavour.

It is super simple but the combination produces a devastatingly tasty dish in just about the time that your pasta cooks.

Trick one: all in one pan

Three tricks, but all of them pretty basic. The first is about adding the green ingredient to the boiling pasta, adjusting the cooking time according to how long the ingredient needs to cook for.

Asparagus cooks in no time at all (‘faster than asparagus cook’ as Caesar Octavian Augustus would say) so add it only for the last two or three minutes.

Swap asparagus for broccoli, peas, sliced beans, cauliflower, green cabbage and whatever else you deem fit to be tossed with pasta, butter and Parmesan.

calamarata pasta with asparagus and lemon sauce

Trick two: lemon sauce

I discovered by accident that lemon pieces added to foaming butter will go WHOOSH! and melt beautifully creating a lovely sauce, so intense that half a lemon might do if you’re cooking small portions.

The lemon needs to be rindless, pithless and segmented – which is easier to do than you’d think. More about it later.

Trick three: pasta cooking water

Pasta cooking liquid is the key to a simple sauce so make sure you reserve some while draining, instead of sloshing it all into the sink.

Together with the butter, lemon and Parmesan, it will create an excellent sauce to dress the pasta and asparagus.


What pasta shape to use?

This in my view is a completely free-for-all, whatever’s in the cupboards kind of dish. I like it with pasta strands like spaghetti or linguine, wider strips like pappardelle, but also chunky shapes: penne, farfalle, any favourites.

In this instance I used calamarata which is nothing to do with squid but named so probably because it’s shaped like short wide tubes, similar to calamari rings. Because that’s what was in my cupboard at the time!

pasta calamarata

How to prepare asparagus

Asparagus tips cook even quicker than the stems and they are the most delicate part, so cut them off and keep separate. The rest of the spears, except the very fibrous, whiter ends, can be cut into small chunks.

The chopped spears will be added to the pasta pan about 3 minutes before the end of the prescribed cooking time.

chopped asparagus

How to segment lemon

Segmenting, filleting or its fanciest name, suprême-ing a citrus fruit is not the easiest but a rather rewarding skill, once you grasp the hang of it.

A very sharp knife is crucial. Fresh fruit is easier to prepare like this; citrus that has been sitting around and has become slightly wilted will be more difficult to fillet.

Slice the top and bottom off the orange or lemon.

Run the knife along the sides from top to bottom, slicing off strips of the peel including the pith. Then cut out segments, running the knife in on the diagonal very close to the membrane - the segments should just drop from the fruit.

And if my instructions are not lucid enough, there are lots of handy videos showing how to do it.

segmented lemon

How to cook the pasta dish

You can cook it all in one pan, but it’s probably less stressful to have one saucepan filled with salted water for pasta and chopped asparagus, and another skillet, sauté pan or a wok to finish the dish in. Have also a colander ready, and a jug or a bowl to catch the pasta cooking water.

Contrary to commonly perpetuated myth, pasta doesn’t have to be boiled in a lot of water. That especially pertains to pasta dishes of the cacio e pepe style, that require pasta cooking water to create and emulsify the sauce.

It figures: it’s the starch from cooking pasta that makes the sauce and the less water used for cooking, the higher the concentration of starch and the better the sauce. I know, it sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it? Don’t let any Italian chefs hear it!

So once your pasta has been cooking for about half the time advised on the package, add the chopped asparagus.

Heat the butter in the other pan and gently cook the tips. Then add the lemon segments and let them melt into the butter. Keep the sauce on low heat while you drain the pasta and asparagus into a colander, making sure to save at least a cupful of the water.

Then pour the contents of the colander into the sauce and turn up the heat a little. Adding a little Parmesan and a little cooking water at a time, and continuously whisking, you should obtain an emulsion that will beautifully coat the pasta shapes. Add lots of black pepper and serve straight away.

cooking lemon pasta sauce

More simple pasta recipes

Bucatini pasta with creamy Alfredo sauce, peas and spinach. Bucatini is thick spaghetti-like pasta shape and it goes well with Alfredo sauce, a sprinkling of Parmesan and a handful of peas.

Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil - perfect summer pasta. Pappardelle with fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and lots of Parmesan, ready in minutes and better than tomato sauce.

Pasta alla pizza is this simple but genius thing: pasta that tastes like pizza toppings. Pizza pasta is also the easiest supper you could possibly imagine.

More asparagus recipes

Spicy stir fried asparagus, cooked in a wok with chillies, ginger and garlic, is a great starter or a side dish bursting with Asian flavours.

Grilled asparagus with flaked almonds and Parmesan, an exquisite side dish or starter ready in 10 minutes. It can be cooked in oven grill or on a barbecue.

Couscous with asparagus chunks, toasted pistachio nuts and fresh herbs, it’s a warm salad of perfectly matching ingredients.

asparagus pasta with lemon sauce

Pasta with lemon and asparagus

Servings: 2Time: 15 minutes


  • 200g (about 2 cups) dried pasta, any shape
  • a bunch (10-12 spears) of fresh asparagus
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 small lemon
  • 40g (½ cup) freshly grated Parmesan


1. Put a medium-sized pan of salty water on the boil for the pasta.

2. Trim the wooden ends of the asparagus and wash them thoroughly. Cut off the tips and reserve, slice the stems on the diagonal into about 1cm (½ inch) pieces.

3. Segment the lemon, see above for advice.

4. Add the pasta into the boiling water and cook according to the packet instructions. 3 minutes before the end of cooking time add the chopped asparagus. When ready, drain it into a colander, reserving a cupful of the cooking water.

5. While the pasta and asparagus boil, place a saute pan or skillet over high heat. Add the butter, let it foam up, then add the asparagus tips. A minute later add the lemon pieces, turn up the heat and let the lemon dissolve. Whisk in a third of the grated Parmesan.

6. Tip the drained pasta and asparagus into the pan, slosh in the cooking water alternating with clumps of Parmesan and whisking to emulsify the sauce until it coats the pasta and none pools at the bottom of the pan.

7. Divide between serving plates and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.

Originally published: Mon, 23 May, 2016

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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