Vibrant lemon balances richness of pasta in one pot

Tomatoes may get more attention, but throughout Italy, lemon is also often used in pasta.

Along the Amalfi Coast, ring-shaped calamari pasta is paired with shellfish, parsley, garlic, and roasted sweet local lemon strips. In Sicily, roasted pistachios, parmesan, lemon juice and zest are added to broken pasta. And in Rome, the juice is whipped with olive oil, cream and parmesan for al dente tagliatelle.

The sour and slightly sweet citrus balance balances the starch of the noodles and the weight of the sauce, acting like a dose of freshly ground black pepper that offsets the pecorino romano in the cacio e pepe. And it fulfills almost the same role as tomatoes, providing the acidity that cuts through the cheese.

In fact, the combination of lemons and pasta is perhaps more traditional than the red sauce itself, as the fruit arrived in Italy at least 1,500 years before the tomato.

Lemon features prominently in one spread from our COOKish book, which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor. Bright, invigorating lemon zest and juice bring out the zest of garlic, pancetta and capers, while golden crispy breadcrumbs add texture.

These spaghetti are also a miracle in one pot: we cook the pasta in the minimum amount of water, and the resulting starchy liquid forms a slightly thickened sauce that coats the noodles.


• For more recipes, visit Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street page at

Lemon spaghetti with capers, pancetta and fried breadcrumbs.

Lemon spaghetti with capers, pancetta and fried breadcrumbs.
– Milk Street/Associated Press

Lemon caper spaghetti with pancetta and toasted breadcrumbs

½ cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 ounces pancetta, chopped

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup dried capers, chopped

1 pound spaghetti

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Chopped fresh parsley, optional for serving

Finely grated pecorino romano cheese, optional for serving

In a large saucepan, cook the panko and butter, stirring, until golden brown. Transfer to a small bowl and add a pinch of salt. In the same saucepan, cook the pancetta, stirring occasionally, until crispy. Add the garlic and most of the capers; cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add 4 cups of water and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper, then boil. Stir in pasta, cover and cook, stirring, until al dente. Turn off the heat, add the remaining capers, lemon zest and juice; Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Optional garnish: chopped fresh parsley or finely grated pecorino romano cheese, or both.

Servings 4 to 6


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