This creamy lemon pasta recipe is the ultimate comfort food! With peas, lemon zest, and crispy bacon in a quick lemon parmesan sauce. Easy to customize with any veggies or protein you have on hand!
This pasta is just....ahhh. *chef's kiss*. It's simple enough for a casual dinner, but elegant enough for date night or entertaining. We're building a quick, cream-based sauce (similar to our simple white sauce!) with fresh lemon for light, bright flavor.
There are a few different steps to this recipe. We recommend reviewing all of the instructions and step-by-step photos below before you start cooking. (Otherwise it can feel a little overwhelming!)
Scroll to the recipe card below for a full ingredients list with exact quantities.
This recipe has a pretty straightforward ingredients list, but we want to highlight a few things before you jump in:
- Diced bacon gets crisped in a pan and scattered on top of the finished pasta to add texture and flavor. We'll also use a bit of the leftover bacon fat in the sauce itself to run that smoky flavor all the way through this recipe!
- Frozen peas are a handy shortcut in this recipe. They'll heat up in just a few seconds!
- Minced garlic adds a ton of flavor here. To save some prep time, you can swap it for a scoop of garlic scape pesto.
- Reserved Pasta Water brings the sauce together and helps it cling to the noodles. Use a measuring cup to save some starchy water right before you drain the pasta!
- Heavy Cream is the base of our sauce. It thickens beautifully, and it stays creamy when we add the fresh lemon juice towards the end of cooking.
- Use high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) cheese here, and shred it yourself for best results. Store-bought shredded cheese is often coated with preservatives that prevent it from melting smoothly into a sauce.
Variations and Substitutions
This recipe is pretty forgiving, and it's easy to customize! A few of our favorite riffs:
- Mix up the protein. Use diced pancetta instead of bacon, or serve this pasta with grilled salmon, chicken, shrimp. Or - if you're feeling extra elegant - serve with lobster or seared scallops.
- Add extra veggies. Add steamed or roasted broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus (à la our asparagus goat cheese pasta!), chopped artichoke hearts, or grilled corn. You can also add some sliced shallot or onion when you sauté the garlic!
- For extra flavor, add a spoonful of capers, more lemon juice, or a handful of fresh herbs (we like fresh parsley, chives, or basil here).
- Swap some or all of the parmesan for pecorino romano, white cheddar, or goat cheese. Add a dollop of cream cheese to the sauce for extra creaminess and flavor if you like.
- For a lighter sauce, use half and half instead of cream (it won't thicken quite as much, but will still taste good!) or swap the cream for Cauliflower Cream Sauce. Alternatively, you can replace up to ¼ cup of the cream with chicken broth, parmesan broth, white wine, or milk (just make sure the sauce is still mostly heavy cream, or it won't thicken properly!)
Make the Pasta
Boil the pasta in very salty water until it's just shy of al dente (Image 1, above). Add the frozen peas at the very end of cooking (Image 2).
Use a measuring cup to reserve ½ cup of the starchy pasta water (Image 3). Then, drain the pasta and peas and return them to the pot (4).
Add a bit of butter to the pot (5); stir until the butter melts and evenly coats the pasta (6). This helps prevent the pasta from sticking while you make the sauce!
Cook the Bacon
Add bacon to a sturdy, large skillet over medium heat (Image 7, above). Cook until the bacon is crispy (8), then use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a plate lined with a paper towel (9).
Use a spoon to carefully remove most of the remaining bacon grease (10). You want about a Tablespoon of fat left in the pan!
Pro Tip: Let leftover bacon grease cool, then store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Use it in place of butter or olive oil when you sauté things! You can also use bacon fat in place of oil or lard for homemade flour tortillas.
Build the Sauce
Melt butter into the skillet with the leftover bacon grease (11). Add garlic (12) and sauté until it's soft and fragrant.
Slowly stream in heavy cream (13), stirring constantly as you go, then bring the sauce to a low simmer and let it thicken (14).
Once the sauce is thick, add half of your lemon juice and lemon zest (15) - save the rest for the next steps!
Pour the reserved pasta water into your sauce a little at a time (16), letting the sauce come back to a low simmer between each addition.
Pro Tip: You want your sauce consistency to fall somewhere between heavy cream and a mac and cheese or béchamel sauce. It should be silky and fairly thick, but still pourable.
Assemble and Serve
When the sauce is ready, it's time to assemble! Pour the lemon cream sauce into the pot with your cooked pasta (17). Add the shredded parmesan cheese and the remaining lemon juice (18). Stir until the pasta is evenly coated with sauce and the cheese has fully melted.
Give the pasta a taste and add salt as needed (keep in mind that the bacon will add some saltiness to the pasta as well!)
Transfer the pasta to a serving dish (or divide it into everyone's bowls or plates). Top with the crispy bacon, extra shredded parmesan cheese, and remaining lemon zest. Serve and enjoy!
Let leftover pasta cool completely, then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Reheat leftover pasta in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir a splash of heavy cream into the leftover pasta as it warms up (you can also use chicken stock, parmesan broth, or milk). This extra splash of liquid helps to loosen the sauce up and preserve its creamy texture!
Frequently Asked Questions
There's nothing quite like a creamy lemon sauce for pasta dishes! But if you've ever had a sauce separate on you, you know how nerve-racking it can be to add lemon juice to a sauce you've already worked so hard on.
For best results, wait to add lemon juice until after a cream sauce has already thickened. Also, make sure you're using heavy cream (as opposed to milk, which has less fat and is more prone to separating when acid is added).
If you're worried about curdling, you can also add the lemon juice in stages. (For example, add a bit of lemon to the softened garlic; let it reduce a bit before adding the cream. Add another splash of lemon once cream has thickened; add remaining juice when you mix the sauce into the pasta.)
Yes! For dairy-free lemon cream pasta, we recommend replacing the butter with olive oil and using vegan cauliflower sauce instead of cream. You can swap the parmesan for a scoop of nutritional yeast, or use your favorite dairy-free cheese.
Yes! For a vegetarian pasta, omit the bacon (add an extra Tablespoon of butter when you make the sauce to replace the bacon fat called for in the recipe). Also, be sure to use a parmesan cheese made without rennet for the creamy lemon pasta sauce.
In The Seasonal Family Almanac, Emma and Jana recommend using bowtie pasta to make this lemon garlic pasta recipe extra kid-friendly, so that's what we used here! But this recipe is excellent with just about any pasta shape. Linguine, fettuccine, orzo, tortellini, ravioli, penne, rigatoni, macaroni, and even spaghetti will work here.
We don't recommend just swapping milk for the heavy cream here, as milk won't thicken like cream does.
If you don't want to use heavy cream, you can use half and half (it won't thicken as much, but it will still taste good!) or swap the cream for our dairy-free cauliflower purée for a lighter option. You can replace up to ¼ of the heavy cream in this recipe with a lighter liquid - like milk, chicken stock, parmesan broth, or white wine - without sacrificing too much thickness (just make sure that the sauce is still almost entirely heavy cream to ensure it thickens properly!)
If you absolutely want to use milk in place of the cream, we recommend adding a flour-and-butter roux before adding the milk (the roux will help the sauce thicken if you omit the cream!) You can see a similar roux in action in recipes like our mushroom sauce without cream, creamy chicken spinach pasta, spinach gnocchi, and rosemary mac and cheese.
More Easy, Creamy Pasta Recipes
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This easy, creamy lemon pasta features peas and crispy bacon in a rich parmesan sauce.
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 pound pasta (we used farfalle)
- 1 ½ cups frozen peas
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 5 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- ½ to 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
Cook the pasta and peas:
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Salt generously, then add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s 1-2 minutes less than al dente.
- Add the peas and stir to combine. Use a measuring cup to reserve ½ cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain the pasta and peas and return them to the pot.
- Stir 1 Tablespoon of the butter into the drained pasta to prevent it from sticking, then set it aside.
Cook the bacon:
- Heat a large, sturdy skillet over medium heat. Add the diced bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until the pieces are browned and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer crispy bacon to a paper towel lined plate, then set aside.
- Turn off the heat, then carefully spoon out all but 1 Tablespoon of the remaining bacon fat.
Build the sauce:
- Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter to the pan with the remaining bacon fat, then turn the heat back to medium. Stir until the butter is melted (it might look a little foamy as it mixes with the bacon fat - that’s ok!), then add the garlic. Sauté, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Tip: Watch the butter closely; if it begins to brown or burn, lower the heat.
- Slowly add heavy cream to pan, stirring constantly to incorporate as you pour. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 5-8 minutes, until cream has thickened.
- Add half of the lemon juice and lemon zest to sauce; stir to combine. (Save the rest of the lemon components for later!)
- Add the reserved pasta water to the cream sauce a little at a time, letting the sauce come back to a low simmer between each addition. Continue until all the pasta water has been added.
Assemble and Serve:
- Pour the sauce into the pot with the pasta and peas. Add Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese and remaining lemon juice; stir to combine. Taste pasta and add salt as needed.
- Transfer pasta to a serving bowl. Garnish with crispy bacon pieces, extra parmesan, and remaining lemon zest. Serve immediately.
Additions and Substitutions. Swap the heavy cream for half and half (it may not thicken quite as much, but it'll still taste good!) or use our favorite Magic Cauliflower Cream sauce (you can also try our Instant Pot Cauliflower Cream if you're in a hurry!) Add extra veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, grilled corn, halved cherry tomatoes, zucchini, roasted butternut squash, spinach, kale, and asparagus are all good here). Use sharp white cheddar cheese, goat cheese, havarti, or fontina in place of some or all of the parmesan. Add extra protein (salmon, chicken, shrimp, lobster).
Store cooled leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, mix pasta with a splash of heavy cream. In the microwave, heat in 1 minute increments until warm. On the stovetop, reheat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 8 minutes until warm.
Recipe adapted from The Seasonal Family Almanac. Shared with permission.
- Serving Size: 1 serving
- Calories: 568
- Sugar: 5.6 g
- Sodium: 643.9 mg
- Fat: 24.8 g
- Carbohydrates: 67.2 g
- Protein: 19.6 g
- Cholesterol: 69.4 mg
Keywords: date night, cream sauce, bowtie pasta