This lemon pasta (aka Pasta al Limone) is creamy, citrusy, and refreshing, perfect for any time of the year. This dish makes for a great mid-week meal that uses just 10 base ingredients, can be made in under 30 minutes and is dairy-free, vegan, and can be made oil-free, gluten-free, and nut-free!
Creamy Lemon Pasta Sauce With Spinach
Pasta dishes are a regular in my house – I love an ingredient that can be made into a light and refreshing or comfort-food style dish. This lemon spinach pasta is no different; it works as a year-round meal. It’s both creamy enough for a comforting, cozy winter dinner but light and citrusy enough for the warmer spring and summer months too.
As easy (and convenient) as it is to grab a jar of pasta sauce from the supermarket, unfortunately, they can contain a whole bunch of additional sugar, salt, and preservatives. Not to mention that it’s not a simple task to find a delicious, creamy vegan pasta sauce that’s healthy, has clean ingredients, and cost-effective.
Luckily, this lemon sauce is super creamy without the use of any dairy cream, milk, or cheese. All you need are 10 ingredients (15 including the optional ingredients, and salt and pepper) for the entire recipe and a simple process. Not to mention that this recipe makes for an excellent base for what is a super versatile dish.
A versatile all-year-round pasta dish
Not only is this recipe extremely ‘substitute’ friendly, with the ability to swap out your choice of milk, flour, etc. But this lemon Alfredo sauce is also the base to what can become one of your favorite pasta dishes year-round.
It’s the perfect base for most veggies, making it an excellent dish for using in-season produce, or whatever’s sitting in your freezer waiting to be used.
During spring and summer, add goodies like mange tout, green peas, asparagus, artichoke, leek, etc.
During autumn and winter months, then sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, squash, etc.
Other optional additions include:
- Roasted chickpeas
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Pine nuts
- Edamame (for additional protein)
Check out the ingredient and recipe notes below for more ingredient swaps and recommendations.
The Step-By-Step Instructions
There are just seven steps to preparing this creamy pasta dish. For the full ingredients list, ingredient measurements, and nutritional information, then please read the recipe card below.
Step 1. Begin by choosing your favorite pasta (regular, gluten-free, grain-free, etc.) and cooking according to the package instructions. I used Fettuccine but you can also use spaghetti to make lemon spaghetti.
Step 2. Meanwhile, as the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the onion. Sauté for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and lemon zest. Sauté for a further minute, stirring frequently.
Step 3. Add the lemon juice, salt, nutmeg, black pepper, plant-based milk, and cashew butter and stir to combine. Then, bring it to a boil.
Step 4. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water into a lump-free slurry and then pour it into the skillet and mix well.
Step 5. Allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Then, add the spinach and cook until wilted (about 1-2 minutes). Turn off the heat and add the cooked pasta. Stir to combine.
Step 6. Taste the lemon cream sauce and adjust the seasonings, as necessary. Add more salt/pepper/lemon juice to taste. If the sauce is too thick, then add a little extra plant-based milk or vegetable broth. If it’s too thin, then add a little more cornstarch.
Step 7. Serve up the pasta and sprinkle with Vegan Parmesan and optional red pepper flakes (you could also serve with additional lemon slices)- enjoy!
How To Store
Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. The sauce will thicken as it chills – though it can be eaten cold if you don’t mind it.
You can re-heat the leftovers either over the stove or in the microwave. Add a splash of extra milk, water, or stock to help make the sauce smooth and creamy again.
How To Serve
This lemon pasta can be served alone, alongside a simple, fresh green salad, or alongside some garlic bread or this Gluten-Free Vegan Bread or these Gluten-Free Buns (bread rolls).
- The Milk: You can use any plain, unsweetened plant-based milk, including almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, cashew milk, etc. You can also replace ¼ cup (60ml) of the milk with white wine, for additional flavor.
- The Cashew Butter: Swap this out for another neutral nut butter. For a nut-free version, then you can use tahini or sunflower seed butter instead.
- Cornstarch: Any starch that will help to thicken the sauce can be used (i.e., potato starch, arrowroot flour). You could also use regular flour rather than a starch – including GF options such as chickpea flour, etc.
- The Lemon: The type of lemon you choose with also affect the dish – Meyer lemons, for example, are known for their slightly sweeter flavor. I have tried this with lime juice before with good results too. This usually depends on what other ingredients I include with the pasta.
- Feel free to swap out the spinach for kale.
Recipe Notes & Variations
- Feel free to add additional lemon juice to taste- for those who love the bright citrus flavor.
- For an extra creamy lemon cream sauce, you can blend the sauce (with the onion and garlic) just before serving and place back in the pan to re-heat.
- You can add additional protein to the dish in several ways, first, by using a high-protein pasta option. You could also blend some cooked cannellini beans into the sauce (that way, less starch will be needed to thicken it too). Alternatively, add in some of your favorite meat-free protein like Tofu, or even chopped Vegan Sausages.
- I love to use fresh garlic, however, ‘lazy garlic’/ pre-prepared garlic will also work. 3 fresh garlic cloves are usually equal to 1.5 tbsp of minced/crushed garlic.
- You can add some fresh herbs to the dish, including parsley, basil, arugula, dill, etc.
- Cook the pasta in vegetable broth instead of salted water for additional flavor.
- Add some nutritional yeast to the sauce, for cheesier flavor.
If you give this tasty lemon pasta recipe a try, I’d love a comment and recipe rating below. Also, don’t forget to tag me in re-creations on Instagram or Facebook with @elavegan and #elavegan – I love seeing your recreations.
- 8 oz (225 g) pasta (dry) of choice
- 1 tbsp olive oil or veggie broth (if oil-free)
- 1/2 onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Salt & black pepper to taste
- 1 Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 1/3 cup (320 ml) plant-based milk (*see notes)
- 2 tbsp (32 g) cashew butter (*see notes)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp water (*see notes)
- 2 cups (60 g) baby spinach
- Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- Vegan Parmesan to garnish (optional)
- You can watch the video in the post for visual instructions.Cook your favorite pasta (regular pasta, gluten-free pasta, or grain-free pasta) in a pot according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the onion. Sauté for 3 minutes, then add garlic and lemon zest. Sauté for a further minute, stirring frequently.
- Add lemon juice, salt, nutmeg, black pepper, plant-based milk, and cashew butter. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.
- In a small bowl combine cornstarch and water. Stir until there are no lumps and pour the mixture into the skillet.
- Let simmer for a few minutes until thickened, then add spinach, and cook until wilted, about one minute. Turn off the heat and add the cooked pasta. Stir to combine.
- Taste it and adjust seasonings. Add more salt/pepper/lemon juice or red pepper flakes to taste. Add a splash of plant-based milk or vegetable broth for a thinner sauce.
- Sprinkle with vegan Parmesan and enjoy!
- Milk: Any plant-based milk like almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, etc. is fine! You can also replace 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the milk with white wine.
- Cashew butter: You can use any other nut butter instead of cashew butter. Use tahini for a nut-free version.
- Cornstarch: Any starch can be used (potato starch, arrowroot flour). Regular flour should work too.
- More tips/variations and step-by-step photos can be found above in the blog post.
Nutrition information is an estimate and has been calculated automatically
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I didn’t have any type of nut butter that I felt would be subtle enough in taste, so I ended up thickening the sauce with nutritional yeast and it was SO good. I make this all the time.
That sounds very yummy! Thanks for your feedback, Alex. 🙂
This is really good and easy to make!
Hi Elizabeth, I am glad you liked it! 🙂
Meh. Taste was overall just ok. I know that good dairy-free white sauces can be difficult to formulate, and this recipe really doesn’t hit the spot.
Sorry to hear you didn’t like it, Jason! 🙂
This looks delicious! Is it possible to make the sauce ahead of time please? And then reheat when cooking the pasta?
Yes, that is no problem. 🙂
This has become my go-to pasta recipe and I have made it several times so I figured it was time to post a review! I make a few ingredient swaps: I use Ripple pea milk and tahini instead of cashew butter because that is what I have on hand, and garbanzo flour instead of cornstarch. I also add edamame and serve it over chickpea pasta for added protein. Oh and I use more fresh lemon zest. Yum! I shared the recipe with my mom at Christmas and she made it for her and my dad (both non-vegans) and she added some shrimp and they both loved it! Thank you!
Sounds great, Jennifer! So glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
Hello! We dnt have cashew butter in our country, can i replace it with cashew cream? ( soaked cashews blended with some water?)
Yes, that’s fine. 🙂
Looks so fresh and delicious! ????
Oh Wow!! So good!!! One of my favourites, so quick, easy and delicious!
I am so glad you like it, Samantha! Thanks for your feedback. 🙂
Amazing as always Ella!
Thank you for sharing!
Hi Ero, you are very welcome! I am glad you liked the recipe. 🙂
Made this last night with almond butter instead of cashew. So delicious!!
I am glad it turned out delicious, Maddy! Thanks for your feedback. 🙂