Remember how a few weeks ago I shared some super important kitchen facts I learned the hard way?
Do you remember that one where I got all fancy and said you can taste it when you take a shortcut in the kitchen?
Well, I’m getting fancy again.
Here’s a definitive kitchen rule that we can’t take shortcuts with. And I learned it from one of the people I’d most like to meet, Ina Garten:
Always always ALWAYS use freshly squeezed lemon juice!
Ina's Infinite Wisdom
Before Ina convinced me of the error of my ways, I thoroughly believed that people who bought lemons whenever a recipe called for lemon juice were just wasting time and effort: why go through the trouble of storing lemons, cutting lemons, and juicing lemons for a little bit of juice, when you can buy one of those little bottles of pre-squeezed lemon juice??
It seemed like such an easy decision to me…
I had no idea what I was missing out on until several years ago when I made one of Ina’s risotto recipes. It required quite a bit of lemon juice, freshly squeezed of course.
Since Ina was really pushing the whole freshly-squeezed-lemon-juice-thing, I finally decided it was time to break down, buy an actual lemon, and juice it myself.
It was a life-changing day. And that is barely an overstatement.
Ever since making Ina’s risotto with freshly squeezed lemon juice, I have never gone back to pre-squeezed lemon juice. I’m telling you, freshly squeezing the lemon juice yourself makes a world of difference.
My Favorite Meal with Fresh Lemon Juice: Lemon Garlic Pasta
And that’s what my Lemon Garlic Pasta with Spinach is all about: celebrating the beauty of fresh lemon juice!
This lemony, garlicy, buttery (or Earth Balance-y, to keep this dish vegan) sauce is so decadent! But don’t worry, since there are 8 cups of spinach in this recipe, you can feel a little better about indulging in this magnificent sauce.
Like my 30 Minute Pasta Pomodoro, this recipe comes together in 30 minutes, and the pasta finishes cooking in the sauce, which means this is a really flavorful pasta dish. My husband puts this dish in the category of “restaurant quality on a weeknight” because this pasta is restaurant quality (his words, I promise!) and so incredibly easy and quick to make.
So treat yourself to an unbelievably easy, restaurant quality meal this week, and make my Lemon Garlic Pasta with Spinach!
A Few Things!
Prep Everything for Lemon Garlic Pasta First!
My tip before starting this recipe is to have your lemons juiced and zested (depending on how big your lemons are, this recipe will require 1-2 lemons), your parsley and garlic minced, and your sea salt and garlic powder out and ready. Things move fast once you’ve got the sauce over the burner—one of the reasons this is a 30 minute meal! Having your ingredients prepped before starting a recipe is always a good idea, but for my Lemon Garlic Pasta with Spinach, it’s particularly important.
Make My Lemon Garlic Pasta Vegan
I also want to stress that the Parmesan in my recipe is completely optional. I love Parmesan, and I love it in this pasta, but the dish truly stands alone without it. Depending on if I feel like grating/grinding Parmesan, and how into cheese I am on any given day, I frequently make this pasta without Parmesan, which makes this a vegan meal! So use Parmesan or not, you won’t be disappointed, I promise.
Use a High Quality Olive Oil!
This sauce uses equal parts butter/Earth Balance and olive oil. And this is certainly one of those times when you want to use a really high quality olive oil with a flavor you love. For me, that means using PJ KABOS [aff. link].
PJ KABOS is a family-owned company in Greece. They grow their own olives, and make the most delicious and smooth olive oil I’ve ever tasted. I highly recommend using PJ KABOS olive oil in this pasta sauce. The flavor is so fresh and robust, but not overpowering. PJ KABOS is by far my favorite olive oil, and I use it for everything from pasta sauces to homemade dressings. It’s also amazing just to dip some crusty bread in.
You can find PJ KABOS Olive Oil here on Amazon [aff. link]. Seriously, you have to try it, it’s so good!
Lemon Garlic Pasta with Spinach
For the sauce:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup butter or Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
- 7 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest
- ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- ¼ cup parsley, minced
- 1 pound pasta, (I recommend spaghetti)
- 8 cups spinach, fresh
- ½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated (optional; omit to keep vegan)
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- ¾ cup pasta water, reserved
Make the sauce
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat for one minute. Now add the garlic, and cook for one more minute.
- Now add the salt and garlic powder. Stir to encourage the salt and garlic powder to dissolve.
Add the butter, lemon zest, and parsley
- Add the butter, lemon zest, and ¼ cup parsley. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring as the butter melts. We want the butter and the oil to infuse with the flavors of the garlic, lemon, and parsley.
- Once the butter has melted, continue cooking over medium heat for 1 more minute, then take the pot off the heat, and stir in the lemon juice. Set aside.
Cook the pasta
- Now start the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package instructions, but stop cooking once the pasta is two-thirds of the way cooked. (For example, the spaghetti I used for this dish has a total cooking time of 11 minutes. So I cooked the spaghetti for 7 minutes, reserved ¾ cup of pasta water, then drained the pasta.)
Add the pasta and spinach to the sauce
- Once the pasta is two-thirds of the way cooked, reserve ¾ cup pasta water, drain the pasta, and add the pasta to the pot with the sauce, along with 2 cups of spinach.
- Put the pot with the pasta, sauce, and spinach back on the burner over medium heat. With your kitchen tongs, toss the pasta into the sauce and spinach. Set your timer to cook the pasta in the sauce for the remaining cooking time according to your pasta box. (For my spaghetti, that was 4 more minutes.)
Add the pasta water, remaining spinach, and parsley
- Keep tossing, and add the reserved ¾ cup pasta water, followed by another 2 cups of spinach. Toss a few times, and continue tossing and adding spinach until you have added the remaining 4 cups of spinach.
- Once the spinach is completely added and mostly wilted, add the remaining ¼ cup parsley and ¼ cup of the Parmesan, if using. Just keep tossing while you wait for your timer to go off!
- Once your timer goes off, taste the pasta. It should be cooked to al dente perfection. If not, keep the heat on and toss for another minute or two.
Serve and enjoy!
- Once the pasta is done, sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top, garnish with more parsley if desired, and serve!
- This pasta dish is great served with my Ciabatta Crisps and a side of Gardein or your favorite meat substitute.
We have the same “restaurant quality” saying around here! Isn’t it great when a recipe just comes together so easily…and it tastes like something you’d pay a lot of money for? This pasta is right up my alley for sure, and I love the way you styled it – super eye catching! And great tip on the lemon juice. I often use fresh lemon juice, but if a recipe just calls for a little bit, then sometimes I’ll still cheat with the bottled stuff. Depends on what I’m making! Speaking of making things, I need to make this pasta ASAP!
Thanks David! I so agree, restaurant-quality and easy prep are about the best adjectives that can describe a meal! Makes dinner so much tastier and and easier. 😋
Shannon, lemon garlic pasta is a favorite of mine. So, simple but what a great flavor and yes with freshly squeezed lemon juice. I must admit though that I keep ice cube sized freshly squeezed lemon juice in the freezer. It works well in many recipes or lemonade, but I stay away from the processed. When lemons are in season (from Spain) they are cheap, but offseason they are poor quality and very expensive here. So, I stock up on them when they are cheap, zest, and dry the peel and squeeze the juice and freeze it in icecube trays…
Thanks Ron! And ohhhh my goodness that is the BEST idea. I’m going to have to freeze lemon juice and zest myself. What a great way to have good quality and affordable lemon juice year-round. Seriously genius!
I love how you’ve plated the spahgetti in those gorgous little mounds. And lemon and garlic – what a great combo!
Thanks so much Jeff! It’s definitely a favorite dish at our house!
My 8 year old said she’d give it 4 1/2 but that’s because I cooked the garlic too long and it was chunky! However, my husband and I love crispy garlic. This was really YUMMY! Thank you!
Thank you so much for your lovely comment Laura! I am so thrilled you and your family enjoyed my recipe. ♥️. Though my daughter would undoubtedly agree with your daughter 😄, I am SO with you and your husband, crispy garlic is delicious! 😋
Can I make sauce ahead of time and reheat for pasta
Hi Kathy, I’ve never tried it, but making the sauce ahead of time–through the step where the lemon juice is added–should work. The butter/Earth Balance will solidify in the fridge, so just be sure to reheat the sauce until the butter melts back down. The final, magic step of this dish is adding the pasta water to the sauce, and the pasta for its last few minutes of cooking. As long as these final steps are followed, I think making the sauce ahead of time and reheating it will work great.
Yum! Was gone in minutes. This was amazing
That’s great to hear, thanks Janae!
My favorite pasta dish! So easy and delicious