30-Minute Meals/ easy savory/ Pasta/ quick savory/ Savory

Lemon Cilantro Pasta

January 11, 2016

A refreshing pasta dish flavored with garlic, olive oil, fresh cilantro, lemon, and Parmesan.

Lemon Cilantro Pasta

Many of my creations in the kitchen are an outcome of throwing all my about-to-expire ingredients into one saucepan and seeing what happens. Sometimes it tastes awful, such as when I thought I was on to something when combining pasta with chocolate, but other times it tastes like magic—which is how this pasta came to be. It turned out so good that it’s now one of my favorite light and easy meals.

This pasta is similar to the well-known pasta aglio e olio, which is made with olive oil and garlic, but I did make a few adjustments; instead of parsley I’m using cilantro, I add both lemon juice and zest, and rather than just sprinkling Parmesan on top of every dish, I mix some with the pasta for plenty of extra flavor.

The lemon taste isn’t strong, and its subtlety helps to make this dish refreshing and fragrant, but you can add more of it if you want. Personally, I just don’t like the sour taste it gives when adding too much of it.

Lemon Cilantro Pasta

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4.84 from 6 votes
Lemon Cilantro Pasta
Lemon Cilantro Pasta
YIELD: 4 servings
A refreshing pasta dish flavored with garlic, olive oil, fresh cilantro, lemon, and Parmesan.

  • 450 g/1 pound pasta (fettuccine or spaghetti are recommended)
  • Salt
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 large cloves garlic , finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Grated zest from 1/2 small lemon
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 – 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. To make the pasta: In a large pot, bring 4 quarts/liters of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt, followed by the pasta. Cook until al dente (i.e., slightly firm to the bite, not crunchy nor soft). Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, and drain the pasta.
  2. As the pasta boils, make the sauce: In a large skillet (large enough to accommodate the pasta), heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant and tender, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes. Carefully add the reserved pasta cooking water in a slow stream, and simmer until water has reduced by about a third, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon table salt, lemon juice, lemon zest, and cooked pasta, and toss. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and Parmesan (start with ½ cup and add more as you wish).
  3. Serve immediately.
  4. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for 3 days.




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  • Reply
    July 13, 2016 at 2:44 pm


    • Reply
      July 14, 2016 at 4:05 am

      Hi Lily, all you need to to do is to make sure that you heat the oil over medium heat, not high, and add the water carefully, in a slow stream.

    • Reply
      July 19, 2022 at 5:21 pm

      your heat was way too high, turn it down and add slowly like the recipe said.

  • Reply
    October 31, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    I think I’m going to make this for dinner tomorrow! Just wondered – are the garlic cloves minced? Thanks!

    • Reply
      October 31, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Yes, they are minced. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    Luciano Daitzchman
    February 22, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    We have made this recipe several times and it is amazing! Once in a while we add a twist — start by sauteing a pound of shrimp, put the shrimp to the side and follow the recipe. Mix the shrimp at the end.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 6:20 am

      I’m so glad you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    May 21, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    How much pasta water? All 4 qts?

    • Reply
      May 24, 2018 at 4:38 am

      Hi Denise, after cooking the pasta you need to reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, and discard the rest. So you need to use 1 cup of water to the pasta.

    • Reply
      July 19, 2022 at 5:23 pm

      Cook pasta in 4 quarts of water, reserve one cut of pasta water when pasta is cooked, this goes into the sauce, see recipe …..

  • Reply
    Michelle Weidema
    June 6, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    I made this and found it dry so wondered if I should have doubled the sauce!

    • Reply
      June 10, 2018 at 8:31 am

      Hi Michelle, you can add more of the cooking water next time, until it’s no longer dry.

  • Reply
    Keri Will-del Tufo
    June 17, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    I laughed when I read the intro to this recipe. I google these ingredients because that’s what I wanted to use up! Thanks for doing the work for me!

  • Reply
    September 13, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    Golly, how delicious! I used feta cheese instead of parmesan and green pea penne instead of tagliatelli…. Mmm! Thank you.

    • Reply
      Valerie Morrill
      April 8, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      Darn it, I forgot the water from boiling the pasta! It was delicious though. I added fresh shrimp

  • Reply
    May 6, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you for such a simple delicious meal with gourmet flavour midweek. I sautéed shrimp w the oil & garlic then removed them when they were cooked. Added shrimp back at end with the cilantro.

  • Reply
    Andrea Perry
    June 25, 2020 at 11:03 am

    Absolutely delicious! A simple meal that has the flavor of gourmet! I am adding this dish to my regular meal planning. I added a can of rotel tomatoes to the sauce. Next time I’ll try it with shrimp as others mentioned.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    I just made this for dinner a couple nights ago and it was exactly what I was craving. Very simple to make with ingredients in the house, and the perfect amount of lemon – not bitter or overpowering but still flavorful and lemony! Thanks so much – it will definitely become a meal in regular rotation with our family!

  • Reply
    Max G.
    March 28, 2022 at 11:54 pm

    Thank you for the recipe, Shiran.

    I would suggest adding more produce as the dish is pasta-centric. Broccoli, bell peppers, diced tomatoes would all be good. Whatever you like and have on hand. The dish is very versatile.

    You could also go in the direction of a pesto, adding the olive oil to a handful of walnuts or whatever nuts you have on hand (not peanuts—they’re too potent) and the cilantro and whatever other produce you’d like to add. I wouldn’t suggest tomatoes in the case of pesto. The tomatoes would be too watery.

    Try things out. Explore.

    • Reply
      Max G.
      March 28, 2022 at 11:59 pm

      *Remember to chop up the pesto in a food processor (preferable) or blender first if you’re going in that direction.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2022 at 5:31 pm

    Made the pasta according to directions, added the garlic, lemon juice and zest of lemon.

    Divided in 1/2.

    1st 1/2 will make Scampi with.

    2nd 1/2 will add the cilantro and parmesan, serve as a side with baked chicken or pork chops.


  • Reply
    September 4, 2023 at 4:28 pm

    I need to use 6 tablespoons of oil for the garlic?

    • Reply
      Stephanie @ Pretty.Simple.Sweet.
      September 5, 2023 at 11:33 am

      Hi Nat, Yes as this is part of the sauce for the entire pasta.

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