This asparagus and lemon pasta is full of spring flavors! Bright, citrusy lemon, sweet peas, and tender-crisp asparagus are tossed with pasta and cream sauce for an easy weeknight dinner.
There are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who get excited about spring for warm weather and blooming flowers, and the kind who get excited about spring for asparagus season.
You can guess which category most food bloggers fall into.
This asparagus and lemon pasta is the perfect way to celebrate springtime. The asparagus is cooked until tender-crisp, paired with sweet green peas and pungent leeks, then tossed with lemon, fresh herbs, Parmesan cheese, and a touch of cream. Toasty, garlicky breadcrumbs add just the right amount of crunch for contrast.
The result is a light, veggie-forward pasta dish that’s perfect for a springtime dinner. Eat it as-is, or add some baked chicken or grilled shrimp to round things out. Either way: you’re going to love it!
What Is the Best Way to Cook and Eat Asparagus?
Asparagus benefits from short cooking times. Whether you roast it, steam it, or, as in this recipe, sauté it, the key to making it perfect is to cook asparagus briefly. The goal is for your asparagus to be tender-crisp—somewhere between raw and limp, lifeless over-cooked spears.
The amount of time needed, of course, can vary depending on the thickness of your asparagus spears. Tender-crisp for fat spears of asparagus will take much longer than the thin, wispy bunches you sometimes find at the grocery store. The trick here is to always buy bunches where the spears are more or less the same size—if you have some that are fat and some that are thin, they’ll all be done cooking at different times!
What You’ll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
For the Lemon Asparagus Pasta:
- Dry spaghetti – Or use another pasta shape. Linguine would work well, too!
- Frozen green peas – If you’re lucky enough to find fresh green peas at the farmers market, use those instead!
- Leek – Shallots can be used if you prefer.
- Lemon – You’ll need the juice and the zest; zest the lemon first, then juice it.
- Heavy cream
- Pasta water – Make a mental note so you don’t drain out all the water with the pasta!
- Black pepper
- Olive oil
For the breadcrumbs:
- Olive oil
- Panko breadcrumbs – Traditional breadcrumbs can be used instead, but panko provides more crunch.
- Lemon zest
- Garlic powder
How to Store Asparagus
Asparagus is one of those veggies that has a very short lifespan once you bring it home, so if you’re not planning on using your asparagus right away, it’s important to store it properly in the refrigerator.
The best way to do this is to trim the ends of the asparagus, then place them in a large jar with an inch or two of water at the bottom. (Yes, a little bit like a flower bouquet!)
Loosely cover the container with plastic wrap or a bag, and store it in the refrigerator. Your asparagus should stay fresh for up to 5 days this way.
How to Make Asparagus and Lemon Pasta
Ready for a simple weeknight pasta dinner? Here’s what you’ll need to do.
Cook the pasta. Follow the instructions on the package to cook the pasta. Reserve the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside for later.
Sauté the vegetables. Add the olive oil and butter to a skillet set over medium-high heat; once the butter has melted, add the leeks and cook them until they’ve softened. Stir in the garlic, asparagus, and peas and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the asparagus is slightly softened.
Make the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium; add the cream, pasta water, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, herbs, and lemon zest. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens, then taste and add more lemon juice or salt if needed.
Add the pasta. Transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet, then add the Parmesan. Toss to coat.
Make the breadcrumbs. Warm the butter and olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat and add all of the breadcrumb topping ingredients. Cook, stirring often, until the panko is golden brown and crisp.
Serve. Plate the pasta and top it with the breadcrumbs and additional fresh herbs.
Tips for Success
Here are some tips to make sure your asparagus and lemon pasta turns out perfect!
- Skip the super-thin asparagus. Between the sautéing and simmering in the cream sauce, it will likely end up over-cooked. A nice medium-size spear is perfect for this recipe!
- Use high-quality Parmesan. The flavor will make a big difference in the dish, and the texture of Parmesan off the block is much better in a creamy dish like this one.
- Go easy on the lemon juice. When adding the lemon juice, start with less and then add more to taste. You can always add more, but you can’t undo it if you add too much!
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
If you have leftovers, this dish can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for three or four days. Reheat it in the microwave or in a skillet with a splash of cream.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
Yes, this dish can be frozen. To do so, simply place the pasta in an airtight storage container or freezer bag and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let it thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
Asparagus and Lemon Pasta
- 16 ounces dry spaghetti or pasta of your choice
- ½ cup frozen green peas
- 1 pound asparagus cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 leek thinly sliced can substitute it with thinly sliced shallots
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- 1 large lemon juice and zested
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ⅓ cup parmesan grated
- ½ cup pasta water
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
For the breadcrumbs:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Cook the pasta according the package instructions and set it aside.
- Reserve some pasta water for the sauce.
- To a skillet set over medium-high heat, add olive oil and butter.
- Add the thinly sliced leeks and sauté it until it softens.
- Now add the minced garlic, asparagus, green peas and let it cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the asparagus slightly softens. Reduce heat to medium.
- Now add the cream, pasta water, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, chopped herbs (basil and parsley), and lemon zest. Reduce heat to a low simmer and let it cook until the sauce thickens. Taste the sauce at this stage and add more lemon juice or salt if needed.
- Now add the cooked pasta. Parmesan and mix everything well.
- To make the flavored breadcrumbs: to a skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, butter and let it heat up.
- Add the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, garlic powder and cook until it gets nice and toasty. Adjust salt/ seasoning if necessary.
- Now add the toasted breadcrumbs to the pasta and serve it with some more fresh herbs.