Recipe: Pasta with Caramelized Lemons, Chile Flakes, Parmesan and Parsley (video)

One of my favorite all-time pasta recipes is simple spaghetti with olive oil, chile flakes, fresh parsley and a quick grating of real Parmesan cheese. This recipe, from Melissa Clark of the New York Times, takes that dish up a notch by adding savory caramelized lemons. A bright, fresh, slightly crunchy and sweet touch that works beautifully with the olive oil.

Even though it's a short video, it's packed with helpful tips and professional cooking tricks that will make all the difference in the world to the finished product.

Melissa shares a great professional chef technique she calls "the lemon trick". Before blanching the fruit in a pot of salted, boiling water, start by slicing the lemons into quarters and cutting off the connective membrane and removing the seeds. This will give you so much more juice. The blanching itself helps to soften the lemons and removes a lot of the bitterness from the pithe (the white part of the skin) before you caramelize the fruit.

Another quick tip is to make sure the blanched lemons are as dry as possible before adding them to the pan. Then resist the temptation to stir them. The longer they sit still, the darker the caramelization will be! Adding a pinch of sugar also helps with the browning.

She also shares how important it is to "bloom" your aromatics before adding in the cooked pasta. Essentially, you want to let the chile flakes and zest cook together briefly in the butter/oil mixture until fragrant.

And, as always, adding a bit of reserved pasta water - one of my favorite tricks - makes for a velvety smooth sauce! Top with the crispy lemons, lots of fresh parsley and freshly-grated Parmesan and serve. Beautiful and delicious!

Got lemons? Try it tonight for a new twist on an old favorite. Share your results with a comment below!

Recipe: Pasta with Caramelized Lemons, Chile Flakes, Parmesan and Parsley

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Serves 4 for dinner, 6 for lunch and 8 as a starte

Recipe: Pasta with Caramelized Lemons, Chile Flakes, Parmesan and Parsley

A quick and easy meatless-Monday recipe that takes a simple pasta dish to a whole new level. The sweet and crispy caramelized lemons add a piquant freshness to the olive oil and spicy chile flakes for a deliciously satisfying meal.


  • 3 small lemons
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest - about one lemon
  • 1 lb. of pasta - spaghetti or similar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 pats of butter
  • 1/4 cup red chile flakes - or to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, rough chopped
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese plus more for garnish
  • a pinch of sugar


  1. Slice 2 of the lemons into quarters. Cut off the connective membrane and remove any seeds. Slice into thin triangles and set aside.
  2. Carefully grate the zest of the 3rd lemon.
  3. Bring a small pot of salted water to boil. Toss in the lemon pieces and cook for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove to paper towels and gently blot dry. The dryer the lemon, the browner the caramelization will be.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add a generous handful of salt and drop in the pasta. Cook until just al dente or 1 minute short of the recommended cooking time. Reserve a cup or so of the cooking water and drain the pasta.
  5. While the pasta is cooking, add a tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil to a large saucepan, heat to medium high and add in the lemons. Add a pinch of sugar and season with salt and pepper. Stir together then spread them out so they form a single layer. Resist the temptation to stir them further. Allow them to crisp up and brown nicely. They should be quite dark but not burnt. Remove to a plate.
  6. Add the remainder of the olive oil and the butter to the pan. Melt the butter and add the lemon zest and the chile flakes. Cook together until fragrant, allowing the aromatics (chile and lemon) to "bloom", about a minute or two.
  7. Add in the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, and wisk together to emulsify the sauce.
  8. Add in the fresh-cooked pasta and toss gently until coated. Add more reserved pasta water if necessary to smooth out the sauce to a velvety consistency.
  9. Add the caramelized lemons, the fresh-chopped parsley and grated cheese, toss together and serve immediately. Garnish with more cheese.

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