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Basic Lemony White Pasta Sauce

Updated on March 16, 2016

Light Lemony Pasta Sauce


Updated Now with Lemon Zest -- Makes an Even Better Sauce

AN UPDATE: The engine builder has decided to add lemon zest to this recipe and to another, as yet unpublished one: his recipe for chicken piccata. It is actually my favorite of all his recipes, and I will publish it soon.

This is the basic light lemony white pasta sauce recipe from the racing engine builder. In this case, I use the word "light" to distinguish between thick, heavy sauces and lighter, more brothy sauces. This is a quick, easy, and light lemon-garlic pasta sauce that is both delicious and good for you. If you don't care for a true broth-consistency, this sauce can be made a bit thicker by adding extra corn starch or arrowroot. It takes only about 30 minutes to make. I especially like it, as I love anything lemony. This is a dish my husband created. It's also one of the recipes I converted to a lower fat, lower sugar, and/or lower sodium version of the original. This one needed very little in the way of changes. We often use it on fettucini and bowtie pasta, but this recipe is light enough to serve over angel hair pasta, as well.

This recipe is very similar to another one I have published on HubPages called Shrimp and Pasta, but this one is designed specifically for vegetarians. To make it vegan, simply leave out the tiny amount of butter and the parmesean cheese. We serve this dish over pasta, and with a nice salad, it makes a healthy, filling meal. Another nice thing about this dish is that it leaves room for dessert!

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 20 min
Ready in: 30 min
Yields: 2


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion (chopped)
  • 4 -5 toes garlic (chopped) or garlic powder to taste
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (cut into short strips)
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • the juice of one medium-sized lemon
  • 1 pat unsalted butter
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt (Kosher salt is best)
  • black pepper - about 10 - 12 turns of the pepper mill
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons corn starch (dissolved in about 2 tablespoons warm water)
  • 1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • the zest of one lemon
  • basil to taste (you will need more if using fresh basil)
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesean cheese


  1. Chop onion, pepper, and garlic. Set aside.
  2. Grate the lemon, getting only the yellow "zest", the white part underneath is bitter.
  3. Warm the olive oil in a wok or sautee pan.
  4. Add pepper, onion, and garlic, sautee until wilted.
  5. Add wine, lemon juice, butter.
  6. Stiring, allow butter to melt.
  7. Make a thin paste of corn starch and water.
  8. Add corn starch paste to mixture.
  9. Continue cooking until pepper and onion are al dente.
  10. Add parmesean cheese, and stir until blended in.
  11. Serve over your choice of pasta.
Cast your vote for Basic Light Pasta Sauce

We Both Love to Cook

I thought I was a good cook until I met and married this man...

My husband and I have enjoyed cooking together since the early days of our marriage. At that time we were living in Michigan, each of us waiting to sell our respective homes in Alabama, so we had no money for going out or doing tourist things. We entertained ourselves by "playing" with our food, and actually invented a few recipes about that time. Our one big expense during that time was a set of Calphalon Cookware, that we still use, over 20 years later; and we've added a few pieces over the years.

As he advanced with NASCAR teams (his second career) he was too busy with the Sprint and Busch (later Nationwide. and now Xfinity Series) race teams for which he built engines, and I was in grad school. So until lately, we haven't had time for experimenting in the kitchen, but now we are enjoying it again.

My Changes to the original recipe.

This time, instead of re-printing the entire recipe, I will simply list my suggested changes for you. These are tiny, but significant changes to an already light recipe. In fact, they are so tiny, you may see them as unnecessary. Those of us with a strong family history of cardiovascular disease know we must cut fat and calories whenever we can. If you are in good health (I mean not overweight, no heart disease, etc.) you may not need to make these changes. Only you can make that decision for yourself and your family.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil instead of 2
  • a SMALL pat of butter instead of the engine builder's size butter pat
  • reduced-fat parmesean cheese instead of the regular parmesean

Chopping Peppers & Onions


Begin by chopping the peppers and onions. Set them aside.

Heat the Olive Oil


Begin heating the olive oil before adding other items.

Juicing the Lemon


While the oil is heating, juice your lemon. You can dip out the seeds with a fork, or pour the juice through a tea strainer to catch the seeds. The only problem with using a strainer is that it also catches the pulp. That may be fine with you, but I like the pulp in my sauce.


The Update -- Grating the Lemon

Adding lemon zest to the sauce greatly enhances the flavor. I like to use a small hand-held grater like the one shown here to grate the lemon zest. You can buy lemon zest anywhere herbs and spices are sold, but there's nothing like fresh lemon zest for flavor.

In this photo, you can see that I made the mistake of cutting and juicing the lemon prior to grating it. I will not make that mistake again. It's much easier to grate a whole lemon than trying to grate a hollowed out half.

Add Peppers, Onions, & Garlic to Olive Oil.


By now, your olive oil should be hot. It's time to add the garlic, peppers, and onions. Allow them to wilt. You can also add the butter pat at this point and let it begin to melt.

The Wine, Herbs, and Other Ingredients Are Added


After wilting the garlic, peppers, and onions, it's time to add the wine (if desired) and the remaining ingredients. The parmesean and dissolved corn starch will add thickness, as well as flavor. Then let simmer until the alcohol has had time to cook off.

The Finished Sauce, Ready to Serve With Your Favorite Pasta.

The Finished Sauce, Ready to Serve With Your Favorite Pasta.
The Finished Sauce, Ready to Serve With Your Favorite Pasta. | Source

Take This Poll Module About Pasta Sauces

What is your favorite pasta sauce?

See results

Just open your pantry and spice cabinet, then use your imagination.

— The Engine Builder

Take This Poll About Herbs

What is your favorite herb when cooking?

See results

The Polaroid below shows this recipe with more colorful veggies added. It also shows shrimp, but the photo was so colorful, I couldn't resist including it. Vegetarians and Vegans, please forgive.

With More Veggies

With More Veggies & Shredded Parmesean
With More Veggies & Shredded Parmesean | Source

Do you like white pasta sauce or red sauce? With wine or without? Spicy hot or mild? Please leave your comments or ask a question, if you have one. If you try this, or any of my recipes, please check back and let me know how it worked for you.

Thank you for visiting this page. I hope you enjoyed it.

© 2011 MariaMontgomery

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    • MariaMontgomery profile image

      MariaMontgomery 2 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      Thanks, Bill. I hope you enjoy it. I've moved most of my recipes to my website and blog on WordPress. This is one of the few left on HP. Don't know if you are interested, but the address is CookingwithBoAndMia(dot)com not case sensitive, of course.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm always looking for a good pasta sauce, so thank you for this. I will definitely try it.

    • MariaMontgomery profile image

      MariaMontgomery 5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      @Pat Goltz: Always use the zest of a fresh lemon. It's so much better, fresher, and you know it has no preservatives. I reduced the olive oil because I'm doing Weight Watchers.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 5 years ago

      I don't eat pasta much. Low carb is much better for you than low fat. Low fat just makes the body cling to fat. I wouldn't reduce the amount of olive oil. I also don't eat vegetarian. Some commercial lemon zest has undesirable ingredients, so you have to be careful. This sounds really good! I love anything with lemon. I would have to leave out the onions, though. I'm allergic.

    • profile image

      trendydad 5 years ago

      great recipe for pasta sauce nice lens

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 6 years ago

      I have a bag of fresh lemons that are begging to be used. Will be making this light and lemony sauce for dinner this evening.