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Simple Lemon and Capers Pasta Sauce Recipe

While not the most common way we eat pasta today, traditionally pasta is served as a secondi or second course, not a main dish. Taking that concept into today’s one course meals, sometimes pasta works best as a side to compliment your main dish. This lemon and capers pasta sauce recipe celebrates that idea.  

What is Lemon and Capers Pasta Sauce?

A lemon and capers pasta sauce is a light, tangy sauce that works well on linguini-style pastas.  

Our lemon caper pasta sauce is based on the pan sauce that sometimes accompanies chicken piccata. Chicken piccata isn’t even always served with pasta but when it is, the pan sauce is ladled onto the pasta rather than making a second sauce. 

Prepared lemon and capers pasta sauce recipe on a plate with squeezed lemons and garlic on the side

From that baseline, we use chicken broth to impart body, pasta water to give texture and replicate the starch that would have been in the pan sauce, and then lemon and capers are a 1:1 with a piccata.  

The Challenge with Lemon and Capers Pasta Sauce

Controlling the level of acidity is most important, since you do not want this to be lemonade. Both the lemon and the capers are bringing a lot of acidic brightness to the dish, so you’ll also be adding salt. Using the olive oil and broth will help counteract this. 

Finally, the addition of peppery herbs like Italian flat leaf parsley and the umami from the Parmesan will complete the flavor profile.

The other main challenge with the pasta sauce is that overall, it is a pretty thin sauce. From a visual standpoint, it might look like your pasta does not have much sauce coated on it. 

When I first started cooking, if something looked too thin, I would immediately want to find ways to thicken it up, because I thought that equated to the dish having more flavor. Even though it is thin, this sauce packs a punch when it comes to flavors.

Developing Flavors

Depending on your timeframe, you can concentrate extra flavor in by reducing more chicken broth, going up to a ½ cup or even a full cup. Cooking it down will bring extra body and flavor. 

The addition of white wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauv Blanc, or Chardonnay also go great into a sauce like this. Just make sure that if you are adding any liquids in you reduce them down until the sauce can coat the back of a spoon and stick.  

Person putting one serving of pasta on a bowl

Pairing Ideas

As a tangy light flavored side, we recommend pairing with white meats like chicken, pork, or fish. Avoid red meats and red wines with this one. 

Tools Required

To make this pasta sauce, use the following tools:

  • Large pot
  • Large skillet
  • Measuring cups
  • Mixing spoon
Prepared lemon and capers pasta sauce recipe on a plate with spoon and fork

Lemon and Capers Pasta Sauce

Yield: 4 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pound linguine
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (3.5 ounce) jar capers
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4th cup chicken broth
  • Parmesan cheese to taste
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons salt

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt liberally (about 1 - 2 tablespoons)
  2. Cook dried pasta according to pasta directions
  3. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water
  4. Drain pasta
  5. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  6. Cook garlic and capers in oil just until fragrant, about 30 seconds
  7. Add in lemon juice
  8. Add ¼ cup reserved pasta water and ¼ cup chicken broth
  9. Stir in pasta and toss to coat completely
  10. Add Parmesan cheese and parsley
  11. Serve 

Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. With inspirations like Alton Brown and Gordon Ramsey, Nathaniel focuses on simple processes to make amazing food.