There’s something undeniably romantic about making pasta for someone you love. Maybe it’s because I’m always trying to feel like I’m eating dinner at a cute, candlelit Italian restaurant; maybe I just really like carbs. It’s hard to say for sure. But I know one thing for certain: The single most romantic pasta dish on Earth is spaghetti al limone, and you should make it for your Valentine.
You don’t have to take my word for it. As chef, cookbook author, and noted pervert Matty Matheson said in his Hot Ones episode, light and delicate is always the move when trying to impress a date:
[The best dish to impress a lady is] something light, just like a lemon and ricotta spaghetti. If you can do something kinda delicate, and do it well, she’s eating it, and she feels light, she feels good, she feels full—maybe you guys can, like, 69, or hang out, watch a movie, watch Stranger Things, whatever you wanna do.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, king!
Ladies aren’t the only people who can appreciate a light, delicate pasta dish; regardless of your Valentine’s gender, a well-executed spaghetti al limone will knock their socks clean off. It’s every bit as luscious and romantic as a heavier, cheesier, porkier pasta, but more importantly, it’s almost impossible to fuck up. Most recipes call for at least a little heavy cream, which not only gives the fragrant flavor compounds in lemon zest plenty of fat to dissolve into, but also makes emulsifying the sauce a total snap. With a carbonara, you can accidentally scramble the yolks; with cacio e pepe, the cheese can clump up or fail to dissolve properly. But with spaghetti al limone, the cream does all the work for you.
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There are probably millions of recipes for this dish on the Internet, and skimming just a few of them should give you another reason to love spaghetti al limone: You can find the ingredients at any grocery store, or if you already have lemons and parm, you can even swing by the bodega on the way home. All you need is a long pasta (spaghetti is classic; bucatini is elite), butter, heavy cream (I’m happy to report that half-and-half works in a pinch), a lemon or two, and, optionally, a hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. The technique is also beginner-friendly: Gently simmer lemon zest with cream, whisk in butter, add cooked pasta and some pasta water, toss toss toss, add the cheese, toss again, and finish with reserved lemon juice. Voilà. My go-to recipe is Molly Baz’s from Bon Appétit, but Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen also has an excellent, foolproof, heavy cream-free version that I can personally vouch for.
I personally think spaghetti al limone is flawless as-is, but if it seems just a little too basic for a special occasion, you can ratchet up the impressiveness factor with store-bought or homemade fresh pasta. (A light, simple sauce like this one works well with fresh pasta because it enhances the delicate texture and flavor of the pasta itself, so you and your date can actually appreciate it.) Serve with something bubbly and brut-y and a nice green salad and you’ve got an impressive, romantic meal that won’t leave you too stuffed for dessert—and whatever else you have planned for the evening.