Caramelized lemon shines in this balanced vegetarian pasta

Caramelized Lemon Pasta With Mushrooms and Broccoli
Caramelized lemon adds umami flavor to this vegetarian pasta, packed with mushrooms and broccoli, finished with a grating of fresh parm. Prop styling by Kate Parisian.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Confession: I don’t love pasta.

The proportion of carbs to good-for-you ingredients is too high. But each new year, I resolve to cook and eat more pasta so I can join in the fun, and to do that, my kind of pasta needs to look a little different than most.

First, because of my fun little intolerance to lactose, there’s no dairy unless it’s Parmigiano or another similar hard, aged cheese. Second, it needs to be loaded with something green — say, spinach, broccoli or sugar snap peas — because the aforementioned good-for-you ingredients ratio needs to be brought up dramatically for me to feel good about eating it (use just-blanched fresh broccoli, if you like, but I like frozen because it cuts out that step). And lastly, it’s gotta have a lot of lemon because more acid is always the right answer.

Caramelized Lemon Pasta With Mushrooms and Broccoli
Deeply caramelized lemon pieces become sweet, sticky bombs of flavor to stir into pasta for added depth in lieu of meat or dairy. Prop styling by Kate Parisian.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

My favorite way to incorporate the lemon is zesting it, then chopping up the pith and flesh together and caramelizing them to bring out their sticky, mild bitterness. Removing the zest from the lemon before chopping it strips the pith of its protective coating, making it more porous and easy to cook into soft submission — a trick I learned from Evan Kleiman years ago.

With some caramelized mushrooms for savoriness and a pinch of chile flakes for heat, I find myself with a pasta dish that fits the bill for my particular tastes — a gateway pasta for the new year.

Caramelized Lemon Pasta With Mushrooms and Broccoli

45 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

This dish is easy to make vegan: just sub nutritional yeast in place for the parm.


  • 1 medium lemon
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound cremini, button or shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces penne, rigatoni or other short tubular pasta
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) frozen broccoli florets
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving


  1. Using a Microplane grater, remove the zest from the lemon over a bowl, leaving no patchy parts. Trim and discard the ends from the lemon then chop into rough ½-inch pieces, discarding any seeds.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it begins shimmering in the pan. Add the chopped lemon, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lemon is caramelized in spots and the pith is tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the lemon pieces to the bowl with the lemon zest and return the skillet to medium heat.
  3. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in the skillet then add the mushrooms and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are deep golden brown, 16 to 20 minutes. (At first the mushrooms will absorb all the oil and seem dry, but give them time and they will release a lot of moisture and once it evaporates, become deep golden.) Remove from the heat and reserve until ready to use.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 9 to 10 minutes, or according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
  5. Return the pot (without washing) to medium heat and add the broccoli and reserved pasta water. Add the mushrooms, reserved caramelized lemon and zest, and chile flakes, then add the cooked pasta last. Cover the pot and cook, stirring once halfway through, until the broccoli is just warmed through and all the cooking liquid is absorbed, 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Uncover and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, sprinkled with Parmesan on top, if you like.