Lemon Fusilli with Arugula

My husband’s favorite food flavor is citrus. Desserts? He likes things with lemon, lime or orange rather than chocolate (weirdo). He’s the same way with savory foods. Before he became pescatarian two of his favorite dishes were chicken piccata and orange chicken. In short, if a dish is citrus forward, he’s there for it.

So for his birthday last week there was only one dish he wanted: Lemon Fusilli with Arugula. If you’re a citrus fiend like him, this dish is a must make.

Serving bowl of pasta

This is one of those dishes that is so simple to make, the fact that it tastes so delicious feels almost wrong.

When I think about it though, there’s a balance of flavors that makes this dish work so well. Brightness from the lemon complements the sharp parmesan and balances the creaminess of the milk in the sauce. The shape of the fusilli is great, holding sauce in its crooks and crevices. Finally, any potential heaviness in this sauce/pasta combination is lightened by the vegetables in the dish: fresh tomatoes and peppery but tender baby arugula.

Mince garlic cooking in pan

Start by mincing some garlic and then saute it briefly in olive oil.

Lemon zest accompanied by bowl of lemon juice, microplane and squeezed lemons

While the pan heats up and garlic sautes, zest and juice the lemons. I find a microplane the easiest way to zest, but a zester will get the job done too.

White sauce cooking in saute pan

After the garlic finishes sauteing, add the cream/milk, lemon zest and juice. Allow the ingredients to simmer away.

Pot of pasta cooking

While the sauce is simmering, cook up some fusilli.

Small bowl of grate parmesan with rind and squeezed lemons

As your sauce is simmering and your pasta cooking, grate some parmesan. Feel free to eat a slice or two for your troubles. Not that I ever do that . . .

Cut grape tomatoes with a bowl of arugula and squeezed lemons

Next halve some tomatoes and pull out some baby arugula. Or spinach if arugula’s not your thing.

Serving bowl of pasta

Once the sauce thickens add the parmesan and then everything gets tossed together. With that, you’re nearly done.

Top it with a few additional lemon slices and you’ve got a dish that looks as good as it tastes. Serve with some fresh Italian bread or a simple salad and you’ve got yourself a complete meal. Easy to make, tasty and pretty. What more could you ask for? Maybe a nice glass of white wine to drink with it. And a bowl of gelato for after? Now, I’m just getting greedy . . .

Plate of pasta with glass of wine

Lemon Fusilli with Arugula

  • Author: closeenoughcook
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 68 servings 1x
  • Category: vegetarian
  • Cuisine: Italian


This simple dish is a crowd pleaser that’s packed with flavor. Bright lemon combines with parmesan and milk to create a craveable sauce. When mixed with al dente pasta, fresh tomatoes and peppery arugula, you get a dish that’s even tastier than the sum of its parts. 

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home



1 lb dry fusilli

1.5 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 lemons

1.5 cups whole milk

.5 cups cream 

1 cup parmesan, grated (plus more for topping dish, optional)

2 pints grape tomatoes, halved

4 oz. baby arugula

salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Fill large pan with water and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat. 
  2. In large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. 
  3. Add minced garlic and cook for 30 second to a minute until fragrant.
  4. Zest and juice 3 three lemons. 
  5. Add milk, cream, lemon zest, and lemon juice to saute pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring sauce to a gentle boil then reduce to a simmer.  Allow sauce to simmer uncovered until it begins to thicken (approx. 12-15 minutes).
  6. Once the sauce begins to thicken, remove from heat and stir in grated parmesan.
  7. While sauce simmers, add fusilli to boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain fusilli once it is done cooking. Do not rinse pasta. 
  8. In a large serving bowl, add arugula, pasta and 2-3 slices of lemon from remaining lemon.  Pour hot sauce over top and mix.  Arugula will begin to wilt slightly.  
  9. After arugula beings to wilt, add grape tomato halves and mix again until tomatoes are fully incorporated.  Salt and pepper to taste, if needed.  Top with 3-4 more lemon slices. 
  10. If desired, top each serving with parmesan shavings. 

Keywords: vegetarian, pasta, italian

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