This Lemon-Butter Pasta Sauce Is So Good, I’ve Already Made It Twice in One Week

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Tortellini Piccata Recipe

With a buttery lemon-caper sauce, this weeknight pasta always wins.

Serves3 to 4

Prep5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook10 minutes to 20 minutes

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tortellini pasta with capers, parsley, and parmesan in skillet with wooden spoon

Credit: Kelli Foster

Dear Dinner Therapist: I’m single and still love to prepare restaurant-worthy meals for myself (can’t wait to try your anchovy butter chicken and potatoes!). I’m looking for simple fancy recipes that don’t require a lot of steps and can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Thanks! —Sheryl

Sheryl, I have the perfect weeknight-fancy recipe for you: one-pan tortellini piccata. 

If you like chicken piccata (or even salmon piccata) or lemony pasta, this will be right up your alley. Pairing store-bought tortellini (refrigerated or frozen!) with a buttery piccata sauce that’s bursting with punchy, lemony flavor and briny capers makes it feel extra-special. Better yet, the tortellini and sauce cook together in the same pot, so the pasta picks up extra flavor as the sauce works its way into all the nooks and folds of the tortellini, so you get plenty of sauce in every bite.

As for what makes this perfect for weeknights, this tortellini piccata checks all of your boxes.

  • It calls for fewer than 10 ingredients — none of which are fancy.
  • It comes together in a single skillet.
  • There’s minimal upfront prep, just four steps, and it takes between 20 and 30 minutes from start to finish.

Ingredients in Tortellini Piccata

  • Tortellini. The best tortellini for this recipe is refrigerated or frozen. I personally prefer refrigerated because the total cook time for the recipe is about five minutes shorter. That said, I’ve made this many times with frozen and they also work great. The recipe calls for 20 ounces, which happens to be the amount in most family- or value-size packages. 
  • Unsalted butter. Just like with any good piccata, melted butter is a key ingredient in the velvety sauce.
  • All-purpose flour. A couple of tablespoons get whisked into the melted butter to create a simple roux, which thickens the sauce just enough to give it some body.
  • Broth. Use vegetable or chicken broth — both work great. The tortellini cooks in the broth, which adds way more flavor than water, and it reduces down to create the sauce.
  • Lemon. You’ll use both the zest and juice from a large lemon to make a bright, punchy sauce. And to ensure the lemon flavor is front and center, wait to add this until the very end after the pan comes off the heat.
  • Capers. These are a hallmark of piccata. And just like with the lemon, because you want the briny flavor of the capers to shine, wait to add them until the end, after the pan comes off the heat.

If You’re Making Tortellini Piccata, a Few Tips

  • The tortellini won’t be fully submerged when cooking, and that’s OK. Unlike when you cook tortellini in a big pot of boiling water, it won’t be fully submerged here. There’s no need to add more broth to the skillet.
  • Stir, stir, stir. Do remember to stir the tortellini frequently — especially in the last half of cooking. This will prevent the tortellini from sticking together or to the pan, and also ensures even cooking.
  • Add more broth or water to reheat leftovers. Leftovers won’t be quite as saucy as when the tortellini is first cooked, but it will keep well for several days. Reheat leftovers over medium-low heat on the stove, and add a few splashes of broth or water to the pan to reconstitute some of the sauce.

With a buttery lemon-caper sauce, this weeknight pasta always wins.

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1

    large lemon

  • 1 small bunch

    fresh parsley

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 3 cups

    low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 20 ounces

    refrigerated or frozen cheese tortellini (do not thaw)

  • 3 tablespoons

    drained capers, rinsed if salt-packed

  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

  1. Mince 2 garlic cloves. Finely grate the zest from 1/2 large lemon (about 1/2 tablespoon), then juice the lemon (3 to 4 tablespoons). Pick the leaves from 1 small bunch fresh parsley and finely chop until you have 1/4 cup.

  2. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and stir into the butter to combine. Cook, stirring regularly to cook out the flour taste, for 1 minute.

  3. Gradually add 3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Add 20 ounces refrigerated or frozen cheese tortellini. It will be mostly, but not fully, submerged in the sauce. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent the tortellini from sticking, until tender and warmed through, 5 to 6 minutes for refrigerated tortellini or 8 to 11 minutes for frozen tortellini.

  4. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the lemon zest, juice, parsley, and 3 tablespoons drained capers. Stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Top with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat with a few splashes of water or broth.

Dinner Therapist is my column dedicated to solving your dilemmas around the most important — but, let’s be honest, sometimes most dreaded — meal of the day. Prepping dinner night after night can be so hard. Here, I deliver practical and hopefully fun advice to make cooking less complicated and more enjoyable. Follow along for all the recipes. Got your own dinner struggles? We want to hear from you! Fill out this super-quick form for your chance to be featured in an upcoming column.

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