Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili & Lime ✽ Dinner Fast!

All of us, no matter our stage in life, need some ideas for fast and easy dinners — you know, the kind of meals you can get on the table in less time than it takes for delivery. This Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili & Lime totally fits the bill! That may be why it’s consistently one of the most popular recipes on this site.

Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili Pepper & Lime | ©

Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili & Lime

This dish is a riff on the classic pasta with olive oil, garlic and red chili, with the addition of lime for an extra hit of flavour and flair. And of course it goes without saying that Parmesan cheese makes an appearance in all its salty, sharp cheesy glory. It’s an easy dinner that you’ll want in your repertoire for those times when you just want a homemade meal, but fast. Round it out with a fresh tossed salad, if you like, and you’ll feel especially virtuous.

I’ve been making pasta with garlic, red chili pepper and lime for about 20 years now. I don’t really remember the inspiration for it … it may have been something I saw on a cooking show, or perhaps a recipe in one of Donna Hay’s books. I just looked through mine and saw a pasta recipe with lime, but it wasn’t this dish. Certainly, I was making the classic spaghetti aglio et olio long before that.

Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili Pepper & Lime | ©

Fresh or Dried/Preserved … Your Choice

I usually use fresh chili pepper in this recipe, but in a pinch caused by a lack of either fresh peppers or time, I use dried red chili flakes instead. And although I used spaghetti the day I made this and took the photos, usually I use the much thinner capellini (angel hair pasta), which cooks in less than half the time. How’s that for an even faster dinner?

One thing I won’t sacrifice, though, is the use of fresh garlic. Only once have I bought a jar of preserved minced garlic, and it was nasty stuff indeed. Hey, if you have a brand that you really like, it’s totally your call as to whether you use it or not, but if you do, you’ll be missing out not only on that garlicky freshness, but the particular pleasure of smelling garlic on your fingers for a few hours.

The Finishing Touches

Through trial and error, I’ve learned it’s best to add the lime zest right at the end. If you sauté it with the garlic and chili pepper, it loses its brilliant colour. If you’d like an extra hit of lime flavour, just spritz some fresh juice over the pasta before you plate it and shower on the freshly grated parmesan. Go ahead and use pre-grated parm if that’s what you have, but grating parmesan reggiano yourself adds a touch of luxury to this simple and cheap meal.

Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili Pepper & Lime | ©
Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili & Lime
Use a thin pasta such as capellini, spaghettini or spaghetti for best results. While the pasta water is coming to a boil and the pasta is cooking, prepare the aromatic olive oil sauce to toss the pasta in. For even faster results, boil water in the kettle and use it to get a head start on getting the pasta water to a boil. Don’t forget to reserve a half cup or so of the pasta cooking water so you can add some to the sauce!
Category: Main Course
Keyword: pasta, quick dinner
Servings: 2 portions
Author: © Marlene Cornelis/Urban Cottage Life, 2017
  • about 500 g pasta
  • 1 or 2 tbsp salt for the pasta water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chili pepper (1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried red chili flakes)
  • freshly ground pepper (about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp, or to taste)
  • zest of one lime
  • spritz of fresh lime juice (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (a generous amount)
How To Make This Recipe
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. In the meantime, warm the olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Mince the garlic and red chili pepper, and add to the oil along with a good grinding of black pepper (you can be the judge of what “good” means, but I’d use at least 1/4 tsp). Turn the heat up slightly and stir the oil and aromatics mixture. The aim here is to infuse the flavour of the garlic and the chili into the oil, without letting either brown.
  2. When the pasta is cooked, remove a half cup of the cooking liquid and set aside. Drain the pasta, then add it to the skillet. Add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to help loosen and distribute the sauce, then sprinkle on the lime zest. If you want some extra lime flavour, squeeze on a spritz of juice from half of the lime. Toss and turn the pasta with tongs until it’s well coated with the oily sauce and the aromatics are well distributed.
  3. Plate the pasta, twisting with the tongs as you settle it on the plate to give it a little more height. Lavish a snowy grating of Parmesan cheese over top, and then tuck in to enjoy your quick and easy dinner.

Looking for More Pasta Dishes?

Pasta is a favourite dish on many tables, and these three recipes have been popular on mine. I may not be much of a mushroom farmer, but I’m good at pairing them with pasta, as this recipe for Fettuccine with Olive Oil and Mushrooms proves. Pasta with Potatoes, Cabbage and Cheese is a huge favourite with my family. And Mom’s Beef and Spaghetti Dinner may not be my usual style of cooking, but it takes me back to my growing-up years and what’s more delicious than that?

First published 2017 09 12
Updated 2019 09 07
Republished 2021 02 04


  1. This sounds like a great quick pasta dish and I’m definitely going to add the recipe to arsenal of pasta dishes. Unless I simply do not want to cook, I cannot justify having dinner delivered when I’ve always got the ingredients to make a quick pasta dish and, as you pointed out, in less time than it would take to have food delivered. Thanks for sharing!

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