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Do you zip right past recipes with ‘vegan’ in the title? I usually do. The no-no list of a vegan diet is far too long for me: no eggs, no cheese, no butter, no honey – I really can’t imagine.

pasta dish served on a white plates

So I didn’t set out to make this a vegan pasta dish, and honestly didn’t even realize that it was until I finished writing the recipe. But it made me step down off my high horse and admit that a completely plant based meal could be as hearty and flavorful as one with cheese and butter.

There are a lot of flavors and textures going on here: peppery olive oil, buttery olives and pine nuts, fresh herbs, zesty lemon, salty capers and crunchy bread crumbs. Each bite is a little bit different: a chunk of olive here, a zing of parsley there.

pine nut gremolata in a glass bowl

I think the gremolata is my favorite part; it goes beyond the classic combination of parsley, garlic, and lemon zest. I’ll be topping everything with it this summer, from grilled vegetables and fish to salads and risotto. It’s that good.

Even if you share my tendency for shunning vegan recipes, I hope you’ll try this one. (And for a couple of other options, Pasta Aglio e Olio is also naturally vegan if you skip the cheese, and to make Lemon Garlic Pasta vegan, just skip the butter and replace with olive oil.)

Zesty Spaghetti with Olives and Pine Nut Gremolata

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Total: 27 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Calories: 665
Servings: 2 people
With all of the rich and zesty flavors going on in this pasta, you’d never guess that it’s vegan!


  • 5 ounce spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons raw pine nuts
  • 1 Meyer Lemon juice and zest separately
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
  • pinch crushed red pepper or more
  • 1 clove small garlic
  • 1 cup fresh basil packed
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped green olives I used a mix of Castelvetrano and Picholine


  • Cook spaghetti according to package directions. (Scoop out 1/4 cup of cooking water before draining.)
  • To make the pine nut gremolata: Add bread crumbs and pine nuts to a small, dry skillet over medium heat; cook and stir until both are lightly toasted. Transfer to a small bowl. Add lemon zest, parsley and crushed red pepper; stir to combine.
  • With a food processor running, add garlic clove, fresh basil and capers; process until finely chopped.
  • Scrape down sides. Again, with food processor running drizzle in olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • When pasta has finished cooking, drain, retaining 1/4 cup of cooking water. Return pasta and cooking water to pot; add basil mixture and stir vigorously until sauce has emulsified and completely coated pasta.
  • Divide pasta between two serving plates and top each equally with olives and pine nut gremolata. Serve.


Calories: 665kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 717mg | Potassium: 318mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 1111IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 84mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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  1. Anu-My Ginger Garlic Kitchen says:

    YUMMY and delish looking spaghetti! Loved the fact that this is vegan! Lovely share!

  2. Anne says:

    Hahaha I tend to avoid gluten free recipes. Their ingredient lists usually contain so many flours, can’t even imagine. Since I’m a baker, not a cooker (perks of being a teenager), vegan recipes aren’t that hard to make/come across. So, no… I don’t avoid vegan recipes though I’m not vegan myself!
    This looks absolutely amazing!!! Nobody can go wrong with this flavor combo! 😀

  3. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef says:

    My answer is yes. I rarely spend much time on vegan recipes because I find them too restrictive or require a huge amount of work for substitutes for cheese and other ingredients. I would love this dish. I would never declare any of my dishes vegan, even if they were. I’d be too worried I’d get it wrong and someone would roll his or her eyes at my stupidity. 🙂

  4. Helen @ Scrummy Lane says:

    Yup, could NOT be a vegan. BUT I could certainly eat a big plateful of this and not miss the meat, butter or cheese. The Italians are such geniuses. You can tell that when they invented these kinds of dishes they didn’t think at all that they wanted to make a vegan dish … they just ended up that way. I love that!
    Especially love the gremolata!