Once in a while, I make a recipe that completely fails.
Often I can blame this on my tendency to "wing it"—a trait inherited from my grandmother, who never made a recipe with the ingredients called for.
Under her tutelage, I learned how to substitute for everything from buttermilk (use yogurt or milk with a little lemon juice) to eggs (applesauce with a little baking soda).
Most of the time this works—but when it doesn't, the failures are spectacular. I have had cupcakes literally explode on me. I don't know what I've been doing wrong, but attempts to make various versions of a deeply rich Guinness-infused gingerbread have also gone awry in pretty incredible ways.
Other times, I have to place the blame squarely on the recipe. Proportions can go wrong if someone is not proofreading carefully, cooking times might be only slightly based in reality and flavors, for whatever reason, may just not come together.
A pasta recipe I was excited about a few weeks ago had this very problem. The recipe was for a penne with a creamy sauce made of butter, ricotta cheese and lemon zest topped with fresh herbs. It sounded incredible, a perfect light, vegetarian meal infused with zingy freshness from the herbs and lemon.
It fell flat. The sauce tasted as bland as the pasta—and despite a hefty dosage of salt, pepper, parsley, sage and rosemary, in addition to another splash of lemon juice that wasn't called for, the dish had absolutely no pep, no lightness.
The sauce that could have been so light and creamy was heavy and dense, with a deep lack of flavor that couldn't be salvaged by all the salt and garlic powder in the world. Maybe it needed more lemon juice or better ricotta cheese, but whatever the cause, it was inedible.
I don't remember what we ended up doing for dinner instead that night, but I suspect it involved saltines and peanut butter. These things happen—sometimes, recipes will fail, and if the worst that happens is that you have peanut butter and jelly for dinner, count yourself lucky and chalk it up to experience.
Here's a recipe for the kind of pasta I expected to get out of the aforementioned recipe. While there's no cream or cheese, the olive oil and lemon juice give the dish that rich, yet light flavor that I was looking for, and the parsley provides the herb-accented freshness.
It's the perfect summer pasta—and if it doesn't work out for you, remember that having peanut butter for dinner isn't a tragedy.
Adapted from the food blog with Style and Grace
3/4 lb. spaghetti
4-5 garlic cloves, smashed to smithereens
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and return to pan. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter. Add garlic and cook until tender and fragrant—but not brown (about a minute). Pour olive oil, butter and garlic over the pasta and toss with parsley, lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Serves 4.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org