Thursday, April 14, 2011

On How Sometimes "Winging It" Doesn't Fly

I'd like to share an important lesson with you. You should wing it. You shouldn't be afraid of cooking, of trying new things, of thinking you know better than the recipe. Most of the time, you will be rewarded with a delicious meal.

And sometimes, you will not.

For instance, I thought this recipe from Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food" magazine looked wonderful: Fusili with Spinach and Walnut Pesto. Doesn't it sound nice? Couldn't it be a breath of the spring we're so eagerly awaiting?

But rather than the fresh spinach the recipe called for, I had frozen. Why not? And to make it more interesting, I sauteed it just a little in bacon fat. I didn't have a fresh lemon either, so lemon pepper would probably work. And I added a big fat clove of garlic. Why would Martha not include garlic in this sort of pesto?

Gee, I'm pretty sure I toasted the walnuts enough. Did Alton Brown say to toast until you start to smell a nutty aroma or did he say when you smelled the nutty aroma then you'd gone too far and burned them? Oh, I'm sure it will be fine. And I didn't have any pecorino cheese to shave so I grated some Parmesan into the pesto.

Doesn't that look great? Mix into the hot rotini (no, I didn't have fusili, but this should be fine).

Beautiful! And now for a taste...


The walnuts weren't toasted enough, the spinach was really raw-tasting, the Parmesan didn't work, the bacon flavor was non-existant and the garlic...oh my, the garlic was way too overpowering. One of the fundamental facets of pesto is that it isn't cooked. So my barely toasted garlic clove, barely sauteed spinach and barely toasted walnuts just became this big, raw, green, bitter awful pasta sauce. The only way to choke it down was with tons of salt and enough pepper to make it burn. Awful.

But don't let one AWFUL winging it experience turn you off entirely. There is always hope! Pasta is cheap and now I will forever remember that anything going into a pesto needs to be ready to enjoy (read: cooked, if needed). And since this really was my first foray into pesto, I'm giving myself a pass, just like you should if you wing it on a dish and things don't turn out perfectly. Now you know more than you did and your next culinary experiment will be that much better for it.

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