A couple of weeks ago I was on a Meyer lemon kick and every recipe that contained even regular lemons got pulled out of my recipe binder to be examined. I saw one from Cooking Light that caught my eye, this Baked Pasta with Spinach, Lemon and Cheese, but when I read the reviews online, everyone seemed to hate it. There were complaints about how long it took to make, coupled with numerous comments about how bland it was. This was by far my favorite comment because you really got a feel for how bitter this person was after making a dinner that sucked: “We just had the ritual burning of the recipe. Now we’re making sandwiches so we’re not hungry the rest of the night.”
Now since I’ve had years of experience cooking professionally, I have to admit my first thought was to blame the cooks and not the recipe. If you keep tasting while you cook, you should end up with something fairly decent. I have also learned to add copious amounts of salt, as well as extra cheese, to Cooking Light recipes to avoid working hard at a meal just to find it severely lacking in flavor when you sit down to eat it.
So I thought, screw it, I’m a good enough cook to make this pasta dish and have it turn out fabulous. Oh, I was so wrong…I did everything from upping the garlic and lemon tremendously to even making a little more bechamel so the final dish was creamier. Nope. It sucked. The flavor was terribly bland — it was only after squeezing two lemons over the pasta that I found it palatable. The main problem was the spinach. It turned into a gross mush. Ugh. I can’t even express my sadness over this dinner, but I will tell you my lesson in humility was also a lesson in perseverance.
Since I was still craving pasta with lemon I decided to take Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Baked Lemon Pasta out for a spin. I started with fresh pasta which I was a little nervous about, but the chive linguini I had in my fridge coupled with sour cream and lemon sounded too good to pass up. Optimistically I pushed the thought of the failure from the night before out of my head and got started.
As you can see I added a few things, just because I like a little onion action in my pasta. And I will confess to using a light sour cream — it’s a bad habit of mine. At least I don’t try to use non-fat, the light is as low cal as I go. Since my pasta was fresh I just gave it quick dunk in boiling salted water before mixing it with the sour cream and I have to say, things were looking promising.
Then I followed Ree’s instructions, adding my minced green onions and shallot to the garlic, cooking it until it was fragrant. Then I mixed the pasta into the pot and added in the lemon zest.
Then the pasta was put in a dish, covered with foil and baked for about 15 minutes. While it was in the oven, I seared up some chicken breasts to go along with it. I already felt guilty for eating a dinner with no veggies, so the least I could do was add in some lean protein.
Once the pasta was done, I must say it smelled pretty amazing. And it looked a million times better than my previous attempt.
I sliced up the chicken breasts then drenched the pasta in fresh lemon juice and shaved Parmesan and sprinkled everything with Italian parsley.
It was perfect! The pasta was creamy, but the lemon made it fresh tasting and almost light. And baking it brings that irresistible crunch that makes it addictive. It’s an excellent spring time meal, though maybe you can be a better person and at least steam up some asparagus to go with it. As for me, this carb-loaded dinner was divine and wiped away any lingering remorse from the evening prior.