Part of being a good cook is being able to cook in any kitchen, under any circumstances, and produce good results. Unfortunately, that means that I’m not a good cook, because I seriously lack chemistry with my parents’ kitchen. I can’t get along with their oven or their stove, which they replaced only a few years ago, and I didn’t get along well with their predecessors either. You know that chocolate pudding cake, the one that’s so good that my mom made me make a second one because the one I brought her was two-thirds finished? Well, the part of that story that I left out is that I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the results. For some reason I cannot fathom, the pudding and cake layers didn’t invert. The cake stayed on the bottom, and the pudding stayed on top. I consider this a far less desirable result. But at least it had a pudding layer, because the first time I tried to make one in their kitchen it baked through all the way, leaving me with a totally boring chocolate cake.
I wish I could say that those two chocolate pudding cakes were unique, but they weren’t. I’ve had other uninspiring results in that kitchen, too. One might say that we have a history. My trusty blackberry wheat scones had a bitter off taste when baked there, and they were just fine – better, really – when baked in my parents’ other kitchen, in California. This is not to say that I’ve never had success in their kitchen – the upside-down skillet cake came out brilliantly, as did the brussels sprouts chips and buffalo chicken meatballs – but it wasn’t a one-time thing, either. My popovers refused to come out of their pan, so I had to serve everyone bottomless popovers that were, thankfully, tasty nonetheless. And then there was this pasta dish.
Although some of the epicurious reviews claim otherwise, I’ve never had anything but spectacular results with this dish when I made it in my home kitchen. It’s bursting with complementary flavors and textures, from the smoky and spicy chorizo, to the crunch of the toasted almonds, to the freshness of the parsley, and the deeply aromatic saffron-infused wine. I love this stuff. The only problem I have is that when I break the angel hair up, tiny pieces tend to fly all over my kitchen, and that really isn’t a significant complaint. It makes great leftovers, too.
But when I made this recipe in my parents’ kitchen, for some reason it was just… blah. The proportions seemed weirdly off, like there was much more pasta than anything else. The flavors were totally boring. Needless to say, my parents weren’t too impressed, which upset me because I’d been talking the meal up to them. Kind of like the unexceptional pudding-less pudding cake. After recounting all of these failures, you’d probably think that my parents wince every time I announce that I’m making something and mentally prepare themselves to call for pizza, but fortunately for me they’ve been very obligingly forgetful about my failures and extremely complimentary about my successes. Definitely a good quality in parents, don’t you think?
But of all the times I’ve made this dish – and it has to be more than a dozen times by now – only that one time did I struggle with it. Every other time, it’s been spectacular. And it’s taught me a valuable lesson – if something doesn’t turn out as well as you hoped, blame it on the kitchen.