If you've ever so much as scrolled through TikTok, even just once, you know Emily Mariko. The food and lifestyle influencer is always cooking up something delicious-looking in her immaculate, shiny kitchen, whether it's her mega-viral salmon bowls or a freshly baked dish of homemade mac 'n' cheese. One of her latest dishes to go viral was her version of spaghetti al limone, a popular pasta dish made with zingy lemons and lots of cheese. And naturally, people had a bone to pick with her. Or several.
Some criticized her for allegedly "copying" the recipe of chef Frank Prisinzano, owner of Lil' Frankie's in New York City, without credit. (Even the Duolingo owl had something to say.)
Others found the idea of lemons in pasta downright revolting. To each their own, I guess.
But as I sifted through the comments of TikTokers caring way too much about a 29-year-old home cook making a simple dinner in her own kitchen, I saw a lot of comments like these — and of course, I had to investigate.
It only took a few clicks before I found myself watching a Stitch of Emily's spaghetti al limone video uploaded by @mammaculinaria, who goes by "Claudia." In her video, she addresses Emily directly with a bubbly "Hey, girl," then prefaces the rest of the video with "Please don't take this personally, and there's no hate at all in this video."
She goes on to say that after watching Emily's "lemon pasta" video, she wanted to "show her a better version," in hopes that she'd somehow see the video and try it herself. There's not an ounce of condescension in her voice, either — just one passionate home cook sharing a beloved recipe with another.
At the time this post was published, Claudia's video had garnered close to 20 million views. While I don't believe Emily has tried it for herself yet, I can confirm that hundreds of thousands of other TikTokers have. So naturally, I knew I had to reach out to Claudia directly to get to the bottom of what makes this recipe so wildly delicious, and then try it in my own kitchen.
"My followers knew my lemon pasta long before it was a trend on TikTok," Claudia told BuzzFeed, "and a lot of them tagged me in Emily's video asking me if I would show her how to make it. I didn't want to seem like that typical Italian who wants to judge how pasta is made, so I tried my best to let her know I come in peace." (From my POV, it worked.)
Her lemon pasta recipe was actually born in Positano, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, where, as she describes it, "the lemons are like sweet gold." The recipe has evolved, through trial and error, to the point where she makes it at least once a week for her family.
To make Claudia's viral lemon pasta, the ingredients couldn't be simpler. Some people might even say they're shockingly simple! (I'm "some people," for the record.)
STEP 1: This step just so happens to be the most important one — zest and juice your lemons.
Then juice 'em! You'll ultimately want about ¼ cup of lemon juice when you're done, so depending on how juicy your lemons are, you might need only two of the three.
STEP 2: Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil.
I love this part of the recipe: You won't actually boil the pasta in this water. Rather, you'll use a ladle to spoon boiling water over the angel hair pasta in a skillet, a little bit at a time. Think of it like a risotto. Adding the water a ladleful at a time will create a luscious, creamy sauce — and it won't overcook the pasta, either, since angel hair is notoriously easy to turn into mush.
STEP 3: In a large skillet, combine your sliced garlic, crushed red pepper, butter (or, as Claudia calls it, "love"), and just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet.
It should look a little something like this:
A note on red pepper: If your spice tolerance is low, I'd recommend reducing the amount of crushed red pepper to ¼ teaspoon or even ⅛ teaspoon. As a spicy-food lover, I found it had the perfect amount to pack a subtle kick without being spicy, so to speak, but listen to your own gut and measure accordingly.
STEP 4: Add your pasta to the oil mixture along with two ladlefuls of your salted pasta water, and continuously shake the skillet to combine everything.
The rocking of the skillet back and forth on your stove, as Claudia demonstrates in her video, helps the pasta to combine with the starchy pasta water. However, if your pasta needs a little more coaxing to soak up all that saucy goodness, feel free to toss gently with tongs.
@mammaculinaria / Claudia / Via tiktok.com
Continue adding the salted water to the pasta by the ladleful, adding more only once the previous addition starts to look dry. Cook the pasta, tossing frequently, only until it's just shy of al dente — since angel hair cooks rather quickly, it should only take about five to six minutes, tops.
Your pasta is done cooking when it looks something like this: Each strand of angel hair will be tender (but not flimsy!), and the sauce will look glossy and starchy as it bubbles.
STEP 5: Off the heat, toss in your whole basil leaves, reserved lemon zest, and lemon juice.
That's it! Easy, right?
To serve Claudia's lemon pasta, twirl the angel hair with your tongs and nestle each serving onto a plate. Alternatively, you can literally just pile pasta onto plates without worrying about presentation. You're just gonna eat it, anyway.
THE VERDICT: For a dish that only requires 15 minutes of work, I was absolutely blown away. Hell, even if it took an hour to make, I'd be equally impressed.
If the amount of lemon in this recipe seems daunting, I'd implore you to try it anyway. Angel hair pasta offers a lot more surface area than a conventional spaghetti would, which means it holds up to (and requires) a lot more sauce. So while a ¼ cup of lemon juice and the zest of three lemons does seem like a lot of lemon, it's really the perfect amount for this recipe.
Admittedly, I'm also not the biggest fan of angel hair pasta. There, I said it. But you know what? I'm absolutely obsessed with it in this recipe. The method of slowly adding hot water to cook the pasta in its own sauce works perfectly here, and IMO, it's the secret to making sure you don't end up with angel hair mush.