This Italian TikToker Went Viral For “Gently Correcting” Emily Mariko’s Lemon Pasta Recipe, And After Trying It Myself, I’m Gonna Make It Weekly

·9 min read

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.

Emily eating pasta with a glass of red wine on the table
Emily Mariko / Via tiktok.com

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.)

Duolingo owl asking Emily or Frankie
Emily Mariko / Via tiktok.com

Others found the idea of lemons in pasta downright revolting. To each their own, I guess.

Comment: Get that lemon...OFF THAT PASTA!
Emily Mariko / Via tiktok.com

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.

Comments including "ngl the Italian German lady did it better" and "POV: you just came from the Italian lady's video"
Emily Mariko / Via tiktok.com

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."

Woman saying that the squeezed lemon put inside the pasta doesn't really make sense
Claudia / @mammaculinaria / Via tiktok.com

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.

Woman saying "You probably won't even see this Stitch, but who knows; I would be glad if you tried this version of lemon pasta!"
Claudia / @mammaculinaria / Via tiktok.com

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.)

Images of Claudia cooking with the caption "she first posted about her recipe over two years ago"

Regarding her Italian roots, Claudia also acknowledged that while both of her parents hail from Naples, Italy, she's never lived outside of Germany — though she certainly "feels at home" in Naples, since her "blood is Napoletana throughout."

Claudia / @mammaculinaria / Via Instagram: @https://www.instagram.com/mammaculinaria/?hl=en

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.

Scenic view of Positano, Italy

In her opinion, it went viral because of just how easy and quick it is to make — and to be perfectly honest, I think it might actually be the fastest pasta recipe I've ever personally cooked. For someone who makes pasta weekly, that's saying something.

Piola666 / Getty Images

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.)

A cutting board with ingredients: butter, fresh basil, garlic, crushed red pepper, lemons, and pasta

In addition to the ingredients above, you'll also need a few that you likely already have hanging around your kitchen or pantry: salt, black pepper, and some olive oil. It's worth noting that Claudia actually uses conventional basil and lemon basil, which I couldn't find at my grocery store, but feel free to use it if you can get your hands on it!

Since we're using a pound of pasta, this recipe will feed four hungry adults as a main course, and it can easily be stretched to serve more if you're supplementing with a salad or appetizer.

Ross Yoder

STEP 1: This step just so happens to be the most important one — zest and juice your lemons.

Claudia grating lemon in her TikTok

Wash your lemons well and use a microplane (or the smallest holes on a box grater) to zest each lemon, making sure to remove as little of the white, bitter pith as possible. Reserve the zest in a small bowl.

Ross Yoder / @mammaculinaria / Claudia / Via tiktok.com

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.

Visual of lemon being juiced on countertop
Ross Yoder / @mammaculinaria / Claudia / Via tiktok.com

STEP 2: Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil.

Ross Yoder

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.

Ingredients being added to the pan

Turn the heat to medium and stir everything together until the butter begins to bubble in the olive oil. At that point, let the mixture bubble for one minute only — just until everything is nicely fragrant.

Ross Yoder / @mammaculinaria / Claudia / Via tiktok.com

It should look a little something like this:

Ross Yoder

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.

Pasta in the pan with other ingredients
Ross Yoder / @mammaculinaria / Claudia / Via tiktok.com

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.

Pasta in pan with captions with arrows to "starchy bubbles" and "tender pasta"
Ross Yoder

STEP 5: Off the heat, toss in your whole basil leaves, reserved lemon zest, and lemon juice.

Lemon zest and basil leaves added to pasta in pan

The pasta will soak up more of that lemon juice than you realize, so add another ladle of pasta water to loosen things up if necessary. Toss it just until everything is nicely combined, since the angel hair pasta will be rather delicate.

Ross Yoder

That's it! Easy, right?

Pan of completed lemon pasta dish
Ross Yoder

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.

Arrows pointing to lemon in dish

Claudia tops hers with extra basil and lemon zest, plus a fresh twist of lemon, so I followed suit. FWIW, a nice grating of Parmesan cheese would also be lovely here, but you do you.

Ross Yoder / @mammaculinaria / Claudia / Via tiktok.com

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.

Ross Yoder

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.

Surprisingly, you're not hit over the head with that lemony flavor, either. It's certainly a major component, sure, but it doesn't overpower any of the other flavors.

The writer with a bowl of the angel hair pasta, with caption "TBH, it's the perfect amount of lemon" and arrow pointing to the pasta

You still get lots of peppery brightness from the crushed red pepper, a hit of umami from the addition of fresh garlic, and a pop of freshness from that barely wilted basil. For a 15-minute pasta dish, it's expertly balanced — and I completely understand why it's a weekly staple in Claudia's household.

Ross Yoder

Maybe Emily Mariko hasn't gotten around to trying this one yet, but in her defense, she's a busy lady. I'm sure she'll come around to it. For now, I'm officially adding my voice to the chorus of @mammaculinaria die-hards who just really, reallyyy want Miss Mariko to taste it for herself.

Ross Yoder's comment: Emily this looks UNBELIEVABLE — and also, you should absolutely try @mammaculinaria's different (but similar!) lemon pasta recipe; you would love"

(Emily, if you're reading this, you'll love it. I swear!)

Emily Mariko / Via tiktok.com

If you try out this recipe in your own home, let me know what you think in the comments.

To keep up with Claudia and her deliciously simple, home cook–friendly recipes, you can follow along via her German TikTok account or her English one, or check her out on Instagram and YouTube.