When cooking for company, or doing overly elaborate things, I’ll usually keep a recipe close and follow 75% of it or so. It’s fun to see dishes turn out the way they’re supposed to, especially if they’re really difficult techniques or presentations.
However, to me, its a heck of a lot more fun to take a concept, and turn it into something of your own. One of our family’s favorite dishes is penne with sausage and saffron and we make it quite frequently. However, one random day I was watching Ina Garten cook up a storm on the Barefoot Contessa, and saw her create this sausage and fennel pasta, which seemed similar enough, yet different from our family staple. I made it once on its own by the recipe but quickly realized the dish would be better if I essentially combined the two ideas into one original.
I basically follow Ina’s recipe, but use hot sausage instead of sweet (gives it more of the red color that I was looking for) — and add a heavy pinch of saffron and a fair amount of thyme (from the sausage and saffron recipe), Here’s the result below, which has become one of my favorite personal creations.