In capable hands, classic recipes made with fresh, quality ingredients can be magic, but I’m here to tell you somebody’s bound to fuck up anything with everything.

You will find instances where classic recipes become caught in a backwater eddy and rot into poor, grotesque things far removed from former splendor, like a fading star of stage and screen who’s stuck reenacting a famous role in a cowtown. Many recipes fall subject to this farce for the same reason: their name is a draw. So you’ll find prima vera with frozen vegetables, for instance, or steak Diane with cannned cream of mushroom soup.

I worked in a restaurant where the house recipe for scampi consisted of garlic powder, a commercial oil product (Whirl), and the remnants of whatever open bottle of white wine the bartender had. That’s it. This concoction was poured over a dozen medium-sized shrimp arranged in a small circular metal dish and placed in a salamander.

More often than not, the results were dry and chewy. Had our customers been more sophisticated, no doubt they would have complained with vigor and frequency, but the very fact that they didn’t led to the recipe becoming entrenched on our menu and–what’s even more tragic–likely defining this trash as scampi for hundreds of people.

To make a good scampi, sauté the best shrimp available in a really good butter with a slash of olive oil, plenty of fresh, finely-minced garlic, a fruity white wine, salt and white pepper. Before serving, add a jolt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley. Some thicken the sauce with starch,  add scallions, or even chopped drained tomatoes, but I don’t. Scampi can be served as an appetizer with bread or over pasta as an entree.

Seafood Stuffing

Deep-fried stuffed crab shells were once a staple side in fish shacks throughout the lower South. You’ll  still find frozen stuffed shells as well as 1-quart bags of stuffing in markets all across the region. With more crab meat (or shrimp), brushed with butter and baked, this recipe works as a stand-alone buffet dish. It also makes great hush puppies. Beautifully.

Combine two cups crumbled stale cornbread with a cup of coarse bread crumbs and a half cup grated Parmesan. Set aside. Dice a white onion and enough celery to make 2 cups. Sauté in a stick of butter with a clove of minced garlic until soft. Add to crumbs with a slosh of white wine.

Mix thoroughly with a pound of clean lump crab meat. I throw in a few minced cooked shrimp for color. Stir in two or three tablespoons of Creole mustard, and a bit more melted butter to firm it up. Pepper and salt to fit you. Add fresh chopped parsley and lemon juice before cooking. Roll in bread crumbs before if frying.

Shrimp and Beans

You’ll find dishes with beans and seafood across the globe, and while this recipe is usually styled “Creole” a very similar Italian recipe uses diced tomatoes. You can use tomatoes in this as well, simply add them with the shrimp.

Put a pound of dried white beans (Navy, northern, or baby limas) in a heavy saucepan, add three cups of water, cover, bring to a boil, and place in a 300 oven for about two hours, until cooked through A bay leaf or two is a nice touch. Sauté a large white onion, a cup of diced celery, and a diced ripe sweet pepper with a couple of minced cloves of garlic in olive oil. When the vegetables are soft, add a pound of peeled, medium-count shrimp and cook over medium heat until firm. Combine the shrimp and vegetables with the beans. Add the diced tomatoes, if you like. Season with dried basil and thyme, ground black pepper, chopped fresh parsley, and salt to taste. You can make this as soupy as you like by adding weak stock. Some people add diced smoked sausage or ham, and the dish is usually served over rice.

Shrimp with Spinach Pesto

Cook the shrimp separately from the sauce and pasta; this offers an opportunity to give the shrimp a more distinct–in my case, more piquant–flavor to offset the olive and basil. Spinach gives the sauce heft and balance. Rotini carries it well; risotto is nice, too.