As I sip the day’s first cup of tea from my little spot in the kitchen, I see the cake crumbs that I missed wiping off the table. Rows of wine glasses are drying on the mat next to the sink. The dish towels that should have done that job last night hang askew on the bar stools that doubled as dining room chairs in the absence of the ones getting a makeover at the upholsterer’s shop. The stove is spattered with grease and needs a good cleaning.
What was supposed to be a visit with friends at the neighborhood bar to toast to the new year turned into a dinner party. We had wine and small bites at Madera at Rosewood, a convenient spot for the group to meet as it’s close to where we all live. At around 8:30 we all realized we were still hungry and I found myself saying, “Why doesn’t everyone come over to our place.”
Did I really say that?
Yours truly breaks out in hives at the mention of dinner party. Maybe it was my second glass of viognier talking but we did end up taking the party back to our home. The only caveat: I had only one pound of cooked homemade pasta which wasn’t going to be enough for 7 people so we would have to improvise on the balance of the menu according to the contents of my refrigerator.
Now I can see how fortuitous it was to have shopped earlier in the day. With no set menu for the weekend I bought whatever caught my eye: A couple of pounds of fresh halibut, 2 large dungeness crabs, a couple of pounds of asparagus, tons of spinach and I can’t forget the vacuum-sealed guanciale that I was so excited to finally find earlier in the week–not just a small piece but an entire pork cheek! Oh, did I mention I happened to buy a case of wine, too?
Maybe something inside me had an inkling of the impromptu dinner party that would take place. I’m still convinced that the old me would never have extended an invitation for a party without planning for it at least two weeks ahead of time. Maybe it was something in the air brought on by the new year. Maybe instead of the invitation being induced by the wine, the better explanation is that we were simply having too much fun to allow the good time to stop at the bar. Somehow it didn’t even matter that we didn’t have dining room chairs–the bay window bench and the bar stools were enough. My friends didn’t mind standing around the kitchen counter as my husband cracked the crab, while the pasta reheated on the stove and while I prepared the salad dressing, all of us waiting for the halibut and the asparagus to come out of the oven.
Dare I say that this impromptu dinner for 7 at 9:30 pm was even more fun than any party I could have planned. Everyone pitched in, there was no stress and we all laughed the entire time. Then one of our friends proposed the second toast of the evening; it went something like this:
If the rest of the year brings more evenings like this then it’s going to be a great one. Cheers!
I had a hankering for homemade pasta so I made this spaghetti yesterday. It was meant to be a simple meal for two–only sun-dried tomatoes, guanciale and lots of garlic made up the sauce. Homemade pasta can almost stand on its own but the simple ingredients I added didn’t hurt either.
Don’t keep yourself from making this with store-bought spaghetti. I’ve done it before and it’s just as tasty. Top it with herbs (I used fresh basil), add greens to it (my friend added some asparagus while it reheated), add a splash of wine or chicken stock and finish with grated Parmesan cheese. The options are limitless.
- Heaping ⅓ cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, sliced
- A couple ounces guanciale (bacon or pancetta would work, too)
- A few tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- A handful fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving
- ¼ – ½ cup reserved pasta water or chicken stock
- 1 pound spaghetti, homemade or store-bought (homemade recipe here)
- Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Fresh pasta takes only a couple of minutes to cook so you can cook the same time as you start the sauce. If using store-bought, cook about 4-5 minutes ahead of time to finish around the time you finish the sauce. Reserve some of the pasta water.
- Heat up the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. I cooked the guanciale separately in a small skillet to make this vegetarian for my husband and just topped the plated dish with them but if this isn’t a consideration for you, cook the guanciale in the skillet, too. You can use the rendered fat along with the olive oil to cook the sauce. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook for a minute. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute, being careful not to let them burn. Season with a little salt and pepper, to taste. Add the pasta and fresh basil and toss in the sauce. If it looks too dry for you, add a bit of the reserved pasta water (or chicken stock) and/or olive oil and toss again. Plate and garnish with additional basil leaves and Parmesan cheese.