Delegating dinner with pasta carbonara

Rosalie’s pasta carbonara. (Rosalie Harrignton)

“You’re good at delegating,” I was told as I left the cooking demonstration/dinner party that I co-hosted at the home of Gloucester friends on Saturday evening.  It’s something I learned in the restaurant business, but delegating well is vital at home, too, when you are responsible for creating a delicious dinner with a half dozen children and as many adults helping and learning. Kids should be taken seriously  in the kitchen — it’s a great way for them to learn to contribute to the household while learning skills that have value throughout life.

My assignment was simple: A cooking class for Jessica’s three teenage kids and two of their friends, ages 10 to 13.  She did the food shopping, thankfully, and I brought my little Oskar (a food processor with about a 10 ounce bowl) and some written recipes and food rules and an apron.  The day of the event I got an email saying that the event had grown a bit, and there would be 16 for dinner. But who doesn’t love a challenge?

On the way up to Paul and Jessica’s I had a flashback.  When I was the Food Editor on the LOOK show (the daily magazine show that Channel 7 in Boston ran in 1983) the producers came up with an interesting challenge.  “You get a call on a Sunday morning that six friends are in the area and they want to come by and visit with you. Nothing fancy is expected, but your cooking reputation precedes you!”  

The remote camera crew followed as I made my way to the nearest convenience store in Swampscott, a few miles from my house in Marblehead.  I had an hour to shop and cook.  Pasta Carbonara, a bacon and egg dish that everyone loved at my restaurant, perfect for a Sunday morning popped into my head automatically — it was a no brainer. Even a convenience store would have the necessary ingredients.  

As I grabbed the eggs and a pound of bacon and a box of Prince spaghetti (this was way before the good stuff like Barilla), I called my then husband and told him to “Put the pasta pot on to boil.” I arrived home to a boiling pot of water and began cooking the bacon.  In a few minutes the spaghetti would be dropped and my oven to table platter would be placed over the pasta pot to warm it, essential for this dish.  

I separated five eggs and into the bowl of yolks I added a quarter cup of grated Parmesan — which I always have in the fridge — and whisked the mixture for a minute. I poured this onto the heated platter and quickly tossed the drained spaghetti over the mix and crumbled the half pound of crisped bacon into the mix with two forks. As I was sprinkling a little more cheese on top my “guests” arrived with a chilled bottle of white wine. Perfect!  The camera crew, the actors and me and my family enjoyed the “shoot.” Elapsed time from shopping to cooking to eating? One hour.

This made for a great television segment. Even good home cooks can feel frantic when forced to put meals together spontaneously. So we did more of these “challenges,” such as, “You are using a friend’s beach house and the only food available is whatever you find in the freezer — cook a meal!”

On Saturday night, I faced a somewhat similar challenge, although the menu was pre-planned and my shopping list had been bought. Still, I wondered if it would have the kitchen equipment I would need and what sort of staples were stocked and if the items selected in the store would be exactly what I was expecting. Jessica’s daughter, Amanda, wanted a chicken dish and so I thought a good one would be a “stir fry,” which all kids like.  But what about the few adults?  Turns out the few turned into 11 and so I was happy that I had, at my husband’s suggestion, brought some of my fresh marinara sauce from my freezer.  “You need to make one of your classic Rosalie dishes like the bolognese sauce you made last night — stir fry is good but it’s not you,” Todd reminded me. We made a quick stop to Market Basket and he ran in and picked up three pounds of ground meat, pork, veal and beef, the “Meatloaf” package and a few pounds of Barilla ziti.

Lucky for me, I knew some of the kids who were invited on Saturday, the grandchildren of old friends who have had cooking classes at their home on Eastern Point, also in Gloucester.  Years ago, this friend, Cathy, and her grandson and I made a birthday cake together. He was about seven at the time (he’s 13 now) and was already showing culinary promise.  He is now about 6 feet tall, handsome and on Saturday night seemed eager to be reunited with me in the kitchen.  I immediately assigned him the “sous chef” position.  He chopped and sautéed for an hour as others washed and picked over produce. And there was tons of produce, perfect for stir, fry from the H Mart Asian superstore in Burlington.  

Two other young people, meanwhile, worked on making a fruit basket using a watermelon.  Small balls made with a small ice cream scooper quickly made their way into a large bowl of cut up fruit.  The excess watermelon made its way into my Oskar food processor with mint, honey and chilled vodka for Watermelon Martinis.  A line of adults quickly collected, ready to be part of the make-your-own watermelon martini line.  The cut up fruit of mangoes, peaches, nectarines, grapes, and coconut tossed with honey went back into the now empty watermelon, a perfect basket.

Two of the ladies, feeling very happy after their seasonal and delicious beverage, sauteed the ground meat in a little olive oil until brown and then I added my Marinara sauce and let that simmer with some fresh thyme and rosemary I brought from home, compliments of my neighbor who is nice enough to allow me to pick my own from her garden.  She also planted a special yellow grape tomato plant for me in her garden because she knows that they are easier on my bladder because of their low acidity.  Love her!

Everyone was interested, kids and grownups, in watching me make pie dough in the food processor.  It really is kind of magical.  A team of ladies peeled the apples which I had gotten at a table marked “free apples and pears” in Manchester.  When the upside down apple tart –the “Tarte Tatin — gets turned over right out of the oven there are always oohs and ash.  My husband Todd said he heard them from the porch where the men had gathered like some men usually do, to avoid being put to work. He is excluded, usually, from that group.  Politics is more interesting than food prep I guess, but they were first in line when the host yelled “Come and Get It!”


This recipe will serve four to six, depending on your appetites.  

In a large stock pot, heat the water for at least a pound of spaghetti.  In the meantime cook a pound of bacon and drain on paper towels, browning nicely but not burning it.  

Separate six eggs, reserving the whites for another time.  Beat the yolks with a quarter cup of grated Pecorino Romano, six tablespoons each of chopped flat leaf parsley and basil (fresh, of course.) Add a half cup of heavy cream and whisk well.  Set aside.

Turn up the heat on the pasta pot and add a tbsp. of salt.  When the water comes to a rolling boil add the pasta, stirring for a minute.  Do not add oil to the pan.  Cook the pasta until al dente, firm to the bite.  

While the pasta is cooking, crumble the bacon.  

Place an oven to table platter in a 275 oven to heat it or you can place the platter over the pasta pot for a quick warm up, too.  The platter must be warmed up so it is ready to go when the pasta is cooked.

Quickly drain the pasta and while it is draining place the egg yolk mixture on the warmed platter.  Toss the pasta with the crumbled bacon and incorporate the yolk mix into it.  Sprinkle with a little more cheese and serve ASAP.  This must all happen quickly so your completed pasta will be warm to eat.

This time of the year it is nice to serve slice fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil dribbles with olive oil with this dish.      

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