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On Being Flexible, and Last-Minute Pasta

Tuesday night was one of those nights when you’re glad you are the kind of person who errs on the side of too much. I expected 5 for dinner, and that extended to an extra for drinks only plus two more at the very last minute for the meal itself (so doing that math that’s … seven people to cram around my table). I’d baked a lemon cake, to be served with fruit, whipped cream and leftover strawberry-rhubarb compote in generous portions and there was sure to be lots of dessert to share, but I was slightly concerned I wouldn’t have enough red sauce to stretch to cover the additional diners.

So I made two pounds of pasta, added a bit more lettuce to the salad, and after cooking the linguine tossed as much of it as I could with the homemade marinara I’d made earlier that afternoon. I reserved a little of the pasta water and poured the rest of the noodles into a medium bowl. Then I added

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
a few tablespoons of the pasta water
lots of salt and pepper

and stirred it all around and around until the butter and cheese melted into the pasta and the bit of water bound it all together in a creamy, salty, utterly delicious sauce. I added some more black pepper just before serving and voila: enough food to amply feed everyone crowded into my small dining room.

Perhaps this isn’t the healthiest way to prepare pasta but it sure tastes good. Anyway, I had made a big arugula and greens salad full of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, and scallions that more than made up for it. Along with a bowl of shrimp sauteed in butter and wine and a loaf of freshly baked no-knead bread my simple meal seemed to heartily satisfy all those present. And I was reminded again of my erstwhile impromptu dinner party days in Washington when I invited all and sundry to Sunday afternoon dinners. If a few extra guests showed up unexpectedly I’d add more water to the soup pot and make another batch of the white sangria we adored on those hot summer days. A key to being a decent cook, I think, going beyond using good ingredients, is being flexible and able to think quickly.

The other night served as a good reminder.

This weekend I have a birthday breakfast (and dinner!) on my cooking agenda (cake, too), a baseball game, some furniture shopping, some mental preparation for the packing that is to come in the next few weeks. Wishing you long days of sun and wind and good meals around whatever table you choose.

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