I know you’ll remember that in late summer, Italy suffered a devastating earthquakes. And now, the quakes continue, with more heartbreaking devastation. As I read the news today, I remember that I wrote this post in September, but because harvest snuck up on us so quickly I never got around to publishing it. Unfortunately, the ancient villages and beautiful buildings of Italy are still suffering.
One of the towns that was most seriously damaged in the late August earthquakes was Amatrice, home of the world famous Spaghetti all’Amatriciana.
A few days later, I started reading about all of the fundraisers going on around the world to support the people of Italy. Many of them were spearheaded by restaurants and other food communities who were donating some part of the proceeds from pasta dishes sold. It occurred to me that we could have a Pasta Party and support the cause as well. Because my community in McMinnville is nothing if not a food community.
The next day we were hosting a lunch event in our Wine Bar. At it I was sitting with 3 women I know well, and one who was new to me. Her name is Bobbi. She is from Palm Springs and was spending some time in Oregon. I had just met her that morning and I knew right away I liked her. One of the things she said to me as we were chatting was “I’m at the age where I can do whatever I want.” And I said, “I can’t wait to be at that age too!”
During the course of the conversation over lunch, I brought up the subject of the fundraiser up and told the ladies that I wanted to try pull it together. Speaking somewhat hypothetically, we all started to brainstorm ideas about what an event like this might look like – where would you have it and how much would you charge, how many people and what would we serve? You get the idea. And then we went on to talk of a hundred other topics as lunch progressed.
At least an hour later, as she was getting ready to leave Bobbi approached me to say goodbye and took me completely by surprise when she handed me a check. For $500. She said “this is for your Italian fundraiser. I can’t be here, but I can donate. Tell the people there the event needs to match this.”
Of course I started crying and she started crying. When I grow up I want to be just like Bobbi.
So inspired was I by her generosity and her trust in me that I was highly motivated to move quickly. The first thing I did was call my friend Patty who had also expressed interest in doing this. I told her about Bobbi and she said “Okay, let’s do it.” We had to move quickly because the next weekend was Labor Day and we knew that wouldn’t work. There were a host of other reasons the following week was out too. That was Sunday afternoon, we settled on the following Wednesday. Three days.
Of course it sounded crazy, but not that crazy. Patty and I agreed we just have to do as much good in the world as we can, as fast as we can. Otherwise the whole thing is going to hell in a hand basket.
We called on a few more friends who all are good cooks and have some experience with pulling off events and we were off. We were shooting for 40 people. We thought we’d do it in my backyard. Everything would be very informal. Long tables from the winery covered in brown paper, two kinds of pasta (Amatriciana and Pesto Genovese – the latter Patty started making right away) a green salad. Courtney said she had a lead on beautiful heirloom tomatoes, so Tomato Basil Salad was added to the menu. Anne said she was in for biscotti and mini Panna Cotta and now we had dessert. We decided to charge $20 per person which would include dinner and one glass of wine. Additional glasses of wine available for purchase.
That evening I mentioned all this to a man I just met who was from Portland and he said “You can get 40 people together by Wednesday?!” And I said, “Oh yeah, in this community I’m pretty sure we can.”
The next day I put an announcement on Facebook. In 12 hours we had 60 people sign up. I love this town.
Everyone pitched in to pull it off – even my kids and some of their friends. All the time Bobbi was in the back of my mind.
We ended up having the event in our winery. 40 would have been a stretch for our backyard, 60+ was out of the question. Everyone came and ate pasta and had a good time, we even put a Mambo Italiano station on Pandora for background music. At the end of the evening just a few strands of spaghetti remained and we all raised our glasses to Bobbi, for inspiring us to not just talk, but actually do it.
The next day I sent off a check to the National Italian America Foundation for $2400. Not bad for three day’s work.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces guanciale or pancetta
- 2 medium white onions, diced
- 2 anchovy fillets from a tin, finely chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound dried spaghetti
- 1/2 cup chopped or torn fresh basil, plus more for garnish
- In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, cook the diced guanciale, stirring often until most of the fat is rendered and the pork is crispy. With a slotted spoon remove the pork to a separate dish and set it aside. Leave the rendered fat in the pan.
- Reduce the heat slightly and add the anchovy fillets to the pan. Stir frequently for a few minutes until the anchovy virtually disappears or melts into the oil. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauce for another minute or so. Ad the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and stir to incorporate. Add the tomatoes to the pan, scraping up any browned bits of meat or and onion that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the guanciale to the space and bring it all to a low simmer.
- Let the sauce simmer gently for about 40 minutes, until the flavors are well incorporated.
- Cook the pasta until al dente, according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of pasta cooking water. Add the cooked pasta to the pan with the sauce and, over low to medium heat, stir and toss the pasta to incorporate the sauce. Add the cheese and basil and toss to combine those. Then garnish with some more basil. Pass the extra cheese at the table for diners to add more as they choose.