My dear friend Patty thinks I make the best pasta on the planet. She has 7 brothers and sisters who agree. Even her mother agrees. Plus, I'm pretty sure she lobbies for me. "This is my friend Judi....she is the one who I told you makes the best pasta and meatballs...." These are Irish people. I know what that's like. I was raised in an Irish-Italian family. My dad is Irish. My mother was Italian. My dad's family didn't cook much. But they ate. My dear Irish grandma was a big woman. A rosey cheeked, merry-eyed, straight talking woman with a lovely Irish lilt in her voice. She thought the sun rose and set in her blue-eyed grandaughters. She would have preferred her son marry a good Irish girl. But, she settled for the Italian girl. She could cook. Grandma Carr loved to eat. Finally, she could be invited for Sunday dinner and actually enjoy the meal. Sitting at the table in front of a huge plate of pasta and meatballs with the promise of dessert. Basking in the glow of her beloved boy Frankie and surrounded by 3 grandchildren that didn't look one bit Italian. It was her little bit of heaven. So, I get it. Irish folks love Italian cooking.
Patty always asks me to cook for her family parties. Pasta and meatballs. I cook for all their big events. In the life of Irish Catholics---that consists of matching, hatching and dispatching. Translation--weddings, births and funerals. In between, there's communions, confirmations, anniversaries and graduations. So, a few times a year, Patty calls upon my expertise. This year, her son graduated from high school. It's a big deal. Patty throws herself into everyone of her children's milestones with the same gusto as she does everything. A big party. No, not just a big party--the best party ever. That's her thing. To do it up big. Make it memorable. Make it special. Pull out all the stops. Do it Patty style. Over the top. Outrageous. A few weeks ago, in the midst of her crazed planning, she confided in me that she didn't want to have the standard "fried chicken, pigs in a blanket, cold cuts and rigatoni". She said she's been to more than a dozen graduation parties this year and that's what's been on the menu. Determined not to host a party that resembles anyone else's, she's been laboring over her menu to make sure it not the standard Pittsburgh graduation party. When she first told me her goal, I figured my cooking skills would not be called into service. However, she informed me that there could not be a celebration in her family without my pasta and meatballs. "They would boycott..." she told me. So, once again--pasta and meatballs.
Like I said....Patty does everything big. This party is no exception. 200+ people. "And, your pasta and meatballs will be the star...." she told me the other morning as we chatted on our cell phones as I drove to work. Pasta and meatballs for 200+ people? How many pounds of pasta is that? How many meatballs will it take? When I was in my heyday of pasta eating, Carmen and I could easily polish of a pound of pasta in one sitting. Nowadays, I make 1.5 pounds if my son is coming for dinner. On holidays--I typically make 4-5 pounds. And, we don't have leftovers. As for the meatballs? Don't even go there. I used to be able to eat 5-6 meatballs even before we sat down to eat (just a little taste). I'll bet my family of 4 could go through 40 meatballs at one meal. So, using those scenarios as a yardstick--does this mean that I need to make 100 pounds of pasta (using the rational of one pound for every two people) and 1000 meatballs (conservatively 5 per person). The thought of that left me gasping for air this morning.
Being that I had to go the naughty nighty party on Saturday night, my father and I did not get to mass until 7:30 last evening. As we were driving home, I informed him that our mass schedule for next few weekends might get a little hairy since we are booked with parties. Plus, I explained, I'll be cooking for most of them. I mentioned that Saturday night was Patty's party. My dad likes Patty. She makes a huge fuss over him and she's Irish Catholic---that in itself gives her major bonus points with him. "We can't even go to 4:00 mass next Saturday because I'm cooking for Patty," I told him. "You're a good cook" he told me. My father appreciates good food. "There will be over 200 people there and I am making the pasta and meatballs. I'm not that good!" I told him. "I might be able to cook but I have lousy math skills. I can't figure out how much to make," I explained. "You better make alot!" he advised. "Yeah" I let out a big sigh. "Well, if your food wasn't so good then no one would want it!" he said, trying to make me feel better. All I could think about was 100 pounds of pasta boiling and 1000 meatballs frying and huge vats of sauce simmering on my stove. And, what about the cheese? You know, I love to smother pasta in lots of romano cheese. Will I need 50 pounds of freshly grated cheese?
As I head into a new week.....my panic is increasing. In less than 6 days I need to pull off my first major pasta and meatball gig. So, I'm trying to tell myself that my calculations are way out of proportion. It's not working. Even if that's so, I'm still left with wondering just how much I do need to make. How much pasta and meatballs do normal people eat?