Feast without Frenzy: Put People to Work

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For whatever reason, I often feel like I have to do everything myself when guests gather—plan, cook, serve, clean (alright, I admit, Christopher does that). But the truth is, involving others in the meal makes them feel  more welcome, more at home. Here are five strategies for putting people to work during the holidays in a way that will bring cheer to all.


  • Let guests get in on the planning. Throw out a theme (our New Year’s meal this year will be entirely white) or a challenge (Iron Chef anyone?) and let guests develop a dish to bring.
  • Put idle hands to work. There are two well-proven truths about cooking for company–1) everyone congregates in the kitchen and 2) many hands make light work. Take a cue and put those hands to work on labor-intensive dishes like rolling or stuffing pasta.
  • Give assignments. Some of my most successful dinner parties have included a “to-do” list for each of the guests. It frees me up from the “what’s next?” bombardment and let’s people contribute to dinner prep at their own pace.
  • Create a make-your-own menu. Some meals just lend themselves to interaction. Homemade pizzas, where guests shape or top their own, and dishes that require individual assembly like tacos or lettuce wraps are great choices.
  • Let others pitch in on clean up. Don’t underestimate the bonding power of doing dishes together . . .

This week, as you plan your New Year’s gathering, consider putting people to work.

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Umbricelli with Ginger-Chile Sauce

There’s no denying, this pasta takes time; with three people it took close to an hour to roll out an entire batch. But if you’ve got a lot of hands you want to keep busy, it’s a perfect dish. The rolling becomes relaxing as conversation blossoms around the table, turning out thick and chewy strands that get bathed in a simple, spicy sauce. If you’re in a hurry, make the sauce from scratch and sub dried noodles for the homemade ones.

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 egg

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon chile flakes
2 cups crushed organic tomatoes
salt and pepper

Pulse together umbricelli ingredients in a food processor until the dough comes together into a rough ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 6-8 minutes, until smooth with a slight sheen. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and let rest for half an hour. Lay a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with flour. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Roll the dough into a flat disc a half inch thick, then slice into strings a quarter of an inch wide. Cut each string into 1 inch long pieces. One at a time, lay a piece of dough on a (non-floured) wooden board and, moving from your fingertips to your palms and back from the inside to the ends, roll and stretch the dough until it resembles a 10-inch long piece of thick spaghetti. Place on the cookie sheet, toss with flour and repeat with the next piece of dough. Continue to fluff pasta with flour in between batches to prevent the strands from sticking together.

To make the sauce. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat and cook garlic, ginger and chiles for 5 minutes, until garlic is tender and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for 15 minutes.

When all the pasta is rolled, cook it for 4-5 minutes in rapidly boiling water, until just tender to the bite. Toss with sauce.

Serves 6

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/alisoneats/ Alison Ashton

    This looks so tasty…and it doesn’t require a pasta machine, which is a big bonus! I’d be tempted to add some shrimp to the dish. And I’ll bet these noodles would be great for an Asian pan-fried noodle kinda dish, too!

  • http://www.jamieliving.blogspot.com Jamie G. Dougherty

    These remind me of the hand-pulled noodles I had the other week at the Imperial Tea Court in Berkeley. Amazing!

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    I like the shrimp idea! I saw a spaetzle recipe yesterday and it made me think of these–they’d be great with braised meats. But I love the tie you both make to the Asian side of things. I’ll have to keep that in mind the next time I make the Braised and Glazed Five-Spice Short Ribs!

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    By the way, I have to admit liking that that photo collage includes both my hands and my mom’s hands . . . it felt really cool to be sitting around the table with my family rolling noodles like that.