I’ve been working on conquering my hostess anxiety. Again. Because I’m tired of not being able to have people over to eat. My latest treatment tool is baked pasta.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that creamy, saucy, steamy hot pasta can cure pretty much everything. In retrospect, I should have figured that out a long time ago.
So here’s what happened. I had a few people over for dinner last Sunday night. My cousin and his family, plus our friends Sharon and Terry from upstairs. I served Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe—only with broccoli instead of broccoli rabe and with the sausage on the side because my cousin, Shannon, is a vegetarian. (Recipe here.) The pasta came out of the oven steamy and creamy, like a hug with a few bits of broccoli scattered here and there like green exclamation points.
And—I only panicked A LITTLE!
This may not sound like much, but to me it was a BIG deal. The last time I tried to entertain, I started obsessing over the meal a week ahead of time and had worked myself up to a mild case of the jitters by mid-week. Pulsing stomach, headache, and dry mouth, accompanied by repeated internal berating—you know you shouldn’t invite people over here to eat.
Then, I did the only thing a sensible I could think of—I canceled. Which made me feel like a real weenie. A failure. And also VERY relieved.
So how does baked pasta help?
A large part of what drives my anxiety is a fear of ruining the food or not having it done on time. My hostess anxiety is really performance anxiety. I’m not good at multi-tasking in the kitchen.
What usually happens is that I get so wrapped up in something—say slicing tomatoes—that I fail to notice that the pine nuts I’m toasting in the toaster oven have turned into smoking charcoal briquette minis. I don’t want other people to see this.
Yes, my guests come to see me and not for the food—or so they say. But still, it’s embarrassing. People equate my love of food with a level of competency in the kitchen that I really don’t possess. I don’t mind if they know the truth, but I’d rather if they didn’t see it in action.
And besides, what would I serve them after I’ve over-steamed the asparagus into green sludge?
The beauty of baked pasta is that it gets cooked and assembled ahead of time—When your guests arrive you just pull it out of the oven—like I did on Sunday. Ta-Da. Done. Serve with a salad of some sort—also prepared ahead of time.
So now I’m experimenting with baked pastas. I figure I need two or three varieties in my repertoire.
The photo above is another great baked pasta I made a few days later for Ron and I. It’s Deb’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella (recipe here). I loved how the tiny bits of pasta played a supporting role to meaty bites of eggplant. And the tomato slices on top added just enough acidity to give the dish a real personality. It tasted like a fall night with a good breeze–despite the fact that it was 80-degrees out here in Atlanta.
It’s also the first baked pasta recipe that I’ve found that doesn’t call for a fattening cream sauce. Instead it uses veggie stock—another option to feed my vegetarian cousin. Plus, it’s healthy for my slightly overweight husband. I have a few ideas for other variations to try. I’ll keep you posted on that.
If you have any recipes for a baked pasta, other than lasagna or baked ziti, that doesn’t have a cream or cheese sauce base, I’d appreciate if you send it my way.
In the mean time: Hostess anxiety—I’m coming for you.