Have you ever hit the wall in early evening when you should be preparing dinner? Didn’t have time to stop at the grocery store on your way home? Nothing in the refrigerator except eggs? And you just received a call from your husband saying his parents are coming over tonight for dinner? “Don’t get upset, honey. Just fix something simple. Nothing fancy.” Yeah, right. Easy for him to say.

Or instead, maybe just plain old, “I don’t feel like cooking dinner,” but you will feel guilty later if you don’t? Well, if you don’t know about this save-the-marriage dish, I advise you read on.

I didn’t learn about fine dining and fine wines until I married, at the ripe old age of 20. My husband didn’t cook but appreciated fine dining at good restaurants and had friends who were good cooks. The more I was exposed, the more interested I became in what and how foods were prepared. His friends, Robert and Annette, had us for dinner several times. She was half French and prided herself in her cooking the “French way.” Her dinners were simple and divine, and served with natural warmth in her manner and a sparkle in her dark, large eyes. Their dinner parties consisted of interesting Ann Arbor people who enjoyed fine food and conversation about politics, books and music.

But the most impressionable meal at that time was when we started seeing the Kortens. Our son Jeff was the same age as Pat and Kort’s youngest, Tris. The Kortens became the kind of good friends we could just drop in on. Pat would invite us to stay for dinner and, in the matter of minutes, whip up scrumptious meals.

The first of these in our honor was when we had stopped by on a late Sunday afternoon to pick up Jeff after playing with Tris all day. Invited to join them for a drink, we sat in the large living room of their ranch-style home, with comfortable, informal furniture, the Sunday New York Times and empty coffee cups scattered around the room, left where various family members had been sitting earlier, reading their favorite section. The young boys had resumed building things out of clay as Kort and Bill, both designers and artists, talked about product design. Pat and I talked about food.

“OK,” Pat said as she jumped up off the couch. “It’s already getting late, so why don’t you all stay for dinner?” Stunned that she would make such an offer so late in the day, I didn’t get a word in, such as oh-no-we-don’t-want-to be-a-bother, before she mumbled, “I don’t know what I’ll make, but I’ll think of something,” which startled me even more. What courage, I sat there thinking.

“Spaghetti Carbonara,” she said matter-of-factly, as she bustled about the kitchen, grabbing her apron off a hook, banging pans and opening and closing the refrigerator door. “That’s what we’ll have.” I made myself useful putting away dishes that were drying in the drainer and clearing off the dining table. I heard the fast chop, chop, chop of the large chef knife on her cutting table, sounding more like a jackhammer.

“And what pray tell is Spaghetti Carbonara?” I asked. “Does it take long to prepare?” I was glancing at the clock on the wall, thinking about getting up early for work the next morning.

“This is simple, Marilyn. You should always keep eggs and a hunk of good Parmesan cheese in the fridge, bacon in the freezer, and, of course, no kitchen should be without pasta spaghetti or onions or garlic. Serve with a green salad, good French bread and, voila! Everyone loves it.” (Pat’s French bread is another story … later.)

Sure enough. It was delicious, mouth-watering. We all requested seconds, and Pat in her infinite wisdom, had prepared ample, anticipating this response. It became a favorite in our house as well, particularly on Sunday nights, and those unexpected but delightful times when friends stop by. My children and now my grandchildren always ask for it when they visit.


Spaghetti Carbonara

For 1 pound spaghetti:

½ pound bacon, cut into small pieces (or pancetta)

1 finely chopped onion

1 minced garlic clove

3 large eggs, 4 if small

About ½ cup finely grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

¼ cup dry white wine (optional)

Fry bacon in 12-inch skillet, stirring until fat starts to render (one to two minutes). Add onions and garlic, stirring until golden. If desired, add the wine. Boil until reduced by 1/2 (one to two minutes). Cook spaghetti until al dente. While pasta is cooking, whisk together eggs and cheese, salt and freshly ground pepper. OK. Here comes the tricky part: As deftly and quickly as you can without burning yourself or stepping on the cat, drain pasta in colander, return pasta to pot, add onion and bacon mixture, set pan on lowest flame and add the egg/cheese mixture. Toss quickly with a large spoon and fork, until all is mixed into the pasta and the eggs slightly cooked by the heat of the pasta and bacon. (Use fresh eggs you are acquainted with.) Serve immediately, with a side dish of more grated cheese.

I advise you try it first with your family before you serve it to guests so you develop the rhythm to do the last steps quickly before pasta cools, and to determine if it’s too dry; add another egg next time. Sometimes, add frozen peas for a change or steamed broccoli flowerets.

I have to admit; I have never seen a recipe for this dish. I probably don’t use the same amounts of ingredients each time. I wrote down what I thought might work the best for you to try the first time. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I cook what I watched Pat do, so if you find a recipe, it may be better or more to your liking. Suggestion: serve with roasted, sliced tomatoes, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped basil, salt and pepper.

Bon appetite! (Clue to my next food piece.)