Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a graduate student at Boston University, money was tight. My best friend, Donna, and I shared a small one-room apartment on Beacon Street, near the intersection with Park Drive. The bedroom was so small, we had to use bunk beds. Guess who wound up on the top level ...
To supplement our meager lifestyle, we both had part-time jobs -- at first I worked at a chicken take-out place on the then-bad side of Beacon Hill and then in the ticket office of the Boston Ballet. Donna worked at a kidney dialysis center.
Some days, we were so short of money, I would walk home from the ballet center to save the subway fare so I could buy a box of store brand macaroni and cheese and she would pilfer butter pats and milk from the dialysis center to make it.
On Saturdays, we would take our backpacks and shopping bags and head for the Haymarket, a large outdoor farmers market jam-packed with pushcarts and vendors hawking their wares. For a little more than $5 we could get a week's worth of fruits and vegetables. We also could get fresh fish and cheese if the budget allowed.
On the rare occasions we had some extra money, we would head for a restaurant on Newbury Street, the English Tea Room. Not having much money, we usually ordered salads with the house dressing, which were served in high silver bowls heaped with simple salad greens and a wonderful sour-sweet dressing, and raspberry-filled dinner rolls. And the best part of eating at the tea room? You could get refills on the salad.
I was given the alleged "original" recipe for the salad a few years after the restaurant had closed, which was in the late 1970s or early ‘80s. I add my usual disclaimer here -- I have no idea whether it is the original.
English Tea Room Dressing
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated onion
1 cup salad oil
Mix dry ingredients in separate bowl. Blend honey, vinegar and lemon juice in small bowl; then add to dry ingredients. Add oil in slow streams, beating it constantly with beater. Use over various greens topped with red onion.
Another treat was to stroll the streets of the North End and find an out-of-the-way inexpensive restaurant. Ida's, a small four-table restaurant on an alleyway, featured homemade pasta, desserts and even its own homemade house wine. It was there I fell in love with Spaghetti Carbonara. Over the years, I've tried many recipes for making it, but my favorite comes from the 30-minute meal girl. It's quick, easy to make and delicious. A tip: Freeze the pancetta for 10 to 15 minutes before chopping it. It makes chopping easier.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound pasta, such as spaghetti or rigatoni
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pan)
1/3 pound pancetta (Italian bacon), chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
2 large egg yolks
Freshly grated Romano cheese
Handful of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Put a large saucepot of water on to boil. Add a liberal amount of salt and the pasta. Cook to al dente, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and pancetta. Brown pancetta 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Add wine or chicken broth and stir up all the pan drippings.
In a separate bowl, beat yolks, then add 1 large ladleful (about 1/2 cup) of the pasta cooking water.
Drain pasta and add it to the skillet with pancetta and oil. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Toss rapidly to coat the pasta without cooking the egg. Remove pan from heat and add a big handful of cheese, lots of pepper, and a little salt. Continue to toss and turn the pasta until it soaks up egg mixture and thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and extra grated Romano.
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.