Sheffield — Some people learn to cook by hanging out in their mother’s kitchen. Others are lucky enough to have had a grandmother as the primary influence in the kitchen. But many of us had to pick up the necessary skills on our own. Amy Rudnick, a party and event planner, is among this group. “I’m mostly a self-taught cook,” she says. “I learned from my love of reading cookbooks, food magazines, and even from television shows on the Food Network, primarily Jacques Pepin.”
Rudnick got her start as an event planner during the 1980s at the Museum of Natural History. “I stayed there until we moved to the Berkshires in 1998 after Maizy was born. I really didn’t know about event planning up here, but I thought I should look into it.” Her first client was Jacob’s Pillow. It must have gone well for she went on to produce their gala for thirteen years. “Happily, I found out that I provided a service that a lot of the cultural organizations need. One thing led to another, and that’s how I became an event planner.”
Although she is a pro at planning and overseeing a party for several hundred people, at home she enjoys having dinner parties with no more than six to eight guests. “Six guests are best.,” she says. When she finds an entrée that tastes good and does not need a lot of attention once the guests arrive, Rudnick will use it in rotation with other well-tested recipes.
Her favorites include a roasted salmon with herbs, slow-cooked pork shoulder, or almost any kind of chicken dish. When invited to potluck dinners, she often makes sesame noodles. “They are not the gloppy peanut butter-laden noodles one might find at a Chinese restaurant. These derive their flavor from ginger, garlic, and roasted sesame oil.” When she brings the dish to potluck dinners, these noodles are usually one of the first things to go. “I often double the recipe if a lot of people will be at the party. When we were part of a high school graduation party last June, I quintupled it and we still ran out!”
Not only is it easy, she says, but one usually has the key ingredients at home: soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. “I can’t imagine a cook we know who wouldn’t have those ingredients at home.” The whole dish can be made in less than a half-hour. “While the water is boiling, you can chop everything. The most important thing is not letting the garlic and ginger crisp up. You have to watch it.”
The dish is quite versatile. Although the noodles are delicious on their own, one can add ingredients that turn it into a main course. “I’ve added cucumber, and used cilantro as a garnish. If you are entertaining a lot of vegetarians, this is a great solution to their dietary issues.” In other words, she says the recipe enjoys experimentation. “The most laborious part of it is chopping the garlic and ginger. But this is a good way to hone your knife skills,” she says.
1 pound thin spaghetti
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 2” chunk of ginger, peeled and chopped fine
¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sesame oil, golden roasted Chinese style
¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
¼ cup light and mild brewed rice vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoons Chinese hot oil or chile oil
1 Tablespoon white sugar
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 handful of cilantro, chopped
Combine the two oils in a saucepan. Sauté the garlic and ginger in the two oils until soft. Do not allow them to become crisp and brown. Add vinegar, soy sauce, hot oil and boil for a few seconds. Remove from heat
Cook thin spaghetti al dente; then drain. Mix noodles with sauce and toss. Toss noodles occasionally so that they all get a chance to marinate in the sauce. Before serving, garnish with chopped cilantro and sliced scallions, and then toss.
One recipe makes enough for a dinner party; double it if you’re bringing it to a potluck for 20 people.
This dish is the perfect side dish in any season. Luckily, I got to take home the sesame noodles Rudnick made as I interviewed her, and was reminded how really good they are.