There’s a pot full of water that’s slowly reaching a rolling boil. I’ve salted the water, tasted it, and said aloud ‘delicious,’ much to the delight of my date for the night. The absurdity of finding a pot of boiling water to have a delectable taste doesn’t escape me – but correctly salted water is the cornerstone of the meal I want to prepare.
So far tonight we’ve nibbled on a good cheap Gouda that the local cheese monger recommended for third dates, and we’ve sucked down on some box wine that I repackaged into a wine bottle that I keep for occasions such as this. The bottle, when it was first purchased, housed a nice Italian wine that came from the Tarantino area or something like that. That’s the reason I purchased it in the first place; because I like the director Tarantino. But now it houses $10 shit I get from Aldi, and the ladies swoon over it because there’s not a single word on it that they can understand.
She asks me when I learned to cook. I say at about the age of 16. My parents decided that I was old enough and mature enough to start fending for myself, so if I wanted something that wasn’t cereal or protein shakes then I would have to purchase it and cook it myself. After a week of surviving on those staples I decided that I’d rather stuff sand into my mouth than have to ever eat that again. I suppose I was just born with a rather pretentious pallet. Or, at least, I had developed more of a pallet than my English immigrant parents ever had. Which is to say – I developed a pallet.
I go on to further explain how pasta and sauce is one of the first things I ever learned to cook because it simply involved boiling water and then pouring sauce over it. But, as I learned more cooking techniques and started purchasing my own equipment then it became so much more than that. It became almost a meditative activity. Getting home after school just to crack some eggs into a bowl with some flower and whisk it together with a fork allowed time to de-stress from the day that had preceded. Folding and slapping and shaping the dough the way I wanted it was a great way to release the anger I felt towards the world, and then rolling it and shaping it was a great exercise in patience. And I began to understand how people survived. Having to do this all day just so that your family could live another day was an eyeopening experience. Even just being able to do this every day was a privilege that many don’t get to experience. And so I made sure that my water was perfectly well salted and at the perfect heat before I dropped in the pasta that I had taken such care to create.
You also get to appreciate the time it takes to create food. Not only that, you appreciate the time you have in life. I found out that it’s more important to spend all day creating a single meal that satisfies you beyond belief than it is to work a whole day trying to make someone else happy. As part of that I learned that you cannot subject your handmade pasta to the terrors of a canned sauce. It requires flavor and texture and an appreciation of the ingredients and the cooking method. This last requirement is the most important of all.
I take my eyes off the cooking pasta and the pan with the browning garlic in olive oil in order to emphasize this last point to my date, ‘even with only a few cheap ingredients you can create one of the greatest meals in the world. For example this dish – Pasta Algio e Olio,’ and then I look back at what I’m cooking and focus on it without allowing distraction. But I continue talking, mostly to myself at this point.
‘Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil. Three ingredients is all it takes and it’s one of the greatest dishes that can be served anywhere in the world. But you can elevate it with lemon juice or vinegar to create a delicious and creamy vinaigrette. Then some Continental Parsley adds a nice herby and earthy flavour.’ I say all this as I take the pasta out of the water and place it in the skillet with the olive oil and the fragrant garlic and I start tossing it around in order to get all the flavours collected on the noodle. Then a splash of some white wine vinegar followed by a half ladle of pasta water to help the sauce coat the pasta. Finally, when the juices stop running and can coat the back of a spoon and the pasta pieces no longer drip when lifted then the dish is ready to be garnished and served. A small handful of parsley and a grating of Parmigiano-Regiano sprinkled over-top completes the dish.
It’s a simple peasant dish from Italy, but looking at it now fills me with such joy and nostalgia. It’s the dish I’ve prepared every day ever since watching the movie Chef. But it’s also one of my favorite dishes of all time. It’s so simple and easy and pure. It doesn’t fuss about ingredients of really care about technique. It’s low maintenance. It doesn’t require lots of money to make. It’s simple and plain but still enjoyable.
This dish is the embodiment of what I want my life to be.
After a while I realise that I’ve been getting called to by my date. I was too focused on the meal. She’s getting impatient about dinner and is apparently has an insatiable appetite after the description I gave her of the meal I was preparing.
I shake out of my food induced paralysis, bring over two plates filled with pasta and pour us out some more cheap wine. We eat and we drink and later we fuck. But I’ll be damned if that pasta isn’t one of the greatest meals that can ever be made by anyone.
Writing this I’ve made myself so hungry that I think I’ll go make myself some now.