Summer’s finally here and, at least in California, we already have some delicious tomatoes, specifically those of the cherry variety. Thanks to the kindness of our neighbors brave enough to venture out to our local farmers market, we were able to obtain a nice supply. More often than not, we enjoy these tomatoes raw, perhaps sprinkled with a little salt, drizzled with olive oil, and served along side slices of fresh mozzarella. Last night, however, I decided to so something a little different.
Sometimes what’s in our refrigerator dictates what’s for dinner—especially when it’s produce a little past its prime. This was the case last week when I found two red bell peppers on the decline as well as a large onion in a similar state. Not surprisingly, the first thing that came to mind was pasta.
During these long days of sheltering at home, I find myself endlessly, and at times mindlessly, surfing the web, diving through email, floating on social media, and swimming in the sea of blogs. To maintain my sanity, I’ve made it a rule to suspend all such e-aquatic activity for the day before we sit down to our preprandial libation and eventually move on to dinner. Given the current social and political climate, our dinner hour(s) provide, more than ever, a refuge from what we’re all facing. And one of the most reliable sources of comfort at our table is pasta.
A frequent reference made by many food bloggers these days is to the Food Network’s show “Chopped.” As are its television contestants, real-time home cooks are often faced today with a hodgepodge of ingredients from their fridge and pantry and challenged to get a meal on the table.
Once again, during this crisis, I tentatively prepared a New York Times recipe for a ragù that I had filed away but wasn’t quite sure would work out because of the quality of the main ingredient: sausage.
Under normal circumstances, I would have been using sausage from my local salumeria, but given our shelter-in-place restrictions, this was not a possibility. Thanks to the extraordinary kindness of some young neighbors, however, I was able to procure, among a load of other groceries, a log of bulk sausage from our local supermarket.
Watching news coverage of my family’s homeland suffering from this viral nightmare has been difficult for me. Recently, however, I came upon a video depicting residents of an apartment complex in Naples one evening joining in song to express solidarity in the fight against this virus and longing for a hug. The song, Abbraciame (Hug Me), begins:
Finally tonight I’m here with you
and no one can hear.
I’m a bit shy and you know
I’m not good at this.
Who doesn’t have courage in life,
They can only lose their dream.
Therefore, if you’re here you got it
that my dream is you.
I’ve fallen in love with you
I’m crazy for you, I’m crazy for you!
One voice, which eerily reminded me of my long deceased aunt’s, is heard above the others singing the subsequent lyrics in local dialect:
And then yes, hug me stronger
because then who gives a f…k?
If all the time that passed is wasted time,
or if tomorrow nothing will exist,
hug me tonight. . .
As I’ve probably mentioned before, I typically let what’s available in my supermarket influence what will be on my table for dinner. Such was the case this weekend when a 50%-off sale on pork shoulder led to the purchase of a five-pound roast and a subsequent search for a recipe with which to prepare it.
Slow and steady, so they say, wins the race. A perfect example is Marcella Hazan’s Ragu Bolognese, which requires six hours of simmering to yield “when clinging to the folds of homemade noodles,” to quote Marcella, “one of the most satisfying experiences accessible to the sense of taste.” But when you’re really hungry, especially after a nerve-racking day, sometimes quick and easy is the way to go.
My friend, Italian-wine aficionado Ciro Pirone, recently posted a photo of pasta with zucchini on his informative Twitter feed @Vinofilosofia. It looked so appetizing that I asked him for the recipe. His response: “Senza ricetta…tutto ad occhio (No recipe, all by eye.) I sauté a little onion and then add thinly sliced zucchini, salt and pepper, and cook low, covered; halfway I add half a glass of water and let cook till they fall apart. Toss in the pasta and some parmigiano!”
Researching the recipe for this post made me think of the popular children’s game of telephone, where participants stand in line and the first person whispers a message to the second, who whispers what he heard to the next person in the line, and so on. The object of the game is to keep the message as close as possible to the original. At the end of the line, the final message is compared to the original and, as you’re probably aware, the differences between the two can be quite dramatic. Indeed, it’s the variation that provides the chief source of enjoyment.