Folks, it’s been a while.
To be more precise, it’s been over a month since I last posted. I’ve been acutely aware of this, and daily sink a little deeper into the shame and anxiety of the degenerate who doesn’t stick with his own resolutions or intentions. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? The more you put off doing something, the harder it becomes to start. I’ve struggled with this kind of anxiety my entire life, often to a crippling degree. I know I’m not alone, especially these days. I know millions of people are living with mental as well as physical barricades right now, and that nothing feels normal or safe or right.
Nothing, that is, except pasta.
Pasta is the ultimate comfort food. No matter how many recipes flop, no matter how much of a mess I make in the kitchen, no matter how bad things get in the world, I have confidence in pasta. I may be sick to death of cooking (hard to believe, but I’m there), tired of planning and thinking and worrying, but I can make a pasta dish and know with absolute certitude that it will turn out just the way it should—and it will be delicious.
I had big plans for this quarantine. Things started to get scary shortly after I started this blog. More and more people were entering self-imposed or otherwise necessary social isolation, working from home or laid off with a lot of extra time on their hands. I knew I wasn’t likely to be working from home, but with the extra time on the weekends (thanks, social distancing) I also knew I could finally tackle some of my bucket-list cooking projects. I had elaborate fantasies of the bread I would bake, the cookies I would experiment with, the macarons I would finally master, the long-baked pasta dishes and stews and soups and stocks and gnocchi and oat milk and pastries I would make.
Some of that happened. Some of it didn’t. I ended up working from home for three weeks. And you know what happened? I cooked. I ate. We ate. Life was, somehow, still busy. I adapted to a new routine, to daily life of cooking for someone, providing for both of us, creating a new balance. I found I needed writing less, and needed time for myself more. So that’s what I took.
One of my intentions during quarantine has been to make the most of the ingredients I have on hand, rather than making multiple trips to the grocery store. Honorable intentions, no? I have been doing pretty well. With my meat supply running low last week (and my pasta supply at an all-time high), I decided to use up a pound of ground beef and some odds and ends to make my own meatballs and tomato sauce. Not quite the long-simmering Sunday sauce of Italian-American fame, but a sturdy, respectable weekday spaghetti sauce.
As I was cooking, my partner asked me why I hadn’t been posting on my blog. The simplest answer is that I simply haven’t felt like it. When I made this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t be beholden to a rigid routine or marketing scheme of daily or even weekly posts. I would do what felt good, and I’ve stuck to that. In this case, that meant taking a month off. But I think now it’s time to get back into the swing of it.
Back to pasta. I took Mark Bittman’s very simple recipe for drop meatballs and tomato sauce, and made it my own using what I had in the house (and adding a lot more garlic). But his recipe is a little too fussy and a little too speedy for the slow, relaxed process I had in mind for a rainy Thursday when I was supposed to be working.
I browned the meatballs as instructed, but then I set them aside to cook in the sauce after it had simmered for a bit. I had some fun with the sauce, based on other recipes I’ve tried and general knowledge of cooking principles that are now finally beginning to stick in my head. In the sizzling beef fat, I browned a diced onion, then added the garlic and two lovely dollops of tomato paste from the freezer. When that was fragrant, I deglazed with some red wine and let it burble away before adding a food processor-blitzed mixture of canned tomato sauce, whole San Marzanos, and some leftover pizza sauce I’d frozen two weeks ago. I threw in a big sprig of fresh basil, a lot of dried oregano, and some Parmesan rinds, and I let it go while I danced around the kitchen with my wine, answered a few emails, and tidied up a bit. It was raining and it felt great.
At the end, I carefully dropped the tender little meatballs into the sauce and let them cook through while the spaghetti cooked. I drained that, saving a little water, and added the liquid of the sauce to the pasta to combine, then served it in huge bowls topped with fresh parsley and Parmesan. We ate it on the living room floor (my kitchen table was my new office space) with garlic bread and salads in the lowering dusk, and saw that it was good. So good, in fact, we ate it again the next night, and the only cooking I had to do was the spaghetti.
I had big plans for this quarantine. But ya know what? It’s OK to eat leftovers. It’s OK not to plan your week’s meals and an elaborate one for every night. It’s OK to eat pasta twice in a row and get shitty fast food one night. It’s even OK that your grownup pants don’t fit quite right when you have to go back to the office and pretend you’re a professional again. Make some pasta. Add more Parmesan. Take a breath and stop worrying for a minute. It’s going to be fine. In fact, it’s going to be pretty great.