Cooking as Romance

Pasta Mona

Implicit in the recipe, in this case, Bolognese Ragu with Tagliatelle, is the promise that I will become the kind of person who, on television and in magazines, eats homemade pasta with elaborate authentic sauce.In Gourmet or Bon Appetite, these people tend to be young, tall, and often dressed in black. They live in lofts, or are getting together in someone’s place upstate, which is made of stone, has a mud room, and a large kitchen. A blond woman throws her head back, laughing, red wine shimmering in her glass.

I don’t want to be the blond. I want to be me, but me marvelously slimmed, elongated, youthful and having somehow skipped the whole phase of my college life where I played dungeons and dragons. These people do not play dungeons and dragons or video games. Even in French. A language in which they pun.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

I buy Lebanese olive oil from a guy who owns a deli in Ohio. His name is George and he immigrated from Lebanon. Some cousins have an olive oil business and he sells oil for them in the states. It’s very green extra virgin. I read that Spanish olive oil is the tastiest. But I am sure there is something very right about the fact that I buy Lebanese olive oil from the source. It is something the blond might do.

Let us pass in silence over the corned beef. It’s good corned beef, especially for a suburb in Ohio. The deli is in a strip mall, next to a Jenny Craig diet center. It is a kind of a find. A kind of food hound jewel. It serves sandwiches stuffed too full, and lox and cream cheese on decent bagels. But the whole finding good, unpretentious eating places thing is entirely different from the eating well prepared food with my marvelous friends thing and besides, the blond has never lived in the suburbs. She is urban. She does not go to strip malls. She and her city dog (Dalmatian? Vizsla?) walk to the local deli which is near her apartment building.

1 oz pancetta, finely chopped

1 large carrot, finely chopped

2 small stalks of celery, finely chopped

1 ¼ pound boneless chuck, coarsely ground

I do not get my pancetta from a butcher. I get it, vacuum packed, at a grocery. But at least my grocery has exotic things like pancetta. It is a suburban grocery, with a parking lot the size of a huge apartment building in front and another one the same size on the side.

My husband, who I love, is a drummer, which makes him sound like the tall, slim dark haired guy in the sweater standing next to the blond, gazing down at her, at her white throat, as she laughs. My husband is also tall. He loves me, although maybe not exactly in the way the tall guy in the expensive sweater does the blond. The tall guy is gazing at the blond. He is besotted with her, smiling with a pleasure that almost but doesn’t completely hide his longing.

My husband the drummer is funny and tall. During the day he is a plastics engineer. He collects bad sf movies and recently lined our mantle with toy robots. The tall guy in the sweater does not watch many bad sf movies. He and the blond do not discuss how well the 70’s sf movie A Boy and His Dog has held up. Then again, the blond is not a short overweight middle aged woman with a physique which has never seen a Pilates studio. I am not quite sure what is on their mantle, but I am completely certain it is not the robot from Lost in Space. (Danger Will Robinson!) I am sure that the blond has never seen A Boy And His Dog, much less been drawn to the family room by the sound of it on the TV.

Heat the oil and the pancetta in a 4 quart saucepan or a Dutch oven over medium low heat. Cook the pancetta until has rendered most of its fat, but hasn’t browned, about eight minutes. Raise the heat to medium and add the chopped vegetables and sauté until the onion has become translucent. Add the beef. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is medium brown. Don’t let it get hard.

While I am cooking I don’t think about the blond or her paramour. I do think about the smell. Since this is Saturday, the smell draws my husband briefly out of his office. If I had to concoct an aphrodisiac, it would probably be onions and garlic sautéed in oil or butter, since that never fails to draw my husband to the kitchen. Even without garlic, he pads through, in his socks, and gets an iced tea out of the refrigerator. I suspect he would lean over me and check out what I am making, but I am snappish and territorial in the kitchen, scowling if someone is between me and the sink.

Unlike the other couple in the picture, who are actually preparing the food; him with a wooden spoon in his hand, her emptying the chopped onions into the beautiful blue La Crueset Dutch oven. She has dark red hair and those black cat’s eye glasses which are hip now, but which were the bane of my existence in seventh grade. She was not born when I was in seventh grade. When I was her age, I was not making ragu. I still thought creamed spinach was a pretty big deal. I was working two jobs and writing stories that collected rejection slips and taking Chinese lessons so I could move to China. When I got home at night at ten (having left in the morning at seven) I sometimes had glazed doughnuts and beer for dinner. Oddly enough, I was quite slim. But not tall or, obviously, sophisticated.

½ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons double or triple concentrated tomato paste

10 tablespoons poultry stock

salt and pepper to taste

1 ½ cups milk

It is impossible to think about much while chopping or sautéing. It is impossible not to think while simmering, unless I would go do something useful, like clean the bathrooms.

Add the wine. Mix the tomato paste and the poultry stock together and add the mixture to the pot. Keep the heat very low. It is critical that the mixture reduce as slowly as possible. Cook, partially covered, for two hours. About every ten or fifteen or twenty minutes, stir in 2 tablespoons of the milk. By the end of two hours, the milk should be gone and the ragu have the consistency of a thick soup.

I imagine the blond cleaning a bathroom. She stands, in her slim black Audrey Heyburn pants and her very nice shoes, holding the wine in one hand and a paper towel in the other. Her mouth makes a little moue of distaste. I realize that the blond has help. She does not clean bathrooms.

I decide for the who knows how many’th time I will go on a diet. I will get slim. I will have my hair cut and colored by someone I can’t afford. I will become one of those forty-ish sophisticates that French men are always having affairs with. My husband will gaze upon me with hopeless longing somehow not even remotely compromised by the fact that we have shared a bathroom for fourteen years.

I roll out the pasta and toss it in boiling water.

I toss the pasta in the sauce and while I am opening the wine, I hear from his office the background music for Star Trek. It’s the dangerous battle music. I listen, surrounded by the smell of Bolognese ragu. It’s The Doomsday Machine. I recognize the episode.

I call him for dinner.

16 thoughts on “Cooking as Romance

  1. I know that blonde! From the magazines, anyway. She also drives an Audi and has amazing stainless steel appliances and ecofriendly bamboo flooring. Also she wears stunning shoes that never make her feet sore.

    Yet somehow I’d so much rather sit at your breakfast bar, sipping decent but inexpensive wine while you cook. I’ll bet your ragu kicks her ragu’s ass, too.

  2. The blonde does not exist. She’s a concoction to make women feel short and dumpy and not beautiful.

    But your fabulous sauce is the real deal.

    And your husband DOES look at you that way — just when you’re not looking.

  3. He did!

    I know that the blond doesn’t exist. I’m just, you know, pretentious and pathetic. But it has led to some pretty good ragu.

  4. good god.

    You make it and I’ll come over and eat it.

    Eff the blond. I’m short brunette stack of assorted orbs, but who cares? I just wear good perfume and turn the lights off when I get self-conscious.

  5. I don’t have a blonde; I have a redhead. Otherwise, the Goddess of Yearning is effectively identical. Does she love her husband, or just the ragu, do you think?

    When I make homemade pasta I do it in a flurry of flour, with kids coming in to haltingly turn the crank on the pasta machine so that the stuff comes out in uneven thicknesses. It is not glamorous. It is tasty, though. And the redhead would almost certainly swoon with distaste.

  6. Mad, I admit, it takes much more work than the post suggests to make pasta, but I figured the damn thing was long enough.

    Homemade pasta is really good, isn’t it.

  7. I think The Blonde is probably in the bathroom yarking up all that fabulous ragu.

    There’s a blond woman in our neighborhood I call Beef Jerky Woman. She jogs obsessively. And in the summer when it’s 90+ degrees, she wears long sleeve shirts because she has no freaking body fat.

    Nobody should ever want to be the blonde, especially not someone as adorable as you, Maureen.

  8. Ooh, ooh, ooh! ‘A Boy and His Dog’! One of my very favorite post-apocalypse movies. I haven’t thought about it in years, but I bet it does hold up quite nicely. Now I have to rent it. Rach will like it.

    When it first came out, I was lucky enough to be in the audience when it premiered at the Greenway Plaza theater, which was the art-house theater in Houston then.

    After the movie, L.Q. Jones, the director, stood up in front and talked and took questions from the audience.

    It was great. It would have been perfect if a tall gorgeous blonde had been serving me some ragu during the screening.

    Maybe I can arrange something like that if they ever show it at the Alamo Drafthouse.

  9. Maureen, that captured some very sharp and special feelings for me, and I don’t know how to thank you. There are tears dribbling down my nose.

    I was in Italy last week, and our host made some lovely stuff with zucchini, onions, basil and tomatoes. I think fresh basil and garlic are heavenly.

    I cook with them for my tall and beautiful brunette who married me in spite of my scifi tendencies, and for my children who knock the noodles off the backs of the chairs where I have spread them out on towels.

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