An Indoor Picnic

JC confessed jealousy. Having an entire post dedicated to her was not enough; she wanted pizza. I explained how pizza was a collaboration- I did not know, and never attempted to try to roll out the dough- that was the guinea pig’s job- I’m in charge of the toppers, and caramelizing the onions in bacon fat, and sneaking on more cheese when the guinea pig isn’t looking. And his schedule is not one you can rely on during the week, keeping behind computer screens, working late. So, she settled for bolognese. That I could do, all on my own, because of course, mine was better than the Italian guinea pig’s, and in fact, one of the best he’s ever had. (The guinea pig also did recently confess his resentment and underlying hate he felt for that post).

I started a day ahead, with carrots, celery, and onions, salted. I used my hand immersion blender to paste them when tender, then continued to let them brown. I will take the time to quote Chef Anne Burrell and say, “because brown food tastes good”. She’s right; the browner the better. Then I mashed some Italian sweet sausage with a nicely diced onion half, and let that brown too. The fat from the sausage meat melts away, and the sausage and onions start to cook in its own fat, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing. There was a time when I despised fat, but I have come to realize, butter and bacon fat are capable of so much more than a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can be. Of course, the right amount of it used in the right place at the right time.

The sausage joined the vegetable paste in my red enameled cast iron pot along with plum tomatoes kept in tomato juice, and cooked together for the rest of the evening. Time makes for a wonderfully developed and mature sauce. I put it in the fridge, wrapped in a dishcloth, before going to bed, and did not put it back on the stove until I got back home from school the following night, giving it another hour or two for the flavors to penetrate.

Although I mixed a fair amount of sauce with a few splashes of reserved pasta water and the spaghetti, I heaped our plates of saucy spaghetti with extra bolognese before grating the wedge of parmigiano reggiano JC had brought over. She almost topped her soup theories by stating that she didn’t know one could actually make sauce- that it was physically possible. “I mean, I knew you could add meat to the sauce, but I thought the sauce always comes from a can.” And, there are sauces that already have meat in them, or at least they promote meat, whatever that might mean- having meat product, meat by-product, or meat flavor. Then, JC stepped up her game, “Sometimes I’ll buy the ones that come in glass jars. Yeah, I get fancy, I’ll buy sauce in glass.” She can be quite charming.

The next day the guinea pig and I were left with barely any leftover sauce and two stomachs to feed. I took out the grill, his grill that I’ve borrowed and never returned, a cast iron beau that creates handsome grill marks and an exquisite char, and  I lined up asparagus and slices of a yellow bell pepper, all the fresh that was left in the refrigerator.

I called out that the pasta is almost ready, which turned out to be rigatoni tossed with asparagus, peppers, the remaining bolognese, and grated pecorino romano. The guinea pig stood pensively in front of the window before suggesting to sit on the carpet beneath it. The table was covered in mail and laptops, and I have just the equipment for eating on the floor. I directed him to it, the sheet that goes down first, then the smaller vinyl tablecloth that lies on top in the middle. Come Friday, the weekend, we would gather at my grandparent’s house in Northern Tehran for lunch, and being so many of us, the 8 person table would not suffice. So, we all would sit cross legged on the floor around a long vinyl cloth, elaborated with lace design, our plates in front of us of rice and kabob with sides of yogurt and slices of raw onion. Then, a common practice, is to just slowly plummet onto the floor for a light nap, right at the spread.

Saturday lunch, in my Hanover, NH apartment we had a two person indoor picnic, protected from the cold but, glancing out the window to the forest coated mountains and green fields below, still enjoying the blessings of nature. Hearing the guinea pig make love to every bite he took, the recycled leftovers seemed a success. I saved a shaving of cheese saucy from bolognese as my last bite before slowly descending onto the sheet beneath.

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