Thursday, August 2, 2007
The Cook, the Sauce, the Critic, and the Denouement
Not long ago, I wandered into the kitchen and, opening the door to the refrigerator, meditated on the contents. Gazing at the carrots and bell peppers, I ruminated on life's injustices. It was a Sunday night and in our shared schedule of kitchen duty, Franco usually cooks on weekends. But he was busy working on something. I realized that if we were going to eat before the wee hours, I would have to do the cooking.
Earlier in the day we talked about making a pasta with Franco's special anchovy sauce, one of his favorites. It's a dish with a subtle, mellow flavor, without any of the overpowering punch this tiny pungent fish usually delivers. The thing was, I hadn't a clue how to make the sauce.
Bravely, I reached to the back of the refrigerator shelf and took out the covered dish containing the fish. There were about a half dozen salted, whole ones that we had bought recently. I selected one and set it aside on the cutting board. Next I opened the vegetable drawer and took out a head of fresh broccoli.
I had decided to create my own anchovy sauce. (Warning: good cooks might find the following painful)
First I chopped a small onion and minced some garlic. I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan, added the onion and set the flame to a medium low. After a few minutes, I added the garlic and cooked it all for another minute.
After washing the broccoli, I cut off the florets and added them to the onion-garlic mixture.
I added a half a cup of canned tomatoes, a little water, salt and pepper, and set the flame to high.
I turned my attention to the single anchovy I had selected. I chopped it into tiny pieces and added them to the sauce.
I covered the sauté pan and let the sauce cook on the medium high flame for a half an hour, adding water as needed to prevent the sauce from burning.
In the meantime, I boiled some water for the pasta, added a fistful of salt, and some number 5 spaghetti.
When the pasta was done, I was also ready to add the final ingredient for the sauce. Turning off the flame under the sauté pan, I added a few tablespoons of panna (thick cream) to the pan, stirring it to blend with the cooked broccoli and fish mixture.
In the meantime I had set the table and poured the wine. I called to Franco that dinner was ready.
“How is it,” I asked Franco, watching him after he took his first bite. I had already tasted mine but I was reserving judgment.
“Good,” Franco said, but in a way that immediately made me suspicious.
“Really? Are you sure.”
“It needs pepper.”
“I added pepper. Do you mean black pepper or red?”
“Oh, well I added black.”
A minute more passed.
“It has anchovy in it, you know,” I said.
“Really, no, I don't taste it.”
“Yes, it does. I can taste it.”
Franco poked at the pasta in his plate. “What's are these red pieces?”
I ignored the question and pursued the anchovy theme.
“Can't you taste the anchovy?” I said. “I can.”
“No,” Franco said, the expression on his face clearly indicating longing for the taste eluding him.
“What are these red things?” he asked again, pushing one with his fork.
“Ah,” he said. “The problem with tomato is that it's strong. It has a killing effect on other flavors.”
“But I only added half a cup.”
We continued eating. It seemed to me Franco's features had taken on the stoical aspect they sometimes do on the days when I cook.
“How do you make your anchovy sauce?” I asked.
“The ingredients are the salt preserved anchovies, two for each person, olive oil, two tablespoons for each person, garlic, a half to one clove for each person, parsley and red pepper.”
“First you clean the anchovies. Take off the extra salt then cut them open longitudinally. Take off the spine, tail and extra interior stuff. In a skillet, on very low heat, pour olive oil. Add the anchovies, minced garlic, minced parsley and let it stay until the anchovy meat gets dissolved.”
“Do you mean you're supposed to do all that stuff you said to the anchovies before you cook them?”
“Yes, while the water is boiling for the pasta, you clean the anchovies.”
“Oh. I just chopped one up.”
“And the bones?”
“Uh huh, I put everything into the sauce.”
“Are you talking about oil anchovies, or salted sardines?” Franco asked. Stoically.
At least I know now why he couldn't taste the anchovies.
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
Copyright © Rebecca Helm-Ropelato