Rock Island, IL
What the sam hill is this? I’m asked merely to flavor the olive oil by heating a single clove of garlic in it? And then discard the garlic?
No, no, no. This won’t do at all. In the first place, no one uses only one clove of garlic—not for anything. That’s like coming home from a bad day at work and having half a beer. First rule: triple the …
Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute. What’s that noise? I’ll tell you what it is. It’s nothing. The kitchen is as silent as that spot which no vicissitude can find. So onto the hi-fi go the Ozark Mountain Daredevils—the Car Over the Lake album, which I ususally listen to only while ’zarkin’ (that is, while standing by an outdoor fire and puffing on a corncob pipe), but it’s been too long.
Ah, there we go. That’s right. “Keep on churnin’ til the cows come home.”
First rule (as I was saying): triple the garlic. It’s like irony: there’s no such thing as too much. I peel three cloves and chop them.
I’ve committed myself to something called “Pasta Risotto with Peas & Pancetta” (“If I quit now it’d surely be a sin”), except I ain’t got no pancetta, so I pull out a half-pound of that miracle meat commonly known as “bacon.” There’s nothing it can’t do.
Now I’m not sophisticated enough to know whether what I’m making actually qualifies as risotto. It’s made not with Arborio rice but with orzo pasta. I’ll be adding grated cheese to this, as to risotto, but that doesn’t mean a damned thing. (The Daredevils: “it just don’t mean a thang.”) Adding grated cheese to metal shavings doesn’t make the shavings risotto.
So I’m going to have to go ahead and leave that fine point of distinction to you members of the culinary disputocracy.
A New York Times article of blessed forgetfulness says, “It is not hard to make a good risotto. But you have to stand over it for at least 20 minutes and this makes it difficult for dinner parties.”
Utter nonsense. Standing over the stovetop is what you do in the kitchen. You stand over medium heat, you sing along with the music—“Down in Leatherwood country love’s gonna steal your mind”—and you sip something very …
Wait another cotton-pickin’ minute! I’m as dry as dust! To the fridge for a local beer (local if you’re in Durango, Colorado).
Ah! Much better.
Outside my kitchen window there’s a fickle March sky, now slate-grey and furious with flurries, now pale blue and shot through with late shafts of sunlight. If my eyes do not deceive me, house sparrows have already taken up residence in the bird houses I didn’t even clean out last fall. Cardinals are aloft—not to pick a pope—and several robins have returned. Last year at this time a confused spring coaxed the darling buds of May out two months early. The ScamLawns and ScrewGreens of the world were applying pre-emergent herbicides to the neighbors’ lawns on this very day last year. But not today. I see snow—and how I love it still.
March! When a young man’s fancy turns to basketball. March! As in the old that’s-what-she-said-joke: in like a lion, out like a lamb.
Whoops! Did I write that? I meant only to think it in my heart, to Jimmy Carter it.
Dice the bacon and toss it in a big sauce pan, where wait two tablespoons of olive oil—unnecessary, of course, since I’m using bacon rather than pancetta. But a man likes the look and smell of the oil.
Sip a little Modus Hoperandi. Here’s to you, Steve Cash and the Zarks, and to the magic and the mortar in a cobblestone land.
And to you, Bacon! Could there be a meat more miraculous, a fitter vehicle of grace? It’s a little-known fact that in Antioch, where the faithful were first called Christians, the Eucharistic elements were bacon and IPA. Verily, verily. It’s a matter of historical record. All authorities concur.
Stand over the heat to spite the NYT writer. Watch and listen to the heat turn trichinosis into supper. And smell it! Soon we will taste and touch it as well. Ah, the fullness of man: the incarnate condition! Show me an NYT food writer who knows that.
Drain some of the grease but not all of it. The bed-time statin will want something to work on, after all. And now into the finished bacon goes the chopped garlic. The aroma improves apace. I stir. “Round and around and around and around, round and around and around.” It does seem to me that the Daredevils wrote “Gypsy Forest” for just this occasion.
But where is the Goddess Excellently Bright? The Chief Eye-Roller? Nurse Goodbody? The Conscience? The Counter of Cocktails? As yet there have been no sightings. No high-heeled sound of her feet.
Add about a cup and a half of peas—seasonal peas from the freezer. Stand over the heat and stir. And now for the orzo pasta—about eight ounces—and a little over two cups of water, boiling and ready in the tea pot. I’ve got ten minutes of groping time to spend and no one to spend it on.
But lo! It appears I’m a conjurer. I merely imagine those splendid back pockets, and in they walk!
“What’s this?” they ask.
“You’ll want a cigarette afterward.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“That’s one woman’s opinion.”
She inspects the workmanship. “Is that enough water?”
“You just walk to the other side of the kitchen and then walk back over here and leave the inspecting to me.”
That line hasn’t yielded a rise in at least a decade.
“You’re going to need more water,” she says.
“You know what I need?”
She takes a hit of the IPA.
I say, “Drink to me only with thine eyes,” which, upon my recitation, roll.
Whereupon I hear the high-heeled sound of her feet leaving the kitchen.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the lays.”
Oops! Did I say that? I meant only to think it in my heart. Ah, what a girl! “And she would shine like a diamond / Trapped in a clear crystal ring.”
Ten minutes are up. The bonehead who wrote this recipe, who suggested I merely flavor the oil with one clove of garlic and then toss the garlic, now wants me to add a single tablespoon of butter. But how am I going to get sympathy from the Eye-Roller for suffering a massive M.I. if I add only 1 T of butter? As with garlic and irony, so with butter: triple it.
And now the grated Parmesan. I stand there and stir and think about the NYT writer worried about his guests, most of whom are no doubt bores of the first water: those who disrupt solitude without bringing the benefit of good conversation. Not a one of them could spot an eye-rolling goddess in splendid back pockets.
Okay. We’re assembled. The two older children are well-mannered enough to eat what’s in front of them. The youngest, Eyore, is the variable. He might pitch a fit and make things difficult, though the bacon’s in my favor.
He devours the “risotto.” The Goddess Excellently Bright and I are relieved. At the last bite he holds up a pea. “But I don’t care much for these but’s it’s alright.”
I knew the peas might pose a problem, and I agree that peas are best et raw. And if he were ready for a lesson in style and grammar I’d tell him that “but” used twice in close proximity is a real rhetorical no-no, and I’d call him out on the singular-plural problem, but he isn’t ready, so I dismiss him with a wave of the hand. Another day’s worth of calories are in us, and we are grateful.
“Well?” I say. How do you feel after the risotto?
And she, showing her happy glow, says, “I feel full.”