I can’t think three dimensionally.
My architect sister shows me plans, flat on a page, and I glaze over while my husband lights up. He’s walking down the hallway, imagining the ceiling height and soon the two of them are enjoying the view from a south-facing window. It’s like they’re wearing VR goggles, and I’m left behind, in reality.
But listening to someone describe a recipe, that’s another story. Fanny Singer’s memoir, Always Home, is in my ears these days. Today I’m listening as I make her mother’s green pasta from the Chez Panisse 1984 cookbook Pasta, Pizza & Calzone. I’m filling the food processor with all the greens I have in the fridge – spinach, parsley, cilantro. I pulse them together into a fine purée and blend them with an egg and flour as I listen to Fanny Singer read her recipe for salsa verde, a green sauce she ‘rarely goes a week without making.’ It’s a mother-daughter mélange happening in my kitchen, one that’s filling the space with aroma, words, shape and flavour.
I hear Fanny plucking parsley leaves from their stems before they are chopped, along with cilantro, into a pile. I hear the flat of a knife, smashing a clove of garlic. A jalapeño is minced and added to the garlic, along with a good pinch of sea salt. A lemon is zested, sliced and squeezed of its juice to ‘slightly mellow the bite of the garlic and the chili.’ The mound of herbs are spooned into a bowl with the salty, garlicky, chili, lemony mixture, then olive oil is poured over everything, glug glugging from a tall bottle. I smell it. I can see it. I’m there.
The salsa verde was made, in my imagination, in fits and starts. Just as Fanny’s voice kicks in and stories of her mother’s iconic Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse begin to flow, a kid walks in. I press pause. We chat, he eats, I remind him to load his plate into the dishwasher. I press play. Another one comes in. Pause. Play. Pause. Play. Eventually my earbuds are covered in flour flecked with green herbs. This is what happens when the kitchen is HQ, and online school breaks are situated in a randomly staggered fashion.
I persevere because this book makes me feel good. Isolation has given us the space to notice these feelings and welcome them in.
Some already have this clarity. My mother, for example, knows she loves a slow morning. Good storytelling. Orange juice. Hot coffee, with a splash of cream. Sweaters that cover the draft over her lower back. A soft boiled egg. Soft lighting (she can’t watch television if a hall light is on, beaming at her peripherally). Fanny’s mother, Alice Waters, burns a branch of rosemary in every space she inhabits – rental home or her own – to create her preferred aroma. She makes chicken stock. She builds a fire. These aren’t acts of indulgence, they are tools for feeling good.
Later I cut the pasta into fettuccine. I boil the green strands in lots of salted water, top them with cherry tomatoes that have been marinating all afternoon in olive oil, slivered garlic and torn fresh basil. I like to keep toppings simple when the pasta takes more effort than usual.
I eat it alone with the afternoon sun on my face. It’s quiet and my senses are full.
It’s a good feeling, one that I understand and will hold on to.
Green Pasta (using a pasta machine)*
Blend 400g of greens (spinach, stemmed parsley, cilantro, basil – whatever you have) until you have approximately ⅓ cup green purée. Whisk puréed greens with 1 egg and a big pinch of salt.
Measure 2 ½ cups (300g) all purpose flour in a mound on the counter. Using the bottom of a small bowl, make an well in the centre of the mound. Pour green/egg mixture into the well and, using a fork, whisk flour into the mixture until everything is combined. Gather the shaggy mess with your hands and knead it for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. You might need to sprinkle a little water over the dough in the early stages of kneading if it feels dry. Cover dough and leave to rest for 1 hour.
Roll the pasta as directed and leave to dry on a pasta rack (or a horizontal broom handle) while you bring a pot of salty water to a boil. Boil pasta for 3-4 minutes, until tender, and drain. Divide pasta between 3-4 plates, and top with marinated tomatoes. Toss to coat pasta in all that flavourful oil, and finish with more sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Torn mozzarella, feta, or a shaving of fresh parmesan would also be great here.
*The internet is full of instructions on how to roll out and cut pasta if you don’t have a pasta machine. I stick to my Kitchen Aid pasta attachment, rolling dough to a #4 thickness then cutting, in this case, into fettuccine.
For the tomatoes, cut 300-400g of cherry tomatoes into quarters and place in a bowl. Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic and add to the tomatoes, along with 2 tablespoons of torn fresh basil leaves (and parsley too if you have it). Add 6 tablespoons of good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and leave the bowl on the counter for flavours to infuse for an hour or so.