It’s that time of year when, like a squirrel, I have stocked up on so many basics, have a larder full of fresh preserved goods, squash and onions in the garage, and something always still fresh in the refrigerator. I can go weeks without having to visit the grocery store. What a pleasure it is to scan through what is there in my mind and see what is illuminated. The other night it was the onions. Gorgeous firm crisp onions. A perfect night for the simple sautéing with salt and olive oil with some of my father’s fresh canned tomatoes. I typically serve this with pasta but realize the only pasta in the house right now is lasagna noodles. Which brings a smile. Now I am remembering the sound of broken noodles I would hear every day last year as my Italian housemate Luca prepared his midday meal. He always used the same pan used to saute fish and tomatoes. While they were cooking he would systematically snap a handful of dried lasagna noodle into pieces. The sound of it is etched in my memory, as is the fascination that he never used any of the dozens of commercially prepared pasta shapes. I never asked him why, just came to accept his practice as something particularly Luca. He would then add the dried noodles directly to the simmering liquid in the saute pan, the epitome of efficiency I would think! It is a good memory, warm in the associations of a home shared with others; their traditions, their differences, and their unique contributions.
It is only now as I pull out the box of lasagna noodles that I begin to think about how the function of the noodle is completely transformed in this process of intentionally ‘breaking’;. Unlike the disappointment that might be felt with messing with the perfection of long strands of fettucine or spaghetti, there is great satisfaction in making the odd and unique shapes that result from snapping each lasagna noodle in various ways. Another kitchen lesson! When we are open to the uniqueness and rightness of the moment, there is no ‘broken’, no disappointment, no guilt or regret. The meaning of broken shifts and offers the potential for change in seeing something new and different. Or maybe just the feeling of anticipation of what this particular alchemy today will yield. I put the dish of broken noodles in the center of the quilt I am working on that currently occupies the dining room table.
Not unlike this dish of odd shapes, the quilt too is a collection of random scraps that have found their place in a design. Eventually, whether a quilt or a story or a meal, it all feels and looks and tastes exactly like what it is to be, bringing with it the accompanying joy of having experienced something new in the making.
The pan is now full of simmering sliced onions, about four cups worth. I add some white wine tonight with the salt. My new favorite to cook with is a $5.00 bottle of Pinot Grigio by Quail Creek that I find at Whole Foods. I wait until the onions are about half carmelized before adding a pint of precious tomatoes.
Yes, they are precious. Something we all covet and wait for each year that my father has been practicing this art of preserving the fruits of his labor, an invaluable gift for the food focused Ford family. The sauce needs to simmer for awhile, letting everything become creamy and soft in the way a profusion of cooking onions can become.
Put a pot of water on to boil in the meantime and cook the noodles al dente. I stand there coaxing each newly created shape to establish independence from each other as one typically needs to do when cooking lasagna noodles (and hmmmmm, another reason to add them directly to the pan as Luca does, to get coated in the sauce before absorbing the rich liquid in the pan). I add the drained al dente noodles to the pan of sauce with about 1/4 water and another splash of wine, cover and continue simmering on low. When the noodles are soft, turn off the fire and let sit for a few minutes.
With some freshly grated parmesan cheese on top, this simple meal of noodles and onions is a feast.