She arrived at the door with a big paper grocery sack, handed off the goods, and left promptly, knowing full well what life was like with a toddler and a new baby at home.
In the grocery sack were three Ziploc bags: Wide noodles; sauce; chopped Romaine (freshly chopped from a real head of lettuce, it was obvious, and not from a cello bag). There was also a small bottle of salad dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, and salt) and a container of Parmesan cheese. I think there was a note, but there were no instructions because she knew, by then, that I wouldn’t need instructions.
When I saw this friend, sometime later, and thanked her again for the dinner, she said it was her favorite meal to take to new mothers. It was uncomplicated, generally appealing to a wide range of palates. “That sauce, though,” I said. “was just sublime. What is it?”
And that’s how I discovered Marcella Hazan’s simple meat pasta sauce, which had been hiding in plain sight, in an unopened cookbook on my kitchen shelf, for some time. More on that, later. First, the sentimental part.
Like many new mothers, I made new friends when my first child was born. This particular friend, the one who brought dinner that night, wasn’t someone I expected to like. Her second child and my first were born a few days apart, during the same month that my husband was doing work at her house. “She’s already back in her regular jeans,” he said, unhelpfully, one evening.
A few months later were all at a wedding together, our first formal introduction, and I warmed to her on the spot. She was disarmingly sharp-witted and so genuinely gracious that it was hard to begrudge her for recovering her pre-pregnancy physique.
Not long after that wedding our boys became playmates at a parents’ day out program, and she and I became friends. When my daughter arrived, two years later, she was among the first to bring us dinner after we came home from the hospital.
Food, cooking, and family meals were hallmarks of our friendship, in fact, until she moved away a decade ago. It was she who first introduced me to Michael Pollan (with strong advice not to read In Defense of Food until my life allowed space for the changes I would probably want to make afterward). That suggestion, as all others from her, came without judgment, competition, jealousy, challenge or pity. The lack of these things has, in fact, defined the entirety of our friendship. That, in itself, is remarkable between any two friends. Between two women, it is almost miraculous.
Some of my favorite dishes, vintage glassware, cookbooks and linens are gifts I received from her. But the most enduring gift, in a tangible way at any rate, was the introduction to Marcella Hazan’s simple meat sauce, an all-time family favorite.
I’ve never actually made it with veal, as the recipe specifies, but have instead used either beef or turkey (when possible, from a local farmer). As I eat less and less meat, though, I’ve migrated from that simple meat sauce to Marcella’s classic simple tomato sauce, which is nothing short of kitchen wizardry.
I’m making that sauce today, again, with a fresh haul of ripe, lovely San Marzano tomatoes from the market. I’ll stir the tomatoes and onion, thinking of my friend and the gift of unexpected friendship. When the sauce is finished and cooled, I’ll pop it in the freezer to save for a dark day in winter, when I need it most.
Food | August 21, 2021
I know; you’re tired of hearing about tomatoes. But it’s summer, and real, locally-grown tomatoes are available just about everywhere, and that won’t be true in 6 or 8 weeks. Adding to your stash of tomato-focused recipes, here’s a run-down from the folks at Epicurious: 99 Best Tomato Recipes for the Flavors You’ve Waited All Year to Taste. (Ah, look; a listicle….) I’m drawn to Peaches and Tomatoes with Burrata and Hot Sauce. For Sunday brunch, how about a Yellow Tomato Bloody Mary (made with gin, not vodka). Looking for something exotic but easy? How about Chickpea-Potato Chaat (note: you’ll need ingredients that aren’t in most kitchens for this one, so plan ahead).
Alright, alright; enough about tomatoes. Let’s consider other options.
Need some comfort food, but don’t want to put your head in a tub of ice cream? How about Thomas Keller’s Favorite Simple Roast Chicken. It will make your house smell good and your kitchen feel warm, so you can restore the strength you will surely continue to need in the days ahead.
This post is 12/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.