Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Zen of Sauce

I made pasta sauce.
With crab legs.
It's good.
Start with The Holy Trinity.  Olive oil, garlic, onion.  Sweat that down with salt.
Don't burn it.
Add your seasonings to the mix.  Don't burn it.
Add your tomatoes.  There are lots of kinds, pick your favorite.  Don't burn them.
Add the sugar. Don't burn it.
Let it cook.
And cook.
Don't burn it.
And cook.
And cook.
Don't burn it.
Add a little water and tomato paste when needed.
Don't burn it.
When its close to done, add some crab legs.  Let them cook in the sauce.
Don't burn it.
When it's done, you'll know.  Use your eyes, nose and tongue.   You'll need your ears too, listen for how fast its simmering.
Don't burn it.

 I am by no means an expert at making sauce.  But who can be, since everyone's sauce is different?  Different proportions of different ingredients.  The vegetables are all different depending on where they are growing in the world.  There's nothing special about jarred sauce because every jar tastes the same at every house.  My Irish/French/German sauce is different from my Korean mother in law's, whose is different from her Sicilian mother in law's from whom she learned.  Less enjoyable? No.  Its my individual statement.  There's also the experience of the sauce.  What else was going on while I was making this sauce, at home, in the world, in my head, in the heads of those who are going to be enjoying it in a few hours?  In order to not burn it,  you need to watch it.  Smell it, look at it, touch it with the spoon, taste it.  Almost constantly. I'm a busy lady, so I can't make sauce everyday.  It needs to be done at the right time and in the right mindframe.  Making sauce is something of a meditation.  You must be aware of what is going on inside the pot and what is going into it.  You also need to be in touch with those senses.  You can make a fresh sauce quickly, but it won't have the depth and character of a beautiful sauce that has been cooking on the stove for hours.  You have to devote the time.  It is not something that can be done as a "what the hell' last minute thing.  Its a devotional not to be reserved for Sunday.
So if someone tells you "your sauce is so good", there's more going on there.
Maybe its "I hate tomatoes, but.."
Or perhaps ".... It reminds me of my grandmother's house".
Or "...Ralph and I went to Rome for our anniversary, and we had sauce just like this!"
"This brings back memories, some sad, some happy".
Food has the power to inspire such emotion.
A jar of Ragu doesn't bring back a memory because it wasn't cooked with any.  The smell permeates the house and gets the attention of everyone.  Its a mixture of emotions- excitement, then some reminiscing, fantasizing, longing, then comes the rumbling stomach which brings the task at hand into focus. And the pot hasn't even made it off the stove yet.  No mention of the delicious pasta yet (which is a whole thing on its own. Crab sauce is served with linguini- discussion over).  Let's head for the table.  Let the newly activated senses take over.  I start with the pasta first.  Sauce looks like the right color and consistency.  I know this because I've made it so many times before.  Sauce is delicious and smoothe, well cooked.  Activate ears- here come the compliments. How about some of the crab legs? This is a meal that should be eaten with a plastic tablecloth and dark clothes.  If you have a papercut, its gonna hurt, but its so worth it.  You will be up to your elbows in sauce and crabby bits.  Its impossible to eat this civilly, so don't bother.  Everyone else will be covered in it too, enjoying what you have focused on for the past several hours.  Notice I say focused, not labored.  Pour your glass of wine. You're gonna get sauce all over the glass.  Go ahead, lick it off the stem.   
Enjoy it.
Savor it.
Clean up  your dish with some fresh bread.
All of your ingredients should be married into one perfectly balanced union.  Your cooking experience, your feelings, thoughts and emotions can be tasted. If you don't accept sauce making as a time to ruminate and find your kitchen zen, you can taste it. Enjoy the heaviness off of your shoulders and onto your belly, just for a little while.

Now try to keep that feeling when you're scrubbing your nails and the tablecloth later. Like I said, its worth it.

Bon apetit, and what the hell, namaste, too.

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