Jus, dressing, coulis, gravy, etc. Whatever you call it, a great sauce can cure anything that ails you.
Just as Chef Gusteau in Ratatouille claimed “anyone can cook”, I too believe that everyone has the ability to be their own chef. But that still doesn’t mean everyone enjoys it. My mother, for example, thinks cooking is the most boring thing on the planet.
I view cooking as the complete opposite. I’ve been throwing together ingredients and trying out recipes since I was nine years old. Back when I would sit in front of the TV on the weekends, and write down everything Ina Garten or Giada De Laurentiis did while watching the Food Network.
Food has always been comforting to me, whether it was a simple meal or an extravagant culinary experience. I’ve been known to make a large pan of lasagna rather than deal with my problems. Of course eating food is always a comfort, but for me, it’s the process that’s the most enjoyable. I can look at my pantry, or peer into my refrigerator, and pick out the ingredients that will set me on a new journey for the next hour or so.
When things are truly out of control for me, I head into the kitchen. Time slows down and I’m able to focus on what’s right in front of me. Is my pasta water boiling? Is it time to add the tomato paste to the sizzling garlic and olive oil? How much is too much fresh cracked pepper? (The answer: you can never have too much.)
Today my heart led me to a simple and silky tomato sauce and pasta dish inspired by Basically’s Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce. It’s slightly riff-tastic because we’re still, you know, in quarantine, and I had fresh cherry tomatoes and no canned.
So, I set out on my journey…
I gather everything deliberately as I get ready to spend the next hour in my kitchen. I wrap myself in an apron because God forbid I get anything on the leggings/t-shirt combo I’ve been wearing for two days. I clear my counter and make it into a canvas.
Red pepper flakes.
Lil anchovy guys.
Salt & black pep.
A little butter.
I have everything I need, and everything I can control, right in front of me. I preheat my oven so it’s ready when I am. I fill my pot with all the water my pasta desires and I let it begin it’s journey to a rapid boil, the salt lays in waiting for its shining moment.
I turn to the other side of my small kitchen and grab my knife and cutting board. I move with the sounds of my playlist as I sharpen the blade, getting it ready for its tango with the garlic. As I smash the little cloves, I’m in the moment. While a small act of aggression, it allows me to have a release. Next the butter. A different feeling than the rigid garlic, I slice through it with ease and come back to center. I set it aside, not quite ready for its big moment.
I grab the baking dish to my left and slowly drizzle golden olive oil on its surface. I pop the tin of anchovies open as the briny smell of the tiny fillets wafts up to me. They join the pan. The small tomatoes fill the space of the dish and brace themselves for the heat. The garlic accompanies them and they make their way into the oven. With a wave of a little salt and a crack of pepper, the first step of this process is done. I clean my canvas to continue.
I now have a moment for myself. I’m still calm. I sip my coffee because yes, I’m making pasta at 10 am.
While I wait for the pasta water to hit its crescendo, I take more time to myself. Sometimes the slow eye on your stove is a blessing. Sometimes it lets you finish your book and makes you practice patience. The tomatoes need more time anyway.
A few minutes tick by as my playlist hits its end and repeats again. Finally, I can hear the bubbles of the boiling water. The salt goes in, followed by the stiff bucatini. A stir gets the process started as my hips sway to the beat of the current song.
Through the tiny window in the door of the oven, I glimpse my tomatoes and their accompanying friends. They’ve burst with the heat and have broken down, joining the garlic in softness. The anchovies have almost vanished as they’ve melted into the rest of the pan. Jammy and delicious.
I take the pan out and examine the burst tomatoes. Almost ready. A little bit of tomato paste here, a bit of cubed butter over there. Lots of salt and freshly cracked pep. A teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I use my trusty kitchen tool, the fork, and crush the tomatoes and garlic to combine them with the other players. The sauce is ready for its dance with the bucatini.
The pasta reaches al dente and is drained and prepared to meet its match. I reserve some of the Liquid Gold™ aka pasta water. The red sauce mixes with the pale pasta and with a little help of the Liquid Gold™, they come together beautifully.
Twisted into a bowl with the help of some tongs, and topped with a few more dashes of red pepper, it’s finished. Silky, smooth, and perfect for an early lunch at 11 am.
I’ve spent the last 40 or so minutes in harmony with the heartbeat of my kitchen, silent except for the moments where I sang along with my favorite tunes.
The best part of my culinary therapy is being able to share the outcome with someone. My roommate, who would freak out if she knew little anchovy fillets were hiding in the sauce, devours the bowl with a smile plastered on her tomato stained lips.
There’s nothing a bowl of pasta can’t cure. I’m sure of it. And there’s nothing an hour in the kitchen can’t fix. Throughout this time of overwhelming uncertainty, where my priorities range from trying to find a job to perfecting TikTok dances, what I know to be certain is the comfort of some pasta. Some pasta and a great sauce.