Midnight Pasta

Happy to have a recipe published in the new local paper, The Provincetown independent.

For a time in the early to mid nineties, I lived in San Diego—in the Windnsea neighborhood in La Jolla, to be precise.  I knew nothing about San Diego, but took a chance and moved to there to teach fiction writing at the university.  I landed in a remarkably open, multicultural community (my main motivation to go) and found a bevy of smart, fun, and generous friends.  They were a mix of hardcore intellectuals, writers, and surfers.  I went to many parties and gave a few myself.   At one, as the music cooled and the crowd of twenty or so got their second wind, my friend Pasquale Verdicchio, a poet from Naples, told us it was time for midnight pasta.  Off we trooped into the kitchen, where I got a big pot of spaghetti going. Pasquale sliced up garlic, which he threw onto a warming pan of oil, searing them to a golden crispy almost-brown.  He skillfully, theatrically, mixed the garlicky oil into the al dente spaghetti.  A little parsley, some salt, and lots of red pepper flakes, and there we had it: midnight pasta.

I have returned to the dish many times, sometimes using angel hair pasta, sometimes linguini, if that is all I find in the house. These days, though, I mostly eat alone, accompanied by two sleepy cats and Netflix.  The dish is easy to adjust to single portions.  Just measure out the amount of pasta you’ll eat and reduce the ingredients accordingly. You will have enough for a bowl, though you might want to cut a slice of bread to run around the dish to sop up lingering sauce.

Although I think few things go together so well as  garlic, olive oil, and red pepper, you can be endlessly creative with this dish. Go ahead, zest some lemon into the bowl, add add baby spinach or arugula, with maybe a touch of nutmeg.  Or, add chunks of goat cheese and chopped toasted walnuts, swap out the garlic for torn wedges of mandarin orange, dribble a touch of balsamic vinegar, and grind black peppercorn over the dish for bite. Grated parmesan is an easy addition.  Another option is to sauté some chopped tomato, red bell pepper, and broccoli rabe with the garlic and red pepper flakes, topping the dish off with a scattering of toasted pine nuts. But at midnight, you just might want to keep it simple.

 

Midnight Pasta Recipe

(serves 6-8)

I pound spaghetti

Several cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, or minced

Olive oil, about a ½  cup

¼ cup of pasta water

Red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

Fresh Parsley, (or basil if in season)

¼ cup grated parmesan (optional)

 

 

Boil the water for the pasta.  Salt it like Ina Garten tells us, with a good amount, to mimic the sea.

Add the spaghetti. A pasta maker once told me that no pasta needs more than eight minutes in the pot.  I still test the noodles by biting them, looking for the white raw interior to vanish.

Remember to save a quarter cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.

 

While the pasta is getting ready, heat the oil in a large saucepan, and saute the garlic, being careful not to burn it.  It should take just a few seconds to turn a beautiful golden bronze.

Add some of the saved pasta water.

Add the red pepper to the oil, as much as you and your guests prefer.

Drain the spaghetti and add it to the pan, mixing gently.

If using, add the Parmesan.

Add salt to taste.

Tear parsley into small pieces and sprinkle if you like.

 

Originally published in The Provincetown Independent, February 27, 2020

The back yard

Seven summers ago, I started a new life devoted to writing, in Provincetown. Naturally, I wanted to distract myself. My apartment was surrounded by growth. The front garden was tamed by the former tennant, an admirable writer, who grew epic tomatoes and many herbs.  I was told repeatedly, though,  that nothing would grow in the back, though; too much shade, poor soil; wind.

Nothing motivates me more than a gardening challenge. I researched Cape Cod garden peculiarities, studied books on soil improvement, and shade gardens all winter long. In the spring, I got to work.

The back had two bare plots, divided by a common gravel path.  The north-facing cement wall, aka foundation,  featured a tangle of wires and meters, and wooden fences ran along the east and west sides.  The front was seperated from the wetlands by another gravel footpath.  It wasn’t a secret graden, or a reading nook to escape with a book and tea.  Without privacy, the backyard became a place to landscape and learn.  The nooks and bits of garden I’d had before mostly consisted of pots, and not much dug into the ground.  So, right off, I bought a shovel, pruners, and a rake, and the first in a series of garden hoses.   The pruners especially rusted magnificantly.    

Two hostas already grew along one fence, so I took the cue, and planted a few more. I found cinnamon fern, dicentra, astilbe, Forget-me-not, sweet woodruff, and huchera in the local nurseries. I added that year’s star perennial, geranium Rozanne, and some annuals, guided by garden catelougues, books, and sales.  

2012

Things grew slowly that year, but steadily. Clematis came next, and buddleia. I tried a potted dahlia, trout lilies, and to my surprise, I had a volunteer Joe Pye’s Weed. The latter was good for the bees, my gardener friend told me, and she gave me some monarda to plant as well.

2014

I kept trying new things, like margoton lilies, heirloom glads, snake’s head fritilleria. Some plants reassuringly appeared year after year, while others, like the trout lilies and buddleia, last only a five years. One year, the cinnamom ferns kept having babies. But the garden feels incomplete. It lacks a sense of sanctuary, a sense of safety. It looks good in parts, but does it have a sense of harmony? I have my catelogues and graph paper out. I’m watching garden shows and taking notes. If you have suggestions, I’m listening. (Below the next two photos is a slideshow.)740″] Fern explosion, 2017?[/caption]

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A vegetarian at the seaside: rant

Vegetables Disguised as Fish at the Gardner Museum Cafe

A good metaphor for being vegetarian at a seaside resort town is that the only health food store becomes a beer hall.

When you ask if there is anything vegetarian to eat, the waiter will brightly say, “ we have a really good veggie burger.”

Twenty years ago,the only veg option at a nice restaurant was stir fry, which was another name for steamed carrots, beans, and portobello mushrooms over fried rice.

Before veggie burgers, an entire giant portobello mushroom would be seared and served in a bun.

At Chinese restaurants, the veg option was Buddha’s Delight,meaning you had given you taste.

Thirty years ago,you could ask for mashed potatoes, but not the gravy.

Someone realized pasta could work as a vegetarian option, and that vegetarian did not mean boiled noodles with salt.

A non-vegetarian will assume a vegetarian can’t have ever have had a decent meal.

A vegetarian will only realize how difficult it is to be a dinner guest when hosting gluten-intolerant guests, or vegans.

Vegans are much more militaristic than vegetarians.

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