Candy Hearts: Stories of Food and Love

Dish of Death | Laurie Notaro

I place the bowl of spaghetti on the table directly in front of my husband. Then I stand there for a moment and give him a dirty look, just like I do every time I make spaghetti.

"So," I say in a completely serious tone, "is this magic bowl of spaghetti sending you a message? Because if the pasta is trying to tell you something, I think we need to clear it up right now before I bring the meatballs out. Any messages from beyond? Or behind?"

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love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on
Read musings on love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on
Read musings on 
love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on
Cynthia Clark Harvey
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And then I wait.

"I'd rather not talk about it," he usually says, which is the right answer.

I'm sure not everyone eats spaghetti like this, but it's become something of a custom in our house. The gravy is homemade: the meatballs are the result of generations of meat and cheese mashing until they are perfect. I'm a pro at making gravy now, but when I was in my 20s it wasn't such an easy task.

Although I'd been watching my nana make gravy since I was old enough to know that hot oil will pop into your eye if you stand too close to frying spheres of meat, it took a certain amount of chutzpah to take on the duty myself. One afternoon, I decided to give it a shot and followed my nana's directions, mapped out in her formal script on a stained recipe card.

I rolled the meatballs out perfectly, a precise combination of beef, pork, bread crumbs, garlic, and Parmesan. Nana's recipe. After frying them to a crispy deep brown, I plopped them into the gravy, which had been waiting patiently in a pot next to the frying pan.

From the aroma steaming up and the simmering sauce's popping bubbles, I could tell it was probably my best batch yet — my family's ages-old mainstay tomato sauce for all things Italian: lasagna, eggplant Parm, and most importantly, macaroni. My nana's gravy accumen left a lot to live up to. It takes hours to make, and the longer it simmers, the better it is. I left my gravy on all morning and thought that as long as I was going through the trouble for my own dinner, I might as well spread the glory of gravy around and put together a nice lunch for a guy I had just started dating.

Instead of eating off the roach coach, he would have an awesome dish of spaghetti and meatballs.

When the gravy was finished, I assembled the spaghetti and meatballs together in a Tupperware bowl and brought it to his place of employment, eager to deliver such a delicious lunch. He smiled when he took it, and said he would call me later that night. I waited in wild anticipation of what he would say. Italian girls have a lot to make up for; if you're not willing to have hot wax poured over 90 percent of your body, you'd better be exceptional in other areas. I was hoping gravy was mine.

And he did call when he said he would, then invited me over. He made no mention of the spaghetti, but as soon as I got to his house, his reaction couldn't have been more spectacular.

He broke up with me.

I tried to take it on the chin, but I sobbed to Stevie Nicks songs the whole way home, wailing like a cat on the 202 and then the 51. He said he wasn't ready for something so serious, not even when I insisted that macaroni was just macaroni and not an offering of a dowry. It was not a cow or a herd of goats. It was just lunch.

I'm sorry, he said. I'm not ready for the spaghetti level of relationship, he explained. Spaghetti added a lot of pressure. It was too soon; spaghetti was . . . more than he could do at the moment. Spaghetti was heavy.

I was stunned for days. Would it have been different with macaroni and cheese? Should I have delivered a burrito? After overthinking my misstep, I started to resent the spaghetti. I was never going to make it again. I told my nana what had happened, and she just laughed. "What a gavone," she said with a wave of her hand. "Spaghetti is just spaghetti! Now if you made gnocchi or brasiole, that's asking for a commitment."

I ran into him at the bar that weekend and instead of snubbing him, I addressed the issue head on.

"Hey, you," I said, drunkenly wagging a finger in his face. "That gravy wasn't just for you, you know. I was trying to be nice. Try to find another girl who makes it like I do. Never. Gonna. Happen. That's my nana's gravy, buster. And you've had it for the last time."

"It was delicious," he admitted.

Seventeen years later, I still think of that guy when I make gravy. I've gotten better at it, and now, after almost two decades of practice, I have it down to near-perfection. I feel almost sorry for him, but then I remember the snot bubble I blew near the Indian School exit and I just have to laugh at his foolishness. Jerk.

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I would love to know, too!  I haven't been able to find a good Italian restuarant since I left the NY/NJ area in '86 to move here.  Keep trying different places, but none measure up, so I'd like to make my own gravy and meatballs.  PLEASE share!


Er,  what kind of "gravy" is served on your spaghetti?  I come from an Italian background on my Mother's side  and it is called "sauce" and made with tomatoes.  Just curious.  



In second and third generation Italian families from the NY/NJ area, it's ALWAYS called gravy, never sauce. Got another flash for you, we call it macaroni, not pasta. My grandparents called it pasta, but they were from Italy.......both sides. Matter of fact, there's a cook book by a women from NY/NJ titled "We Call It Macaroni"


@shazam47 @naoma   How lovely to hear from you.  My Grandmother was from Italy and spoke no English.  She lived in Pittsburgh.  I think it was called:  "spaghet."  Had a dear friend whose parents were also Italian and her Mom made her own spaghet -- and hung it over a chair after she cut it in thin strands (with a dish towel to hang it on.)  Her Dad made wine in the basement and if we'd bring guys around for them to meet her Dad would give them a glass of WINE (it was killer stuff) and her Mom always pronounced the guys:  "he's a so cute."  Loved her family.  Long gone; long ago.  I have a friend living in Paris who is Italian but now he considers himself French.  Speaks 4 languages.  


@naoma4man @shazam47 @naoma  Yes, that's another one, "spaghet". Wow, as soon as I read that word, it was like a wave of memories came over me. Living here in AZ for the last 39 years has dulled some of that "culture". Thank you!