Laurie Notaro's Dish of Death
Chow Bella has a valentine for you. For the rest of February, we're handing out Candy Hearts -- stories of food and love from some of our favorite writers. Enjoy.
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?"
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 out 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 from 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 acumen 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.
When I ask him if he sees anything in the magic spaghetti, he never has an answer. But my husband always eats every last bite.
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