Olive Oil (Prologue)
My father’s parents were largely responsible for raising me, on and off, until I was 12. They were two old-school New York Italians in California, selling irregular designer clothes at a swap meet. I was their only grandchild and they loved me with all the force of it. When I would stay at my mom’s apartment on the weekends, I shared a bedroom with my three blonde older half-siblings, who shared a father. I was estranged in my imagination.
They had MTV. My grandparents had cable, too, but they only watched QVC and MTV was everything. The music video language is still intoxicating to read and no-one’s breath hung on the screen like Madonna’s. She was the high priestess- no-one stood out like her. She moved in pure color, the most unapologetic distillation of an overtly distilled media. I lived and breathed music videos at the time when the form was at its zenith. They were, and are, my passionate manuscript.
White onion (Borderline)
That high pitch that’s present in the physical resistance of the onion is bright and characterized by watering eyes: a total brat, singing all in the sinuses. Acerbic, she needs time in the oil to simmer and mellow. As she simmers, the oil takes on some of her aromatic power, cooked down to near mush. By herself she’s too potent. She warbles into the golden oil.
At thirty, I’ve overcome the allergy that used to make me cry when I cut onions.
Only use white onion, the kind with the veiny umbre skin. Never use red onion. They’re too sweet.
Garlic (Oh Father)
Her roots are dark but her tips are bright white. Her father, or her husband tears her jewelry, yells in her face as a girl. She only feels safe in his sheets. You’ll learn to forgive after you’ve torn yourself away. In her blue period, when she is fully brunette, she will say “Creation comes when you learn to say ‘no’,” but this is the moment where she first learns and the lesson is stark. Her father, or her husband will never know how far she’s had to go to recognize his cruelty is rooted in a pain he can neither understand nor alleviate. He doesn’t have her language or her versatility of character, a character which cannot be perturbed by his brutality. He doesn’t know she will always be something more because a part of her is underground forever, part of her is gone with her mother, forever out of reach of her, her husband, or her father.
Do not let the garlic stay in the oil long enough to brown. Brown garlic is disgusting and you still want some of the tang of raw garlic.
Tomatoes should be canned. It feels contradictory to the earliest edict of making Italian food- that everything must be fresh- but maybe it’s the exception that proves the rule. Fresh tomato marinara exists and is rather lovely, but I stick to canned because my father stuck to cans and so did his mother and I cannot speak to other traditions. The big cans in the grocery store are fine, and cheap. They do not come from the soil of your yard, or have the complex character of the sun hitting your afternoon, they come from where-ever. They could be years in the can before you open it. Don’t worry about it.
I try not to make apologies for the things I love because, ultimately all my pleasures are guilty. I allow myself to love easy things because too often, the things I want are difficult and the processes by which they’re attained aren’t, in themselves, pleasant. It’s not innate for me to be protective or even blythely unconcerned about pleasure. To want something is not enough, it has to answer why. This is why I feel ashamed when I say, “my family recipe uses canned tomatoes”. Im seeking relief in the quick, cheap and easy- the unanswered for- but if I were to say the recipe were different would be a lie.
Basil & Oregano (Vogue)
At her blondest, not even the suggestion of roots. There are so many women to compare her to in this video, so many photographers and cinematographers to attribute the video’s style, but one must (always) circle back to Marilyn. The gentle blonde wave of her short hair and the unambiguous sexuality, the eager love affair, on both ends, with the camera. Madonna is simultaneously a recapitulation and a refutation of the symbol that is traded by saying “Marilyn” (The girl who was no-one’s daughter, so she became everyone’s). She commands the symbol and demands that we make it louder, harder and funnier. Sometimes it seems like people despise Madonna for denying us a tragedy that’s owed to every iconic blonde.
Always use fresh basil. I’d go so far as to say- hand tear your basil into long ribbons, while still sun-warm when you put it in the pot. Unlike basil, you must use oregano when it’s already dry, otherwise it has no aromatic intensity. I prefer to put it in last, once the basil has already begun to cook into the sauce.
You don’t learn precise measurements because no-one teaching you ever measured. You season, then you taste. And each time you dip the wooden spoon, the sauce will come back with another sensation. Sometimes the onions will still stand up too loud, and other times the aromatics of the basil will be overpowering. The proportions seem counterintuitive until you’ve taken the time, so you let the ingredients train you. You learn to stir, that when it’s hot enough, you should press the whole tomatoes with your spoon, as if it were an over-medium egg, until it gently yields its seeds and juice. The breached membrane reduces into the sauce. You learn color, and know you’re almost done when the surface takes the incandescence of scarab flesh. There is a flavor caught in your bones that one day you realize you’ve almost replicated. It’s always almost perfect. It’s always a memory of a memory, and even if you perfected it, you would never know. So you let it simmer over a low heat, and you wait.
Approx 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ white onion
4 cloves of garlic
½ – 1 can of tomato paste (depending on how thick you prefer)
1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 large can of tomato sauce
Basil, salt and oregano to taste
Chop the onion and set aside. Line the bottom of of a large sauce pan with the olive oil and turn on the heat to medium. When the oil is heated, turn down the heat and add the onion. Use a garlic press or chop the garlic and add it once the onion has turned mostly translucent. Open the cans of tomato, because the garlic will cook quickly. Once the garlic is also translucent, add the tomato paste and stir. Once the paste is integrated with the onion and garlic, add the cans of chopped tomato or whole tomato and the tomato sauce. Add the basil and the oregano. Cook covered over a low heat, stirring occasionally for 1&1/2 – 2 hours.
Serve over angel-hair pasta or rigatoni, with fresh parmesan.