“Dinner was always a big thing in the joint. We had a pasta course and then meat or fish. Paulie did the prep work. He was doing a year for contempt and he had a system for doing garlic. He used a razor and he sliced it so thin it used to liquefy in the pan with a little oil. Vinnie was in charge of the tomato sauce. I felt he put in too many onions, but it was a good sauce, anyway. Johnny Dio did the meat. He didn’t have a broiler, so we did everything in pans. He smelled up the joint something awful, and the hacks used to die. Everybody else in the joint was doing real time, all mixed together, living like pigs.”
-Ray Liotta, as Henry Hill, in Goodfellas
“I cut myself slicing the garlic like how the bad man told me to, and now I have a owie.”
–The Chef’s Prerogative, after cutting his finger with a razor blade
Perhaps it’s because I’m a de facto Italian, but the cooking of my make-believe homeland has always struck me as being about more than just food. One can’t overlook the copious amounts of meats, cheeses, and pastas, naturally; but Italian food, to me, seems to be about something more than just what’s on the plate. I’m not going to wax too rhapsodic about the communal and celebratory nature of Italian feasts, but let’s just say that Italian feasts offer a respite for the soul from the burdensome weight foisted upon it by a cruel and despotic reality, allowing it to blossom into its true and evanescent nature, nurtured by food, family, and friends, and imbuing in its very nature that which heaven and joy have imparted at their union in that most sacred and special of places, through no less than a repast fit for Gods, but befitting of we mere mortals. Also, it tastes good.
When I have people over for a night of greaseball Italian fun, you can bet your sweet, mocha ass I’m putting out a plate of antipasti, I’m wearing my badass gold chain, and I’m sure as hell not skimping on the Chianti that I make make in my bathtub (it tastes like going blind!). After the guests arrive, I usher everyone into the kitchen with me, to help out and to help themselves to whatever sous chef Bruno hasn’t eaten off the table. “But is there Frank Sinatra on, TCP?” Hooo, boy – not only is there Frank Sinatra on, but as an added attraction, I’m singing along to “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” like I was at the fuckin’ Copa! Shit, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in my charming little apartment during Eye-tie dinner time, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Bacchanals in ancient Rome (mostly because everyone’s throwing up, afterwards.) In other words, cooking a big Italian meal for friends and family is, perhaps, the best and most enjoyable use for a kitchen man has yet had the good fortune to devise. Here’s how you can achieve such a raucous, wondrous night in your own home, right after you buy a fuckin’ cool track suit.
Primo – Antipasti
Antipasti (Italian for “you can a-now commence-a the stuffing of-a you face”) is most commonly served as an appetizer platter of meats, olives, marinated vegetables, and Cheeses. There are really no rules when it comes to preparing your platter, but keep in mind that your wife probably isn’t going to let you get away with describing the three pounds of sausage on your plate as “an appetizer.” The key to a good antipasti plate, much like making your college seem more inclusive by photo-shopping a black dude and an Asian chick onto the cover of your admissions brochure, is diversity. By “diversity,” I mean, of course, “an ass-load of prosciutto and half a shit-ton of cheese.” The simple fact is that prosciutto, in my opinion, goes so far in its succulence as to push in on bacon’s territory (if only slightly) as king of the delicious pork applications. If I ever learn that kids in Italy get prosciutto and cheese sandwiches packed in their school lunch bags, I’m going to be seriously pissed off. Although, when I picture an Italian kid at recess, I see him smoking an imported Marlboro Red, drinking a glass of wine, and making kissing noises at the girls, so I guess it kind of fits. Fits like a glove made out of stereotypes.
Primo – Pasta
Unlike that pasta bowl you just ordered from Domino’s, the pasta course in a traditional Italian meal probably won’t feature a ton of meat, seafood, or poultry (nor unlimited breadsticks, I’m being told.) And, while you may view the pasta, itself, as a mere conveyance with which to get that cream sauce from the plate to your glutton-hole, Italians take pride in the intrinsic deliciousness of the noodle. I try to make my pasta from scratch as often as possible, but with me being lazy and that shit being hard, I’m often wont to opt for the dried stuff, instead. For the vast majority of home cooks, this is a better option than getting out your stand mixer, coating your entire kitchen with flour, watching the Reds’ season implode, and punching walls and pets when you realize that you did all that work for nothing (it’s kind of a metaphor for life, in that way.) Because Italian feasts generally equal the caloric intake of an entire African nation – approximately 10,000 calories (sorry, Africa) – I like to make the pasta course fairly light. Make a simple sauce of crushed San Marzanos, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, parsley, and salt and pepper. And, as always, kids, just put a little sauce in a pan and toss in the pasta with a little of the water. Serve with bread you painstakingly bought at Ralph’s.
Secondo – Meat or Fish
Now that you’ve already eaten a full dinner, it’s time for the main course! Generally speaking, the main course in an Italian dinner is comprised of cigarettes and tight pants, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the more traditional option of meat or fish (or meat stuffed with fish, if you’re having dinner at John Madden’s house and actually think this joke is funny.) Sausage, game, poultry, or even more prosciutto is great, and all, but I’m a big fan of roasting a whole fish for this course. This is mostly due to the fact that it makes me look like an honest-to-goodness chef, but also because I like the idea of serving my guests something that features pin bones (because at least one of them, at some point, will spill wine on my floor, that’s why.) The great thing about roasting a whole fish is that it’s easy and allows for lots of freedom in terms of seasoning, type of fish, and lying about how you caught the thing yourself. Take a fish and place it in foil. Add oil, a drizzle of white wine, salt and pepper, and lemon. Stuff the cavity with herbs of your choosing, you sick bastard. Make four slits half-way to the bone, cover with foil, making a large packet, and bake at 450 for 35 to 45 minutes. Bangzo! You’ve now got a nice, whole fish that you can serve family style. And because we’re talking about Italian food, here, you have full license to make some inane and unfunny reference to “sleeping with the fishes,” just like I did up there, because we’re totally the only ones who thought of that.
Dolce – Conclusion
By now you know that I don’t do desserts (unless they’re dressed provocatively and promise to leave afterward), so I’ll just use this section to wrap up the post. Big, Italian dinners are a great way to get together with friends and family, and have them eat all your food and never thank you for cooking, even though you spent $150 at Whole Foods, and stood in front of the stove all day, which wasn’t all that comfortable, because it was hot last weekend, and I don’t have air conditioning, and, also, I think the cat I adopted is probably crazy and bites me when I try to pet her, which really doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but fuck it, I’m on a roll.
So, anyway, grab your friends and family, put some gel in that hair, talk with your hands, lose your temper because someone looked at you wrong, and make some Guido magic in your very own home. And, remember, nothing goes better with Italian food than aggressively oggling pretty girls and telling them “Eh-oh, if you like dat sausage, hon, I got sumthin’ ovah heah you really gonna like,” while grabbing your crotch. P.S. If that doesn’t get you laid, nothing will. Mangiare!
9 July 2009
In an effort to keep your voracious appetite for my culinary musings satisfied, I’ve decided to start a new feature on this blog, cleverly titled “Amuse Boosh!“. It features mini-diatribes which will be published in-between my usual long-ass diatribes. You’re very welcome. That’ll be ten bucks.
“I was thinking about writing about how to make a good consomme, but then I realized that that would be, like, totally hard, so I just said ‘Fuck it,’ and made some Kraft Mac & Cheese, instead.”
-Auguste Escoffier in Le Guide Culinaire“
Oh, Food Network, I honestly thought I’d gotten out all my hatred for you with my last post on the subject. It was a purging of all the hatred I had for you and your damn cheatin’ ways, and, frankly, it was cathartic. Even when The Next Food Network Star came on, and you insisted on making the contestants tell me about themselves and their “culinary point-of-view,” I kept my cool and put it in perspective. But then, Food Network, you invite Claire Robinson, your succubus of a paramour, into my home to assault my ear-holes. Claire, for those of you readers who are blissfully ignorant of her marginal existence, has a show entitled “Five Ingredient Fix,” in which she, perhaps unsurprisingly, uses only five ingredients to make her meals. Why she does this – and more to the point, why Food Network thinks this is appropriate to put on the air – I have not a clue. Jesus Christ, Food Network, it’s like I just forgave you for cheating on me with my best friend, but instead of walking the line and being a good partner, you go out and murder my parents. No, Food Network, that’s a totally apt analogy.
You know, I’ve yet to see a Golf Digest article about how to play less holes of golf, or a Cigar Aficionado article about how to smoke less delicious cigars, or a Playboy pictorial featuring fewer glorious boobies. One would assume that this is due to the fact that these media know that their consumers enjoy the subject matter they write about, and would like to do more, not less, of it. Food Network, with its stable of shows about cooking less food, in less time, with less ingredients, seems to think that its viewers see the kitchen not as a place where delicious dishes are prepared and lovingly served, but rather, as a torturous room, the entrance to which is necessitated only by a housewife’s need to begrudgingly cook something so she doesn’t look like a terrible mother. Call me an amazing and sensitive lover, but I’m a pretty big fan of this here cooking thing, and I like to do it a lot. In fact, I get a little sad when I’m done chopping stuff and searing stuff and remoulading stuff. Thus, it upsets me that the Food Network would put someone on the air whose claim to fame is taking otherwise fine recipes and excising all the ingredients which cause them to, you know, taste good. It’s not about convenience or making food accessible, either – it’s simply a shtick that’s going to move cook books. In other words, it’s complete and total bullshit which denigrates the culinary arts. Cooking, after all, is about the passion and excitement associated with creating something delicious – that Ms. Robinson would endeavor to do the opposite makes me hate both her, and her network, all the more. I won’t go so far as to say that I hope they both one day writhe in an eternal dumpster fire on the banks of the river Styx, but, on the other hand, I totally want that [FN1].
FN 1. Holy shit, you should have seen my first draft of this thing. I couldn’t publish it, not because any of its wonderful hate was unauthentic, but rather because I didn’t want to make my mom weep for the depraved, black-hearted spawn she produced. Plus, you can only use the term “useless whore-bag shame-fuck” so many times before it starts to lose its impact. That number of times, it turns out, is seventeen.