Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ciao mate

We have a preoccupation with food.

How do I even begin to describe the process that got us to this simple dinner? It was months in the making.

You start with tomato pasta sauce made from scratch last January. This means buying the tomatoes from a trusted dealer (yes, you read right) - crate after crate of tight red skin encapsulating ripe tomato juice - sorted, cut, squashed, seasoned, bottled with basil stuffed in the bottom and top of each bottle, boiled in drums on an open fire, and left to cool. Months later you are digging the bottles out from the bottom of a dusty cupboard in the cellar to start the process of making the sauce. You pour, add, season again, add meat, other bits and pieces, leave it to simmer until the smell has permeated into all nooks and crannies including the bathroom and there you have your simple napoletana sauce. Others would just buy the Leggos ready made pack. Oh the shame!

During the day sometime, in a spare hour or three you prepare the filling - ricotta cheese, egg, various seasoning and parsley/spinach all combined and put back into the fridge while you concoct a smooth dough from various ingredients. You then nurture the pasta dough under a warm tea towel until it has risen and then you beat it down and roll it out again, and again, and again - pressing it against the rollers on the machine and watching it come out smooth on the other side while your hand gets tired from turning the crank on the side of the shiny pasta maker.

Then you scoop, fill, and cut the sheets to the perfect size and there you have some plain ravioli. You could probably just as easily buy something similar from the Latina fresh packets found the fridges in your local supermarket. Just add water and you're done. Well, I suppose you could but you actually wouldn't dare.

Luckily you've already gone down to the local Mediterranean supermarket where you know you've bought a decent slice of Parmesan cut straight from the wheel. You grate it yourself - and place it in the fridge for later. None of this packet stuff. Oh no.

Boil, drop in the pillows of ravioli, turn occasionally so it doesn't stick, re-heat the sauce, drain, sauce, cheese...eat.

You remember a time, long ago when you were just knee high to a grasshopper, when the wine was also homemade, the sausage too - but those days are over. Some things are too cumbersome to keep doing in suburbia past a certain age. Tonight it's only simple old lamb and pork (yes, two) and salad collected from the garden just 10 minutes ago - simple olive and salt dressing.

While you eat, everyone discusses what they ate last night, and the night before, and the night before, what others are eating, how to cook the crackling on the pork just right, how apple sauce is strictly for the Aussies and Brits, how the meal could be improved. There are constant apologies for the lack of eggs in the pasta, or too many, or how it needed just two more minutes on the stove.

You pause and everyone is on your back, Why aren't you eating?, What's wrong? What's the matter? Oh Dio, you no like my food! on and on it goes until you have decided to brand yourself with deaf, dumb on your forehead. It probably still wouldn't work.

Just another meal with your Uncle and Aunt and selected family; no biggie.

The culture shock from inside here and outside there is overwhelming sometimes. You realise that you've never had baked beans on toast before, an Aussie staple. You've never had beans from any tin. Never. Never wanted it either, if truth be told. In your family the beans were grown in the back-fucking-yard mate.