On Sunday, I ate at a restaurant for the first time in three months. Three months! This planet has traversed about 150 million miles of its orbit around the sun since I last ate food at a public establishment. So imagine my great dismay to discover that I have completely forgotten how to eat at a restaurant.
Here are a few things that happened when I tried to gracefully reenter the restaurant-going world:
I waited 5–7 seconds for the waiter to indicate to me which chair I should sit in, before remembering that I actually get to choose that myself.
It took me several moments to register that there was a separate food and drink menu; the drinks are not listed on the food menu, and the food is not listed on the drinks menu. I turned over each menu at least three times, looking for the other items.
I stared shamelessly for minutes at other patrons of the restaurant. I have not seen people eating in public in so long.
I accidentally ordered a fucking whiteclaw!!!
I accidentally ordered a second whiteclaw, and then a third whiteclaw!!!
I accidentally ordered six more whiteclaws!!! That’s nine whiteclaws, ordered by mistake!!!
My date asked what an atomic elbow was, so I demonstrated on an unsuspecting patron at the next table! I concussed a stranger, because I have not eaten in a restaurant for so long, and forgot the accompanying social norms!
I shit my pants four times! Five, depending how you define a pants-shitting! Did anybody else forget that restaurants have bathrooms?
I asked for an affogato made with breastmilk! Can you believe that? How embarrassing that I forgot that many restaurants don’t even keep breastmilk stocked!
I tipped my waiter a full 15%, even though he had an eyebrow piercing and I don’t approve of that!
I got a DUI on my way home—all because I haven’t been to a restaurant in so long!
So you’re rolling into week nine of quarantine, and let’s just say things are getting a little desperate. Your roommate abandoned you for their family home in Connecticut (with a fucking pool) WEEKS ago, and the closest thing you’ve experienced to human contact is when you accidentally got within a foot of your neighbor during the social distancing hallway dance then both of you sprinted away. Tinder has gotten intensely introspective and the dark corners of the internet have lost their shine. That boule though…It’s looking pretty…tasty. And it’s not the only one.
Here are five sourdough breads that look good enough to fuck.
I was just strolling through Instagram, as I’ve been doing almost ad nauseam for the last week, and I saw something that caught my eye: a round, rustic loaf of bread posing on a cooling rack.
My god. Did you bake that yourself?
I mean—I am truly in awe. As you mentioned in your own caption, it came out quite well. Have you always baked bread? Did you work in une boulangerie? Was your father a lowly baker, always struggling to make ends meet but deeply fulfilled to create something that he could sell at affordable prices to his beloved community? Did he show you how to bake that?
Oh. No? It’s your first time? Ah. I see. Ohhh, that’s right, you did mention that in your caption. I must have missed that. Maybe I was just distracted by that luscious golden loaf, the finest loaf of bread I’ve ever seen in my pathetic life.
Well, I just dropped in to say that I am endlessly happy for you for this loaf of bread. I’ve never seen something so perfect, certainly not 45 seconds ago when I was browsing an earlier section of my Instagram feed. I cannot wait to see the rest of the loaves of bread you bake, and have total faith that you will post every single pic of them so I can see them on my shitty, shitty, shitty Instagram feed.
This is an all-time favorite Corleone Family recipe, one that we’ve held dear to us ever since I first came over to America from Sicily. Ah, who can ever forget that trip across the Atlantic. So many faces, so many voices, all looking for a new beginning and prosperity in the new world. We were leaving our homeland in pursuit of the American Dream, a dream as rich and complex as my sautéed eggplant.
When I make this recipe, it conjures up so many images. But my favorite is of my family gathered around a dinner table. Sonny, young and rambunctious, playfully boxing the air with his fists. Fredo, not far removed from the naked baby that was wailing on my dinner table, trying to make his way in the world. Connie, and whatever good-for-nothing dragged himself to dinner with her. Tom, who I always thought of as a son—maybe more so than I did with Fredo at times, if I’m being honest. Looking back, it seems as if the seeds of what would come to pass with our family were encapsulated on that day. Vengeance may not bring Sonny back to me, but the ricotta salata sure comes close.
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Now, every time I bite into a dried chili in this dish, I’m taken back to that table, or maybe even before that (it’s funny how time can fold in on itself, flashing back from the present to the past and back again). Just one bite of acidic tomato cascading over the pasta and I’m on Mulberry Street, listening to Vito, Tessio, and Clemenza plot Don Fanucci’s murder. How piquant, like sprinkling of fresh basil over a warm bowl of pasta.
Personally, I like to spice up this dish with orange zest. Oh how the men in my family love their oranges. Some say they represent mortal danger, but to me, I like to think of my husband’s face as he wandered through the markets in Little Italy, narrowly surviving an assassination attempt, or playing with his grandchild in the shade of his garden, always with an orange close at hand. And I must say, my son does his best revenge-murder work while chewing on an orange.
Maybe it’s the tomatoes, as plump and troublingly ripe as Apollonia Vitelli, that bring me back to my little home town of Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and the sea at Catania. Some people say that, as we became increasingly Americanized and my family embraced all that Nevada represents, we gradually lost our connection to our Italian culture and values. But this oregano-fueled course says otherwise.
This recipe is great for large events, like weddings and first communions! Another special ingredient for me is my husband’s Genco Pura Olive Oil. To this day, I’m so proud of how he built such a thriving small business in the cutthroat world of the import/export industry. And I just loved going back to Sicily and enjoying quality family time there as we took in the sights and supported Vito as he avenged the deaths of his father, brother, and mother in one sharp, shockingly extensive swipe of a knife.
For the adventurous, consider adding some guanciale into the mix—just like my good friend Luca Brasi, it adds a fatty and flavorful element to the mix. Or, in honor of Frankie Pentageli (may he rest in peace), you can splash the whole mixture with a dash of fine red wine.
So, here’s the recipe:
Ingredients 1 ½ pounds eggplant Genco Pura Olive Oil as needed (at least 1/2 cup) Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon chopped garlic (use a shaving razor to finely chop) 3 or 4 dried chiles 1 ½ pounds tomatoes, chopped 1 teaspoon good dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh 1 pound long pasta ½ cup chopped parsley or basil ½ cup grated ricotta salata (or in a pinch, pecorino Romano) 1 orange (for zesting)
Step 1 Slice the eggplant about 1/2 inch thick. Cook in abundant olive oil, without crowding, sprinkling with salt and adding more oil as needed. Cook until the eggplant is nicely browned and soft. I know when it’s done after I’ve repeated the names of my enemies five times: Sollozzo, Tattaglia, Barzini, Roth, etc. Remove to a plate; do not drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water to boil and salt it.
Step 2 After cooking the eggplant, the pan will ideally have a couple of tablespoons of oil left. If there’s more or less, drain some off or add a bit—your husband should be able to give you a seemingly endless supply. Turn the heat to medium, add the garlic and chiles, and cook until the garlic colors a bit. Add the tomatoes and oregano, along with some salt and pepper (shout “Carmela Corleone says hello” while you do it); cook until saucy but not too dry, stirring occasionally.
Step 3 Cook the pasta until tender but not mushy. While it’s cooking, cut the eggplant into strips and reheat for a minute in the tomato sauce. Drain the pasta and, bada bing, toss it with the tomato sauce and the eggplant. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then top with the parsley and/or basil, orange zest, and grated cheese, and serve.