Cooking. The act of peeling, chopping, sauteeing, stirring, whisking, etc. never fails to be a source of meditation for the likes of me. My whole brain shifts into another state where time becomes more fluid and scent comes to the forefront of my senses. Without cooking, there is turmoil. Unhappiness born of the constant struggle to make a living as a creative professional and coming to terms with how often that means failure, whether it be my own fault or the simple and persnickety circumstance of timing. Cooking is just for me. No one stands behind me to tell me to turn something red five seconds after they tell me they are not a visual person. There are no committees of people lurking over my shoulder, yammering as I feel my entire being turn into plastic and look down to realize I have become a very tall computer mouse with brightly colored sneakers. For several weeks I have not cooked, have not sunk into that state of meditation where the knife cleaves garlic cloves cleanly and swiftly, where the giddily aromatic scent of a sauteed onion reaches up and tickles my nose. And so today, with no recipe, only the idea of a recipe born of the tastes of a takeout meal eaten quickly and without relish while hovering over my keyboard at work, today I took the time to reclaim that meditative state, to rule over my small, 15 square foot kitchen where I alone call the shots and am free to fail from decisions that were mine.
It began with a bottle of wine. White. Dry. A pinot grigio, a wine I only know to be consistently of the drier variety I prefer in a white wine. Then came the bag of rigatoni, a variety so over-sized as to be almost comic. A few locally sourced Italian sausages and delicately thin slices of a pancetta-esque bacon. Then came the beans, soft, creamy, and white, slowly cooked to perfection in the simple modern wonder that is the CrockPot. A large onion, a red pepper, a few cloves of garlic, and a large verdant bunch of Swiss chard, ruby stems ablaze in the rare sun that occupies the day.
These ingredients were assembled and pondered, images in my head whirling around as I considered which pots and pans would best fit the purpose, and how few could I use, seeing as how I only have so many burners and no counter space to park random pans. The Italian sausage made it into one shallow skillet and was soon swimming in white wine. As soon as the scent of this poaching marriage hit my nostrils, time entered that fabulous liquid state, and the cooking began in earnest. The sausages burbled along in their private fermented grape hot tub, the pancetta was crisped, onions thinly wedged and slowly cooked until sugary soft, red pepper deveined and sliced even thinner than the onions, a long quiet moment was spent slowly ripping the Swiss chard apart by hand and leaving it to soak in a tub of cold water, and hovering in the background was the kettle boiling with water, waiting for the rigatoni. All other thoughts and worries fell away as I cooked. Even when the attempt at a creamy white wine sauce almost met epic failure, there was no panic. A work around, however imperfect, was found, and the results were still tasty. No one is here to tell me otherwise, although I’m sure I would have been shamed off any cooking show worth its salt.
Finally, time started to solidify again as everything finished cooking. And then came the best part of all. The part that has been lost through weeks of eating out of plastic containers over keyboards. A plate, an honest ceramic plate, a real fork, a pile of luscious food, and the rare time to sit quietly and enjoy every bite.
A subtly perfumed and lightly salted white wine “sauce” (remember, it was almost an epic fail) merrily flowed along the ridges of the al dente rigatoni which played host to the soft, creamy white beans playing hide and seek within. Sweet onions and red peppers piled gently on top, adding a counter to the salty sauce below. The deeply green heft of the Swiss chard held hands demurely with the peppers and onions. A few choice slices of the sausage, fragrant from their hot swim in white wine, perched high above, and on top of that, a sharp salty crisp bite of the cooked pancetta. And overall, a fresh, brilliant chiffonade of basil with a scent that swam up the back of the throat into the sinuses, causing a sigh of pleasure. With each bite it was something new. Salty, sweet, earthy, green, soft, toothsome, crispy, deeply aromatic. It is not often one can cook like this. Whether it be for a crowd or for one, however, it is always worth it. And occasionally necessary for sanity.
No recipe for this one, folks. I will try it again and see if I can write it down. For today… it was pure, sanity-restoring meditation. Which I guess means I should say namaste. And bon appetit.