As soccer season draws to a close for high school boys, so does pasta dinner season. Nights before home games are filled with tastes of Italy, or some variation…spaghetti, lasagne, rigatoni, garlic…
For some unknown reason, I thought it was a good idea to add my name to the volunteer sheet (that sentence could really stop right there, but it goes on) toward the end of the season. Right when things are at the height of chaos. And on top of that…well, let me just give you the original title for this particular posting: “Never Sign Up to Bring Pasta to an Italian Woman’s House.”
I consider myself to be a good cook. On some days, I consider myself to be an excellent cook. And on the best days, so do the people who are eating the meal I’ve prepared.
On any day, I can graciously admit defeat and bow down to the winner (Yes, the way I see it, everything is a competition, whether it’s against myself or any random opponent.).
The night before the big rivalry game for the boys, I opened a 2 pound box of spaghetti and turned on some show tunes while I waited for the water to boil. Nothing accentuates Italian meal preparation like the soundtrack from “Mamma Mia!” (even though the music is actually written by Swedes).
Pizzaghetti. The Americanized version of baked spaghetti, complete with mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, beef, and enormous helpings heaped onto the plates. And although my son wouldn’t run over and hug me in front of his team anymore, as he did when he was 7, I would still be the culinary hero of the day and his eyes would light up at the sight of his favorite mass-quantity pasta dish.
I brought the silver foil pan (made in America, surprisingly) into my co-sponsors home an hour ahead of the dinner in order to help her get ready for the stompede of teenage boys who would soon overtake the lavish piazza setting in the middle of the north woods. More than half expecting to hear “Con te Partiro” as I stepped in to Little Italy, I was instead greeted by a tiny Italian woman who filled the air with wonderful stories of her homeland. And as I set the pan down on the trivet that looked like a tile from the Mercato Italiano, I quickly recognized 10 things. #’s 1-9 were all absurdly American stereotypes about myself, and #10 was the recognition that my pasta paled in comparison to the overflowing bowl of deliciousness on the table next to it.
To make a long story short(er), I was somewhat entertained and secretly quite pleased to note that all of the American teenage boys on my son’s soccer team naturally gravitated to the dish that most closely resembled familiarity. Perhaps it was the foil pan, perhaps it was the pepperoni dotting the top layer, but the pizzaghetti was polished off in 2.5 minutes flat. I, on the other hand, relish the opportunity to taste authentic food, and heaped my plate with the mouth-watering rigatoni in the oversized Vietri serving dish.
“What did you PUT in this?” I asked, overwhelmed by the unbelievable flavors that filled my entire soul.
“Ohhh, I don’t know,” came the accented reply. “I never write anything down…” Then came the short list of ingredients that I desperately tried to memorize, all the while trying to determine what the secret ingredient could possibly be.
Oh, for crying out loud. That does it. Never volunteer to co-sponsor a pasta dinner with an Italian woman. This was like knitting with my mother. “Here, look, you can make a Mobius scarf if you cast on your stitches like this…” ????What????
However, last night my entire outlook did a complete 360 as that list of ingredients that I’d memorized came to mind in the wake of mapping out the evening’s meal. The entire moral of my story changed, and I made the immediate decision to volunteer to cook with an Italian woman at any possible opportunity. Or ANYONE who could bring that brilliance to a dinner table, for that matter. And sheer delight overtook me as I served the master of all pasta dishes to my other favorite pasta-eater in the family.
“Wow.” Came the response to the first bite. “WOW!” brought an even bigger smile to my face. And then the question that I couldn’t have scripted for myself any better…
“What did you PUT in this?”
“Ohhh, I don’t know.” I shrugged my shoulders and tried to give my best look of nonchalance. “I didn’t really write anything down…”