Center of the Universe (24)
Jimmy Hoffa found!
I talk a big game when it comes to lasagna. But, if you want to know the unbaked truth, I think I eat more of Sonia’s spaghetti bolognese these days.
Which is nothing against her luscious lasagna.
It may just represent a tactical retreat to comfort, at a time of strain. Or maybe it’s that hideous hatuna-matata of life, circling me back, as I become an old dude, to when I was a food baby and spaghetti bolognese was all I’d eat — as long as there was no chopped celery in it or recognizable chunks of tomato or green pepper or — what’s that…?
Don’t even mention mushrooms.
Food for me was about warring poles of emotion, about fear vs. familiarity. And with its many hidden tiers, some concealing a schmear of what looked like the dreaded cottage cheese, lasagna was even a stretch. Eventually I consumed so much of it, loved it so hard, that I burned out. Sorta. Because, as any half-sober Sorellas regular could testify, I still eat enough to make that sound like a joke.
But when I started interposing spaghetti orders with lasagnas, Soy found it so pitifully bor-ing that she asked, You want a meatball with that? Which I did, definitely did. After all, it was the meatball hero from Angelo’s Deli (10th and Waverly in Greenwich Village and long gone) that had salved many a post-college hangover and, in tag-team with a procession of Angelo’s salami heroes, slathered in his homemade Italian dressing (not before he took an unapologetic pull on his homemade wine), finally made me fat.
Being so ridiculously concerned about what I was eating, the irony was entirely lost on me that there’s no better hiding place for secret ingredients than a meatball. Not only mushrooms, onions and other scary vegetation, but funky meat (NOT Sonia’s) — whether actually funky, or just, to a food baby, unfamiliar. Psychologically funky.
No better hiding place. Unless it’s a sausage (NEVER Sonia’s). Which is what Soy, on her noble quest to expand my gustatory repertoire, suggested next.
Again, I’m a food baby. Or used to be. But, somehow, in my inconsistency and hypocrisy, I’m ga-ga for sausage. As a drug-sucking New York teen, an Italian sausage hero at the Feast of San Gennaro was my idea of a Schedule I narcotic. It’s an appeal I trace to childhood summers, far from the Italian feast, at my Scotch-Irish grandparents in Memphis, and a daily breakfast of grits and biscuits, with a scoop of the deconstructed sausage they call scrapple.
Still, deep in the pitch-dark vault of my denial, in the thicket of my food-baby illogic, I’m fully aware that a sausage, fundamentally, is a culinary gross-out contest, engineered to be made of beaks and rectums and other dire scrapings of the charnel house, all tied off in the poop-tube of a pig. And in the late seventies, at the Feast, amid the private social clubs of Little Italy’s mafia zone, one of those particularly scrumptious sausage sandwiches might well have harbored Jimmy Hoffa’s weiner.
But, oh, what a sandwich.
After oscillating for months between Sonia’s spaghetti bolognese with sausage and Sonia’s spaghetti bolognese with meatball, I split the difference, Solomon-style, ordering it with both: one meatball, one sausage. And that’s where — when not ordering lasagna — I’m quite contentedly stuck:
But it’s lasagna I’ve come to address here. Because, even though we have two more weeks in Amsterdam, I’m trying desperately to remind myself not to leave behind the present I bought for Soy and Sonia. That’s another happy rut I’m stuck in: buying presents for the sisters when we travel. Often it’s a recipe book from some noted local restaurant. This time it’s a volume, in Dutch, about lasagna.
Or lasagne, as these crazy swamp-dwellers misspell it.
We happened upon it in the shiny, white, deli-cum-fashion-boutique down the block that calls itself “The Italian Conceptstore” and in addition to post-modern pizza and broodjes, paisan-style, features post-modern clothing, art and books — a place that would make Angelo, in his dim, musty bodega, reach for another pull of bootleg vino.
It’s not that the sisters need new recipes. Heaven forfend. The gift signals we miss them and, by being in Dutch and about lasagna, delivers an indigenous souvenir with a personal wink. A hug, even.
Because like the stylish Koningstraat deli, the lasagne book is not only about the recipes. And like the homey Fairfax restaurant, the lasagna’s not only about the food. And I don’t want to forget it.