A man walks into a restaurant. It features a buffet. There are several extended tables. Each is stacked with more food than he could have imagined.
He looks down the length of the tables and picks up a plate. There are lots of choices. One table is filled with salads, dishes of fresh fruit, multigrain bread, locally processed cheeses. Another has succulent roasted meats. A third features fish and platters of cooked vegetables. A fourth is stacked with pies, cakes, ice cream molds, and plenty of sweet confections.
A waiter comes to his side, ready for questions. The man nods to the waiter. “I think I’ll start with the salad,” he says, “and get to the other tables later.”
The waiter says he can’t do that. “You have to choose one and eat what’s there.”
“What do you mean?” says the man.
“I like some of the things that are on each table. I don’t want everything, but it looks like each has a few good things.
“Those salads are fresh. The fish looks interesting. I really don’t want those sausages — who knows what’s in them? Also, the beef is overdone — it’s definitely had its day, but that lamb looks tender and worth trying.”
“No,” says the waiter.
“That’s not how this buffet works. You only get to choose from one table.”
“Well, that’s silly. Who thought up that idea?”
“The management,” says the waiter. “They thought it was a good idea when this place opened; that was a long time ago.”
“Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?” says the man.
“Some. Some walk in, find out how it works and don’t come back. But most have adapted to the system. Although I must say that fewer actually sit down for a meal these days. Last time we checked about 40 per cent of those who came in didn’t pick anything.”
“So, who cooks this stuff up?”
“There is a chef for each table. Each has a specialty.”
“Well, why don’t the chefs get together and put out a combination of foods that everyone will like to choose from?”
“That’s not the way it works,” says the waiter. “Some other restaurants do that, but that isn’t the way it is done here.”
“What’s the chance of the chefs deciding to do it differently?”
“Well, that could happen but I wouldn’t count on it.”
“I think I’ll wait and see what happens,” says the man, taking a seat.
“You going to have anything?” asks the waiter.
“Yeah, life’s short. I’ll start with dessert.”
It’s autumn. Between the seasonal changes and October’s election outcome, there is much tension in the air.
Times like this, I like comfort food.
Nothing says comfort better than an easy-to-cook pasta, or maybe a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream.
For the pasta, I like De Cecco. It is an inexpensive Italian variety — often on sale at supermarkets — that holds up remarkably well and does not get mushy. Cooking times are marked on the package. I like to cook the pasta in slightly salted water.
For the sauce, get fresh Italian plum tomatoes. They have less juice than others and are great for cooking.
Two varieties predominate: Roma or Romanelle are a bit rounder and juicier, while San Marzano are slightly thinner and meatier. A combination of the two is nice.
Finely chop a clove or two of garlic and slowly cook this in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
Add a little fresh or dried chili pepper (if you like the heat).
Cook until the garlic is barely brown but before it burns, as that makes the sauce bitter.
Add a half dozen chopped tomatoes and a splash of red wine.
Cover and cook over low heat until the tomatoes are soft and cooked through.
Remove the cover.
Add a few torn leaves of fresh basil or a half-teaspoon of dried oregano.
Add the pasta before it has completely cooked. If you bite into a piece of pasta, there should still be a white speck in the middle.
Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for another minute, adding some pasta water if needed.
Serve with freshly ground hard Italian cheese.