We start with nothing. The pan is empty. The head often more so. The heart yearns for something, but what? The pan sits there on the burner. Stainless, immaculate. Tempting.
It must be a pan and at least a hand’s breadth. So why not get out a pot? Ahh, but a pot is too big, it demands too much. If I put too little into the pot, it will scorch and burn. If I put in too much, it could take, like, forever. And will it be the right pot after all—too many questions. So the pot is out; it must be the pan.
The burner is on a low heat. The pan warms slightly in anticipation of what I may put in. I have to do something. The pan is waiting for me. There is a tenuous respect, so I pour in some olive oil.
At first there is just a soft fragrance, and then as the oil warms, I pick up the subtle spiciness of the pan’s perfume. I inhale and smile. I know that scent and my mouth waters slightly. The oil shimmers. What now? Onions, diced quickly and added to the pan, a clove of garlic, a shake of leaves from a branch of oregano as the onions and garlic soften. And from the pan, a low hissing sound as it starts to sizzle.
Now I have time—the initial discomfort is over. The pan and I are comfortable with each other. It knows that I will not ignore what she can offer; and all of a sudden the pan acquires an identity. But I can’t linger over that. I know what I have to do. Tomato—it must be tomato—crushed and ready from a box or can or, even better, a jar from last fall’s harvest.
Now we can work together, the pan and I. I raise and lower the heat, always keeping her at a simmer. What else, what else? Olives, perhaps. Some truffle oil given as a birthday gift, a dash of hot peppers, a spoonful of wine or brandy. We are looking for a perfect balance, the pan and I. In a moment of craziness, I toss in a handful of capers. Have I gone too far? But I am committed. The cover goes on and I trust the pan to slowly do its work.
And now, a salad, of course. The dressing comes without hesitation. I have done this many times. However, it is my mate’s recipe, and I turn my back to the pan: garlic crushed with coarse salt, oil and vinegar and a bit of Dijon blended in. Even as I do this, I hear the sauce barely bubbling. How much time is left?
Something farinaceous is required: boiled and riced potatoes, slices from a stale baguette, pasta. It almost doesn’t matter. And the cheese, waiting patiently at the end. It must be of a high quality, the whiff of fresh milk always at the top and the end of each small bite: a soft goat, a blending of freshly grated Parmesan and Romano. Or maybe thin slices from an aged Asiago.
Finally, the wine—almost any good red or even a Pinot Grigio could work with this. Prosecco? Why not—it’s Valentine’s Day. And for dessert: chocolate and nothing more.
Now the sauce gets a final stir and comes off the stove, the salad is out, the pasta is ready. I open the wine and I have already forgotten the pan in—where else? —the sink; it was a momentary flirtation, a sous-chef, kitchen help necessary at the time but really, we both knew all along, all done in preparation for un dîner intime with my wife.