Sunday, April 24, 2011
Today we had a family lunch. Us and six guests. In the top photo you may notice that the dial selecting which combination of elements and fan are on in the oven is missing. And a replacement may take months. After a few days of an odd burnt-plastic smell when we used the oven I noticed a fizzing sound accompanying the smoke drifting from the knob. That's not good I thought. The smell reminded me of the Triang-Hornby electric train set we had as children. When minor arcing took place there'd be the same combination of sound and smell.
We had to cater for ten or possibly 11 using only the stove top. Pasta seemed the obvious choice. The house favourite is a tomato-based sauce - a variation on a Napoli style. I first started cooking Italian style when I was living in London twenty-five years ago. Most of the time I flatted with a man who was a skilled cook. We were often broke working jobs seemingly designed to keep us that way. Brian could make a tin of tomatoes, an onion and a 33p packet of spaghetti into a feast - a cheap meal and for the time we were both working in the Buffet Bar of the Hammersmith Palais often a free one. Ever since I've made variations of that basic sauce.
After watching Antonio Carluccio cook a sauce that he kept simmering for long enough to attend mid-morning Mass I added time to the recipe.
After our first daughter was born we went to a new parents course run by the local health service at the Early Childhood Centre in the Dr Foley Park in Glebe. Through this we met a couple who we spent time with before they moved to Darwin a few years ago. Once I helped Alex cook pasta sauce and his recommendation was to use finely diced bottled barbecued red capsicum as a key ingredient. I've been doing variations of this tomato-onion-garlic-capsicum sauce ever since. I build on it depending on who is eating. Today we had the basic tomato variety and another with prawns added for the last few minutes of cooking.
I was a given a pasta machine in Sydney on my way back to New Zealand after I'd served my two years in London. The big OE. My daughters use it now to make spaghetti, tagliatelli and fettuccini. It's not something you whip up on a school night but the texture of the home made pasta is worth the effort. Particularly when you're involved entirely in an advisory capacity.
As the core to a meal pasta and tomato sauce makes a warm reliable heart around which a good meal and a great day can be built. If it's dark outside when your last lunch guests leave it has probably been a good meal. For much of the day we were like a TV family - all tidying, all cooking, welcoming guests and feasting together. Despite or perhaps because of the absence of any religious dimension we enjoyed a warming communal gathering.
My sister-in-law, a potter, has taken my clay god and some pots up to be fired in one of her kilns. Some of the pinch pots were made from clay from Lovetts Bay where my wife's family, my family, has been holidaying for fifty years. I first went there for New Years Eve during that return trip to New Zealand. That homecoming journey contained the seeds of the home I have now.