The Restoration VI: Cooking

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of The Four Marks as part of a series called "The Restoration." "The Restoration" is a monthly column dedicated to restoring Christian ideals in our modern culture. For more information on The Four Marks, please click here.

I still remember the first time I decided to make the transition from college kid to grown-up, at least as far as food was concerned. I had taken a recipe card to the supermarket, bought everything on it, and now I was going to make some food. Make. Food. My expertise in boiling water for ramen or my speed at tapping in heating instructions to a microwave would not help here. You have to grow up sometime.

Of course, the bachelors brave enough to actually cook probably all start this way. To this day, whenever I have friends over for dinner, they always ask, “Where did you learn to cook?” I learned in part from watching my mom do certain things throughout the years, but I really had to learn on my own.

One of my favorite dishes to make is a penne arrabbiata. Arrabbiata means “angry” in Italian and it means that the sauce is generally spicy. I have only recently started to make my own sauce, but until recently, any of the Whole Foods pasta sauces I used provided a great base. You can add artichokes, olives, bacon, onions, mushrooms, and maybe basil, thyme, or bay leaf, depending. You must add garlic. Meanwhile, cook up some meat in another pan, preferably lamb or buffalo or something else you haven’t had all the time. This adds to the pique of the sauce when you mix it in. At this point the water should be boiling for your pasta. Gently shake, don’t drop, the penne into the water and either set an egg-timer or a mental clock for around 8-9 minutes for al dente. If you have the meat cooked to where you want it, you can blend it in with the sauce, which you’ve been nursing for a little under 30 minutes now.

Now it’s time to let the sauce blend with the meat. Pasta is boiling…good time to make the salad. You toss together some arugula, cut some cucumbers, tomato, and a few slices of brie, and put a salad fork on top and stick it back in the fridge so it will stay chilled. Time to read an article while nursing the sauce and boiling the pasta. You occasionally stir, and after a while fish one out so you can bite down and see if it’s ready to go….not quite…You open a bottle of Italian soda, pour a glass, and start setting the table. Egg timer goes. Double check with a bite test for the pasta, then drain it in the colander. Taste the sauce again. Good. Drop the pasta back into the now empty pot, drizzle some olive oil on it and mix it so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Cover it and the sauce and put it on some hot pads on the table. Pull the salad out, say grace, and start eating.

That’s a typical 9:00pm meal for me (I work until 8pm most nights). What I find intensely enjoyable about that is that when you vary the ingredients for the sauce, you get a slightly different flavor. It can be routine and yet experimental. And all of it was so far from what I thought cooking was in the beginning – some rote following of a recipe card.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I have no kids to watch, no cholesterol to be concerned about, and I enjoy cooking. Yet, at the same time – if some bachelor can manage to cook a meal at night for himself after he’s worked all day…can’t anyone? Yeah, I would argue that.

I think one of the greatest daily tragedies that we see, and that I, as an American have participated in far too often, is eating on the run. We can’t seem to help ourselves. We’re content to eat food that is made by someone else, after it has been processed by a machine, processing food that came from a questionable source, if not in the handling of the original ingredients, in perhaps the very seeds and basic ingredients. The simplest thing we can do on a daily basis to watch our health and give thanks is to buy and cook our own food. Life is about simple pleasures. Take this one back.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Moret-sur-Loing, France. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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4 Responses

  1. tziebell says:

    Dear Mr Heiner:
    Pasta without wine? Are you sure you're Catholic? All true Catholics love wine, especially red wine. It is an integral part of one's Catholic patrimony. With your pasta (or any other meal for that matter), may I suggest Sangiovese, a 2007 organic Italian dry red wine which I consider the most versatile wine I have ever drunk; it complements pasta, beef, pork, and just about anything else it might accompany. Grace your luncheon and dinner tables with wine; then you shall be a Catholic man.

    Timothy A Ziebell

  2. Mr Ziebell

    Indeed I will! I didn't think about it that night, but I do have wine more often than not! 🙂

  3. ripplenator says:

    Your dinner reads delicious! I'll have to try fixing that sometime…with Mr. Ziebell's wine suggestion.


  4. Have you tried making say your meat and sauce while making the pasta, draining the pasta, then shocking it with cold water before tossing it in the sauce pan with the sauce? This is a common cooking method and the proper one, though the name slips me, and helps to incorporate everything together. The reason your penne has those grooves is for the sauce to stick. So cooking the pasta for just a bit (or heating since it is already cooked) in the sauce pan is best. I picked this up from a good French cook book and an Italian friend who cooks well. You take your cooked pasta and finish if off in your sauce pan, adding last minute seasonings and maybe a little olive oil.

    Shock your pasta to prevent it from overcooking as it still cooks even when it has been drained. If you take the pasta right from the callender to the sauce pan I suppose shocking may be unessesary, but I always shock my pasta and then bring it back up to a eating temperature in the sauce pan.