So I stumbled across this essay via this blog earlier in the week, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Joy and pleasure have always seemed to me distinct yet interrelated, though I find myself drawn to Smith’s description of joy as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.” Unbridled joy is a vulnerable experience. It is free from structure or expectation or pretense, and I think in that lies the terror.
My most recent experience with joy was the night before my wedding. I had spent an entire day with my closest friends, had dinner with all of my family, and said goodnight to the man I was going to commit my life to the next day. As I sat in the car on the drive back to the hotel, I could not stop the tears from streaming down my face. “It’s just too much,” I kept saying, “Everything is wonderful, but it’s just too much.”
Pleasure, on the other hand, is comparatively simple. One of the most accessible pleasures for most of us I think, is preparing and eating a meal. I’ve heard friends of mine say things like “I’d cook more if I had someone to cook for,” but I must disagree. While I always enjoy preparing a meal for friends or family, I find exquisite pleasure in the act of cooking for myself. I can make exactly what I desire at the moment, and eat it whenever and wherever I like. I guess it’s a small way of telling myself that I’m worth it. I’m worth a homemade meal, and friends, you are too.
Most often for me, this meal is some kind of pasta with vegetables sprinkled with lots of cheese, which is essentially what this dish is. It’s the kind of thing I’ve been assembling for years without a recipe, and I never wrote the ingredients down until asked to by a friend.
There’s no butter or cream in this pasta, but the sauce is lovingly thickened by the additions of wine and starchy pasta water. Fresh cherry tomatoes would be wonderful here if they were in season, but I find that the can of diced tomatoes works fine too. The key for my personal preference is to cook the onions until they are caramelized and sweet and the mushrooms until they are small and browned and have lost all semblance of their former rubbery mushroomness, but the choice (and pleasure) is all yours.
On a side note, last week I mentioned the word pleasure to my students, (as in the word amateur means a person who plays a sport for pleasure, not for money) and afterwards I was the brunt of many snickers and inappropriate comments.
Someone please save me from all the thirteen year old boys in my life.
Yes, that's me in the spoon with the camera, looking rough in my t-shirt. Still working on this photography thing, obviously. I'm still an amateur. :)
½ cup white wine (you could also substitute with an additional ½ cup reserved pasta water)
1 can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic
1 package button mushrooms, finely sliced
5 ounces (or a little over ½ bag) fresh spinach
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup grated parmesean cheese plus ¼ cup shredded
2 cups pasta of choice, (I used whole wheat rotini) with 1/4 cup reserved pasta water
1.) Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta and heat olive oil in a large skillet
2.) Add diced onions to skillet and cook for 5-7 minutes or until onion is starting to become translucent. Add in the sliced mushrooms and minced garlic and cook another 5-7 minutes until mushrooms are soft and onions are fully translucent.
3.) While the mushrooms and onions are cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water and set the timer for 7-9 minutes. Drain pasta when it is al dente, reserving ¼ cup liquid. Al dente pasta is a key for this recipe, as the pasta absorbs more flavor from the sauce if it finishes its cooking with the other ingredients. (See advice here)
4.) When the mushrooms and onions have reached your desired texture, turn the heat to medium high and add the wine. In cooking terms, you are deglazing the pan, which means that the wine picks up any delicious bits of olive oil or onion that have stuck to the pan.
5.) Cook for 2 minutes, or until half the wine has evaporated, then add the can of tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.
6.) Add in the ¼ cup reserved pasta liquid and ¼ cup grated parmesean cheese and cook until slightly reduced.
7.) Add pasta and cook 1-2 minutes. Toss in spinach and sprinkle everything generously with shredded parmesean cheese. Serve yourself a generous portion in a large bowl with a large spoon. Enjoy.
“[Joy] doesn’t fit with the everyday. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?”--Zadie Smith