So, confession time.
I don’t have a very good relationship with my mother. You could say, we probably don’t have much of one. To answer the question as to why, would involve opening many cans of worms that we’ve buried deep beneath the earth, but not forgotten about. I don’t know that this is the proper place to talk about something that can be hurtful at times. I also don’t think that prayer is the answer, especially since I ceased believing in a Deity a long time ago, or more accurately, most religions’ versions of a Deity.
We don’t talk much these days. In fact, I haven’t spoken to her in over two years. I don’t expect that this situation will change in the near term, because it seems that we’ve become strangers to each other over the intervening years. I have a tremendous amount of unresolved anger issues with respect to my parent, but at the same time, I have an equal amount of pride and respect for her as a parent who did the best she could with what little she had. I turned out okay in the end.
Still, some things rankle from the past. For example, I’m sure most of you have never been thrown out of your house at seventeen, the day after graduation from high school, your belongings wrapped up in garbage bags ready to be picked up at the curb. It’s unlikely that you were whipped by a belt during your childhood, or forced to kneel with your hands outstretched for hours, or made to swallow chiles pickled in vinegar, or made to sleep in a garage in the winter while completely naked.
If you happen to be gay as I am, it may not be likely that your parent refuses to discuss things that are important to you, such as acknowledging that the person you would like to be with for the rest of your life happens to be of the same gender as you. It may be unlikely that your parent ignores all attempts to engage in that kind of interaction.
There aren’t very many things that my mother and I have in common. Oh, we share the same blood, and she and I have a love of food … but that’s about it, really. Most of our phone conversations tend to be devoid of any real meaning. We might as well be discussing the weather.
When I spend time with my friends on holidays where family matters most, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, what does that say about my own relationship with my parent?
I wonder sometimes.
And I wonder if there is hope for us both.
1 eggplant, trimmed and diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
freshly milled black pepper, to taste
4 basil leaves + more, cut into a chiffonade for garnish
freshly grated ricotta salata
Place diced eggplant in a colander and set the colander over a bowl. Sprinkle eggplant with a generous amount of salt, then lay a plate atop the eggplant and weight it with a heavy can. Set aside for an hour. During this time, the salt will leach any bitter juices out of the eggplant, which would otherwise affect the taste of the final dish. Discard any brown water that collects in the bowl.
Warm olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Fry the eggplant cubes a small batch at a time or until the eggplant turns golden brown. When done, spoon the eggplant with a slotted spoon and place onto paper towel-lined plates so the oil can drain out from the cubes. You don’t want to cook the eggplant for too long, or else it will become greasy. Drain the skillet of any remaining olive oil.
Meanwhile, prepare the tomato sauce. Gently warm olive oil in a saucepan, along with the garlic clove. When the garlic turns a pale gold, after about a minute, remove the garlic clove and add the tomatoes to the pot. Lower the heat, add a pinch of salt (or to taste), along with the basil leaves and cook, covered for 15 to 20 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste for salt and pepper. Depending on the quantity of spaghetti you’ve prepared, you probably won’t be using all of the sauce for the pasta. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated or frozen. Keeps for up to a week refrigerated, or six months if frozen.
Prepare spaghetti according to package directions. Cook until al dente, then drain. Ladle 2 ladlefuls of tomato sauce into the same skillet used to cook the eggplant. Add the pasta directly to the pan, along with the eggplant. Mix well. Heat the pasta just enough so that it’s warmed through, then remove from heat. Taste for salt and pepper once more. Typically, spaghetti alla norma is served with grated ricotta salata on top, but in the picture above, you see grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — I used that because that’s what I had on hand. Either way, spoon pasta onto warmed serving bowls, sprinkle with grated cheese and basil. Serve at once.
Time: 2 hours. Most of the time will be spent on eggplant prep.