Category Archives: Food Fiction

Food Friday : An Occasion to Chiffonade Basil


On any given night, so many elements can influence what goes into dinner, but the manner you finish a dish, what you dust atop it, really sets the occasion.  Let’s explore something as simple as pasta with red sauce to illustrate.

The ambience for serving of something as simple as pasta with red sauce isn’t contained in whether you cooked it from scratch or twisted the top off a jar. Nor is it about the amount of time the sauce has simmered.  Whether you opted for the can of San Marzano tomatoes instead of the generic stewed whole tomatoes has little bearing.  It is not defined by whether you opened a package of supermarket dried pasta or hand rolled fresh semolina noodles. It is revealed in the herbs that top a plate piled with pasta and smothered with sauce.

Let’s say you’ve dedicated yourself to staying at home for a relaxing evening of watching the Law & Order marathon. There will certainly be episodes you’ve seen like your less-than-favorite show where the hooker was raped, stabbed and dumped in the Hudson only to be found by an unsuspecting tourist out for a photo-op from the riverbank.  Even if that occurs, you are in for the long haul until you nod off in front of the tube.  Tonight, after you start the pasta boiling on the back burner while a freshly cracked jar of your favorite ‘artisan’ sauce warms up on the front burner, you are going to slip into the worn old flannel PJs you borrowed from your college roommate and ‘forgot’ to return (opps).  They should have been retired years before you finished college anyway. When you are ready to settle onto the couch, prop your slipper-clad dogs on the coffee table and crack an ‘artisan’  beer, you’ll arrange the pasta in the old chipped, stoneware bowl you ‘borrowed’ from your college roommate and forgot to return (oops).

Before you hear the first ‘bong-bong’ of the night,  to make that dish your own, to add your own personal signature, as if to deny it is canned, you’ll casually shake a layer of dried basil on top.

Unfortunately, what really happens is just as you are pouring your ‘artisan’ sauce into a pan, the phone rings.  That said college roommate happens to be in town for one night and one night only and “golly-gee, wouldn’t it be great to have some buddy time?”  Umph, so much for that marathon. That hooker in the Hudson will have to wait to die another day.

Tonight, after you finish pouring your ‘artisan’ sauce into the pan, you’ll slip into comfy jeans and your favorite Radiohead t-shirt from the unforgettable nught you and your roommate splurged on front row concert seats.  Was this thing borrowed?  Rather than beer, you settle on a reasonable $10 bottle of wine in the rack.  Frankly, at the rate they disappear, there’s no point in keeping anything but the $10 variety in the rack.  The front bell rings as you are stashing the pasta jar in the trash.  Hugs and eager accounts of events gone by since your last meeting and reminiscing commence over the first glasses of wine poured.  Oh, as it turns out, you did borrow that t-shirt (oops).  Ducking that chipped pasta bowl to the back of the cupboard, you grab two matching pasta bowls from the 40-piece big-box-store dishware set you bought after college to plate the pasta and ‘artisan’ sauce.

Just as the two of you are settling in to gossip at the kitchen table, you snag three of the oldest basil leaves off your windowsill herb plant and tear them to shreds between your thumbs and forefingers before sprinkling them atop the dish in a carefree and youthful motion.

Unfortunately, what really happens is as the door bell rings, instead of your old college roommate flying solo, you hear a ruckus behind the front door.  A quick peek through the peep hole reveals your college roommate didn’t call you because she happened to be spending a lonely evening in the city.  Nope, she’s there with two rather enticing and, presumably, hungry friends.

Tonight, while stalling them in the hallway, you slip into a simple pull-over dress that fits the bill of easy-to-find, easy-to-slip-on and looks-good-without-looking-like-your-trying-too-hard.  Opening the door shooting the laser eyed ‘how dare you?’ look you borrowed from your college roommate at your college roommate, you head for the liquor cabinet to mix up a couple of scotch and sodas for the guests.  Thankfully, that 40-piece, big-box-store dishware set you bought after college has four place settings and you won’t have to dig out the chipped piece of stoneware you borrowed from your college roommate for the occasion.
As the bowls of pasta and ‘artisan’ sauce are ready to head to the dining room table, you grab a handful of basil leaves regardless of size and shape from the windowsill herb plant.  You deftly chop them rocking the blade of your knife back and forth over the herbs constantly rearranging them in a neat pile under the blade.  After you have duly impressed your guests with your impressive warrior woman knife skills, you confidently and triumphantly dust the tops of the bowls with the confetti.

Unfortunately, what really happens is the ruckus behind your front door is your roommate, her parents and her little sister.  Apparently, it was a excursion to the city for a friend of the family wedding.

Tonight, you invite them in then scurry off to swap out that Radiohead t-shirt with a simple black one.  Her parents don’t need to be prompted to remind you that they hold you accountable for the slight dust up with the law following that concert (oops).  As the pasta boils, you offer everyone a round of soda water with lemon.  Unfortunately, it seems that 40-piece, big-box-store dishware set you bought after college only has four place settings.  Guess you will have to dig out the chipped stoneware bowl you borrow from your roommate which she borrowed from her parents after all.

As you neatly arrange the pasta and sauce on the dishes, you lightly pluck several carefully selected basil leaves from the windowsill herb plant.  You peruse looking for 5 or 6 leaves of the same size, color and texture.  Once the optimal stack of leaves is made, you tightly roll them together.  As you crimp your fingers over the roll exposing the flat between your first and second knuckle, you chiffonade the leaves running the blade up and down the flat face of your fingers in swift repetition keeping the knife edge on the board the whole time.  Then, in a mature and accomplished fashion, you artfully sprinkle the slivers of green ribbon over the pasta.