In his book Heat, Bill Buford chronicles his adventures as an amateur slave cook for Mario Batali, and his immersion into the professional cooking world. Amongst the people he mentions in the novel is Lidia Bastianich. If you’ve never seen her show, try to find it. She is about as close to one of my Italian aunts in the kitchen as one could get. Her recipes will make your legs shake and you’ll get that squishy feeling like you did when your crush passed you in 2nd grade or when you straddled a swing too long.
I mention Lidia because one of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from her in Buford’s book. He talks about the link between food and sex, and he refers to a conversation he had with Lidia on this very subject. When pressed to explain further, Lidia states that, of course food is like sex, and then throws him a rhetorical question, “‘What else do you put in someone’s body?'” I never thought of it that way, but it’s dead on when you think about it, and it’s why good food and wine can lead to a euphoric, erotic level of being.
And the connections can be drawn from there. Perhaps the encounter is a fifteen-minute exercise in lust on the kitchen counter, or a quickie in the front seat of your car as you take a break from a long road trip, or the clumsy first time when all the ingredients are there, but you’re unfamiliar with timing and how everything works together. Or maybe it’s a languid evening that requires four hours of musical ambiance, punctuated by the brief recognitions of humanity’s inherent beauty and the privilege you feel in recognizing it, or maybe you’re just starving and you tear open everything and scarf it all down while closing the front door with your back left heel. This could be food. This could be sex.
This recipe effuses sexuality in that it’s indulgent, but also smooth and simple. Most importantly, it’s easy. When I first read it over, I was uneasy about using a whole stick o’ butter, but it was the perfect complement to these ravioli. Serve this with some greens in a light vinaigrette, and you’re getting lucky on two levels.
I mentioned Lidia because it so happens that this sauce is from her book, Lidia’s Family Table. Also, I use Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli for this, but I think any good filled pasta would work famously with it. The recipe below serves 4, but I usually halve it since there are only two of us.
T. J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce
Serves 4 or so
2 packages Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli, or a filled pasta of your liking
2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs
8 tbsp. butter (1 stick)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of the pasta-cooking water
2 tbsp. chopped parsley, Italian would be optimal
1 cup Parmesan or Grana Padano
Get a big ol’ pot of salted water boiling for the pasta.
In a small skillet, toast the bread crumbs over medium to medium-high heat, tossing them often so that they get browned evenly. When they are almost all brown, drop in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl the pan around to melt the butter and stop the crumbs from getting too brown. Set this aside.
In a big skillet, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Grind in the black pepper generously. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot pasta water and get it simmering. Keep stirring and simmering it as it reduces a bit while you wait for the pasta to finish.
Remove the cooked pasta from the big pot o’ water and add it to the skillet. Toss it with the sauce. Off the heat, toss in the Parmesan and parsley. Plate your pasta portions (dividing the sauce among the four plates, obviously) and sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs on top of each right before serving, like this:
Make and serve this, and it will be one of those encounters you remember in the wee hours of an insomniac night.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013