I first became interested in cooking as a result of watching The Godfather. (I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this.) There is one scene in particular that intrigued me. Michael Corleone stands over a pot of simmering marinara sauce while his brother Sonny storms around the kitchen, plotting revenge for the shooting of their father. Michael’s anger steadily simmers along with the sauce on the stove, but Sonny makes light of his brother’s rage and insists that he continue on with his cooking lesson while real soldiers craft the plan.
The scene is pivotal. It marks the point at which the film moves from being a simple tale of a Mafia family to become the mythic — almost Greek — story of a man who is living the life that no one, least of all himself, envisioned. Standing behind this simmering pot, Michael announces that he will enact the plan; he will kill the men who are responsible for Vito Corleone’s near-fatal shooting. This act of vengeance inaugurates Michael’s ascendancy to the head of the Corleone crime-family.
Meanwhile, the red sauce simmers away on the stove, functioning as a multivalent symbol — of Michael’s Italian heritage, of the rage that boils within him, and of the blood that he will soon spill.
But the scene also offers some good advice on how to make a decent marinara sauce: add a slug of wine, sprinkle in some sugar, simmer slowly and gently. How could I not be intrigued by cooking after I saw it? I was only 12 years old at the time, but even then I understood that it illustrated the power of cooking and food.
And thus began the “Summer of Sauce.” Using only the information gleaned by watching the film, as well as my own hazy and deeply compromised understanding of what marinara sauce was, I spent an entire summer trying to make the perfect “marinara.” I realize now that I was not really making marinara sauce at all; it was actually more like a Bolognese sauce. There were, however, a few gestures to authenticity: I’d managed to convince my mother to buy a bottle of red wine, slugs of which wound up in every pot. Dried oregano — lots of it — was a regular addition, but I never thought to include basil. Go figure.
In spite of its rather confused nature, the sauce tasted good, and I was quite proud of it. Each pot taught me a new lesson about cooking. I learned about the power of garlic, the impact of spice, the importance of sautéing, and the logic of simmering. Unfortunately, and somewhat inevitably, my family started to feel a little overwhelmed by my Godfather-inspired sauce-obsession. A family can only eat so much pasta with marinara sauce.
After the tenth pot or so, it dawned on my parents that they could harness my enthusiasm for the common good, but for that to work, I would need a larger culinary repertoire. Then someone had the clever idea of giving me a subscription to Gourmet magazine, to which, save for a few lapses, I have subscribed ever since. Certainly, my cooking became better and more varied as a result of reading the magazine. More consequentially, however, my interest in cooking and food became richer and more sophisticated. The magazine has always featured pieces that deal with the cultural and political implications of cooking, a focus that has distinguished it from other similar magazines. As a result of reading Gourmet, I not only learned what to cook and how, but I also learned why we cook the way that we do and why it matters that we do so. I came to understand food and cooking as artifacts of culture. This understanding makes the experience of cooking and eating that much more meaningful.
In a previous post, I discussed the sense of loss that I feel as a result of the magazine’s imminent demise. Today, however, I’ll leave loss behind and celebrate the magazine’s life. How better to do that than with a meal? I’ll post photos and recipes when the meal is complete. Meanwhile, here’s the proposed menu.
Spice Rubbed Pork Loin (adapted from a recipe from Gourmet)
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Molasses & Smoked Paprika
Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese & Pears
Here are some photos & recipes:
I wound up using a different Gourmet recipe for the pork loin. It called for a mustard sauce made with dry Vermouth, but I didn’t have any in the house. I used bourbon instead and I’m not sure about that as a substitution. The flavor of the bourbon was a bit pronounced. Still, the roast itself was lovely, infused with the flavor of the herbs and a bit tangy from the mustard. Quite nice.
The sweet potatoes are an old-standby.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Smoked Paprika & Molasses
2 large sweet potatoes, cut up into 1 inch chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper; I used Marash, but Aleppo pepper is also nice
1 teaspoon of Spanish smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure that the potatoes are completely covered. Pour the potatoes on a rimmed cookie sheet. Ensure that potatoes are in a single layer, otherwise they will steam and not roast. Cook for 25-30 minutes; serve immediately
Au revoir, Gourmet.