I am not a chef. I am not even a cook. I mean, I cook because it’s my job in our household’s division of labor and I actually do take pleasure in feeding my wife and kid, but it’s neither my passion nor my strength. What I can do, though, is follow a recipe. And if I can just remember never to stray from the recipe, all will be well.
My crafty personality lends itself to recipe following. I have very clean and even knife-cuts. I am a careful measurer. I won’t empty any cup measure unless it’s level. I don’t do “dash” or “pinch” or “season with salt and pepper.” I want to know exactly how much and then I will put that exact amount in and it will come out good.
I have been trying for nine years to make a good gravy. (The first clue that this would be a problem for me is that I think gravy should be brown and made from flour and chicken drippings. But my Italian wife tells me that gravy is actually pasta sauce.) I have tried experimentation, seasoning plain tomato sauce with things that seemed like they would be tasty, in random amounts. Dried basil, garlic salt. (Just writing that hurts my feelings, now that I know the error of my ways.) Then I sought recipes from restaurants that I had visited and for a while, I thought I had a decent one (from Ralph’s, which used to post its recipes online, but now seems to have retracted them and has published a cookbook.) It was incredibly labor-intensive, but it tasted pretty good. Ish.
I kind of gave up, I have to say. The Ralph’s recipe — the best one I had — wasn’t really cutting it and I sort of believed that I just couldn’t master it. In retrospect, I realize that minced, jarred garlic is NOT fresh, minced garlic and dried parsley and basil are no substitutes for fresh. That just might have made the difference. It’s irrelevant, though, anyway because I have found my new bible: Italian Food Forever. (Please ignore the stupid name, which seems like it should be scrawled in pink pen on the back of a Mead wire-bound notebook with a heart around it.) It’s crazy, you guys. It’s just a huge biggest Italian cookbook right there for the taking. And it doesn’t suck.
Witness: successful gravy! The other night, I made the basic marinara sauce, which seriously took 5 minutes. It was great that night and even better the next. Then tonight, I made Bolognese, which I have never made before and it was a big hit. Perhaps contributing to its awesomeness is the four types of fresh meat I got from the butcher this morning and the perfect recipe-following, which I am known for. (Known only by me, but that’s enough.)I don’t have anything else for you. There’s no tidy wrap-up or touching moral. I’m just really psyched that I found some gravies that I can add into my regular rotation. The end.