Laurie Colwin says people lie about what they eat when alone. “A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce.” (I’ve decided, just so you know, that of all the writers I wish I could’ve had dinner with, Laurie Colwin is #1, followed very closely by this kid, Noah Lawrence, a Yale college student who writes things like this and this and plays songs like these).
Saturday, I spent a day in the kitchen, alone, just me and my laptop, belting out music and online TV shows while I mixed dough and pushed pans in the oven. I could tell you I ate a sandwich, a cup of soup, some fruit—that I scrambled eggs, even. But I’d be lying. In fact, I ate a handful of oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies, followed by some other cookies (recipe
forthcoming Friday posted here), chased with hazelnut coffee. All of these were eaten while I stood over the sink or fiddled with ingredients, never while I was seated and certainly not off a plate. These are the joys of eating alone.
There are different joys, of course, when eating with friends: conversation, for example, which is not to say that speaking cannot happen when one is alone in the kitchen, but just that most speaking is improved with a listener and responses. Also, eating with someone amplifies the sensual understanding: knowing someone else smells the sweet doughy air, when you pull cinnamon rolls out of the oven, gives you a stronger experience. You’re not just smelling something; you’re smelling something with someone. They may comment on it, they may not react; it is irrelevant. The communal seeing, smelling, tasting, touching—changes the way you eat. You are no longer just eating. You are eating with someone else.
Eating alone, however, is filled with entirely different pleasures. There is something to be said for learning to be alone, just you and your thoughts and the kitchen, and being comfortable. Alone, you don’t have to be interesting or smart or funny even. You don’t have to talk, you don’t have to do chop the onions the right way, you don’t have to worry about making a mess. There are no rules but the ones you make for yourself, and those are OK to break. Alone, you can just be you.
Eventually Saturday (as in, late afternoon) I wanted substance. And having never blow-dried my hair or put on makeup, let alone donned normal clothes, I didn’t want to go out. Thus, this version of lasagna was born: lasagna for one.
Essentially, you cook up some olive oil and onions and garlic in a skillet, then add broken chunks of lasagna noodles, topped by diced tomatoes and sauce. This simmers for a while, softening the pasta and flavoring it with the sauce and oil. Next comes the cheese—my favorite part—which you scatter on top of everything before covering the pan and removing it from the heat. Enclosed, the skillet will melt the cheese, sending it oozing and bubbling over the tomatoes and noodles, creating a sloppy, saucy medley. Remove the cover, and voila: lasagna, ready to be eaten. (Between us, over the sink works fine.)
Lasagna for one (or two)
Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 curly-edged lasagna noodles, broken into 2-inch lengths
1/2 can (or 4 ounces) tomato sauce
1/8 cup plus 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1.5 tablespoon chopped basil
Pour tomatoes with their juices into 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Add water until mixture measures just over one cup.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Scatter pasta on top but do not stir. Pour diced tomatoes with juice and tomato sauce over pasta. Cover and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove skillet from heat and stir in 1/8 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot with heaping tablespoons of mozzarella, cover and let stand off heat for five minutes. The cheese will melt and ooze all over the softened pasta by the time you remove the cover. Sprinkle with basil and remaining Parmesan. Serve.