the red red of diced tomatoes

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.

lasagna

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

Ingredients:
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
Water
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
Salt
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
Pepper
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1.5 tablespoon chopped basil

Directions:
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.

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. MC

    “A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce.”

    Ohmigod, stop spying on me! :) I think I eat pretty well each meal but my issue is snacking. I don’t snack well. I’ll have a cookie here, or a few potato chips there.

  2. Lan

    oh how true. the best meals i’ve ever had have been alone. i don’t have to be graceful or mindful of someone else. i can hog the ketchup, not have to talk/respond. and i love love love noah’s article on eating alone. i spent the first two years of college eating with friends, never alone. and then all of a sudden, the last two years were spent in quiet, unadulterated reflection over really bad mess hall food. i loved it.

    excellent post.

  3. Jacqui

    there is certainly something to be said about those who cook for themselves AND can enjoy it. because while cooking for a crowd can be satisfying, a person can really learn a lot about herself when creating a meal just for one — whether throwing together an old favorite with her eyes closed or trying a new recipe and welcoming the mistakes.

    love this post, and the photos. thanks for this one! :)

  4. amy

    what an interesting adaptation! i always feel a bit miffed when cooking for one, like i’m cheating. i usually end up eating bread and cheese, with some raw veggie thrown in for good measure. This look like a great idea!

  5. Rachel

    ooOo I could totally do that for a twosome as well!! how handy of a recipe….I wonder if I could use other noodles… like little bows or something.

    when Jake is not home I eat horrrid!!!.. maybe like a cookie (or 3).. and then… a string cheese…. and a whole bunch of green olives… and finish it off with a bag of popcorn… ok jake works a 12 hours shift.. so I have a lot of time to scarf that down… hahaa… i always make nice well rounded meals for when he comes home though!! so I eat well at least once a day!!

  6. Shannalee

    MC: LOL. When I was growing up, Sunday nights were my favorite meals: we’d have all the food out on the countertops, preparing school lunches, and I’d munch on ALL of it.

    Lan: It makes me so happy that you loved Noah’s article, too. Brilliant, right? (Gosh, when I was a junior in college, let’s just say I didn’t write like that…)

    Nick: You know, you’re right–you could probably do this with a lot of cheese-topped pastas. Hmmn…

    Jacqui: Right? It’s like, if you’re always with people, you forget who the you is that those people liked to begin with!

    Amy: Ha! Miffed is the perfect word. I gotta say: bread and cheese is sounded really good right now, though.

    Rachel: You, the queen of homecooked meals, have more excuse than anyone to eat crazy when alone. Enjoy it! :)

    Elizabeth: That’s right! Put them in there all hard and still uncooked, and, like magic, the skillet makes them soft and plump with tomato sauce! So exciting to me, I’m serious.

    Kelley: You’re sweet. And tomatoes and salt, huh? That’s awesome.

    Duo Dishes: First of all, thanks for stopping by. Second: crusty bread!? That’s my favorite!

  7. Linda

    Meat? Scatter the noodles over the meat? What meat?

    Or did I really miss something?

    Love reading your blog. I used to live in Chicago and lived in Oak Park for about 45 minutes. Now in London, I enjoy both your food and the local colour you share.

  8. Kiet

    Stumbled on this post and I am so happy to know that I am not alone in this. Often times I do work from home and find myself staring into space wondering what to eat when it comes to lunch; the problem is not so bad when there’re left over from the night before and that my beautiful wife had set them aside for me.

    I have to tell you, I am definitely going to give this a go and will probably be making it quite often. Incidently, I am looking for a classic spaghetti sauce recipe, if you come across one, please send it my way.

    Excellent post, thanks…

  9. Shannalee

    Kiet, Thanks for visiting and for the empathizing comment. It’s always good to hear there are other people eating alone sometimes in their own kitchens! Oh, and as far as a classic spaghetti sauce, I gotta say my mom’s is to-die-for. However, like a lot of classic recipes, it’s more in her head than on paper. If I figure out a way to get it written down, I’ll be sure to post it here.

  10. rachel

    Im actually making this right now! sans fresh tomatoes.. :( boo to me-Im using canned , but i remembered this recipe … and i was thinking I am so hungry and I had about 8 leftover noodles form making lasagna a couple weeks ago!

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