pasta with parmesan, olive oil, and pepper
A little while ago I wrote an essay on the things I like about being alone. Not to say that I don’t enjoy being with people, but I’m very much the classic introvert—at the end of the day, my first impulse is to curl up somewhere and recharge quietly thinking things over. In my essay there was one example, however, where I swore I diverged from my loner ways: at mealtime. Spurred by painful memories of solo dinners as a freshman in John Jay Dining Hall, I was convinced eating alone was the ultimate form of social rejection. Reading, going for a walk, lying in bed staring aimlessly at the ceiling—all perfectly acceptable forms of solitude. But eating? I couldn’t admit to a meal alone, not even to my creative writing class (and if ever a bunch of college-age misfits convenes, I can guarantee they will be some sort of creative writing class).
The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I realize I wasn’t being entirely truthful. Eating alone surrounded by people may breed feelings of overwhelming rejection, but sitting by myself in the kitchen, the kettle close to boiling and two pancakes with a fried egg on top sitting neatly on the table in front of me, is truly one of life’s great pleasures. When you eat alone, it’s just you and your food—a near perfect relationship if there ever is one. There’s no need to impress, and alone I find myself going for simple, savory things that don’t take long to make and are primarily flavored with salt and pepper.
My most recent eating-alone obsession fits this bill. It has only five ingredients, if you count the salt and pepper but not the pasta water (which is, however, a crucial element). I’ve always been a lover of spaghetti with cheese—it’s a comforting throwback to those childhood days when carbs and dairy were the only things my sister and I accepted on our USA geography and solar system place mats. Traditionally I’ve always gone with extra-sharp cheddar (the day I ran a half marathon I received a number of raised eyebrows en route to a friend’s room when I stood by the elevator wrapped in a blanket with an enormous Tupperware of pasta, a giant block of cheddar, and a cheese grater). Last week, however, alone in the kitchen on my day off, I made a wonderful discovery. I couldn’t find the colander and had a quarter inch of pasta water left after inadequate draining; then I lazily decided to forgo a plate and grate a chunk of parmesan directly into the pot. A slip of the hand left me with a generous coating of black pepper, so I added in an equally generous glug of olive oil to loosen things up. A sprinkling of salt, a few whirs with a fork, and I had magic—cheesy, peppery spaghetti made creamy by the leftover pasta water. I ate it alone with relish, and it was lovely solitude indeed.
Pasta with Parmesan, Olive Oil, and Pepper
1/4 – 1/3 package spaghetti
Bring a small pot of heavily salted water to a boil and add in the spaghetti, stirring well to keep from sticking. When the pasta is very al dente (I like it verging on chewy) bring the pot to the sink and drain almost all of the water, reserving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch or so of water at the bottom. Place your pot on an unheated surface and add a generous glug of olive oil, then grate a healthy amount of parmesan over the spaghetti and finish with lots of black pepper. Stir well and eat hot–from the pot, of course.