Today has been the first really cold day in Johannesburg. I sat shivering a little at the rooftop venue where my husband played the sax this afternoon; a very vibey and rather “young” place in the heart of town: The Living Room in the Maboneng district. A good way to spend a Sunday afternoon: a glass or two of red wine, friends and fans of jazz and my husband’s, and just looking out towards the west over the cityscape, advertisements rotating their bright digital messages atop tall buildings.
Afterwards he rushed off to a rehearsal(such is the life of a musician) and I had an afternoon nap. I woke up with a craving for spaghetti bolognese. Simply that. And now as I sit here in the lounge and type, I can smell it as it burbles away in my second to biggest pot. I did not have veal or pork mince to mix in with the beef, but I did have celery and carrot and onion to make the soffrito starter, and white wine a la Marcella Hazan. And fresh rosemary from the garden. The house is redolent with sweetly cooking meat and tomato and garlic and just faintly still a whiff of wine. And my husband is playing along on his alto sax to a favourite sax player(Art Pepper): all my senses engaged!
I remember the very first time I had spaghetti bolognese: I mean other than the rather bland brown version I grew up with. My mom used to make something approximating it, more of a mince stew mixed in with spaghetti, served with grated cheddar, for a midweek dinner. It was in my first year after school, in one of the varsity holidays. A boy I liked and I ended up spending time with Italian friends of friends of friends in the town I grew up in. We hung around at the pool all day. I wore a dark blue one-piece swimsuit before I was self-conscious of my fat thighs. We stayed and stayed in the pool, our bodies warm and lips tasting like chlorine when we cautiously at first, but then with more abandon, kissed. When it got too dark, we got called to come and eat. I walked into the house, wrapped in a towel. My bare feet found a soft white rug, a Flokati, I later learned. In the background Michael Jackson was murmuring a beautiful song: “Ben”, which I could not get out of my head for days after. I was a little high on kissing.
On the stove in the kitchen, the Italian mother of the friend of a friend had a huge pot bubbling away. “Only a bolognese tonight” she said. The table was set with big white bowls, and next to the salt and pepper was a plate with a huge chunk of cheese and a slim grater. I was in awe. She fished out two twigs, of rosemary it turned out, denuded of their leaves before pouring the whole pot of deep red, intensely fragrant sauce into the spaghetti which she had cooked almost surreptitiously, and turned out into the bowls. I was completely smitten. The cheese was a pungent, aged Parmesan. The sauce was deep red and garlicky, nothing like the dish I knew as spag-bol. I took my cue from the hostess, drizzling what I learned was olive oil from a dark green bottle over the pasta. I had never had olive oil before. A whole world opened for me in one meal that night.
Years later I discovered Marcella Hazan and spaghetti made in Italy and Italian tinned tomatoes. I started growing my own rosemary. And sourced Parmesan and got a slimline microplane grater. And discovered that the soffrito was a step not to be skipped, even though the final product does not give any clues about finely chopped onion and celery and carrot which gets fried in olive oil before the minced meat gets added.
So, on my stove tonight, there is a pot of slowly simmering bolognese sauce. Soon I will fill my pasta pot with water and a handful of sea salt, and tip in half a packet of rigatoni(I’ve run out of spaghetti). From my garden I will pick some bitter greens and some sweet, and shake up a salad dressing. I’ll grate a heap of parmesan. And have a glass of wine and tell my husband about my first taste of bolognese, before he reads it here.