Eat Me

Let’s pretend for a moment you were asked to translate yourself into a plate of food.

If you were to turn the phrase “You are what you eat” on its ear and attempt to eat what you are, what exactly would you be eating? What would it look like if you laid bare all those little bits of yourself– your own, personal ingredients, I suppose– and put them on a plate for all the world to see?

And what would you taste like? Would everyone want a piece of you? Would you wind up as bland and dry as  Zweiback toast? Or would you be so off-putting that you’d just sit there, scorned, like a half-melted aspic on a  cruise ship buffet table? It’s a little unnerving to think about.

Unnerving, but interesting.

At least, to me it is.

Discovering My Inner Dish

Wandering into work one evening not very long ago, I grabbed a little food and sat down to eat in the back of the restaurant at the long, oaken table where my co-workers were doing likewise.

My friend Amelia, who was sitting across from me and quietly folding napkins, looked up said in a sing-songy voice:

“Uh-oh, Procopi-o’s.”

And then she went back to folding. It was just her silly way of saying hello.

“Uh-oh, Procopi-o’s?” I repeated.

“Sure, just like Spaghetti-o’s, but more Procopio-ier.” In all my years on earth, no one had ever set my last name to a commercial jingle for canned pasta, nor had anyone ever used the adjective “Procopio-ier”.

Amelia alternately suggested I might make a lovely breakfast cereal of some sort, but I was more enamored with the idea of becoming pasta. Perhaps if she had pitched the breakfast food idea at one of our pre-lunch service meals, I would have been more inclined to see myself as coated with sugar and drowned in milk.

All evening, I kept hearing her voice in my head singing that little, highly-personalized jingle, which made the instance when she came up behind me to sing it in my ear all the more wonderfully disturbing. I may have been chatting with my guests about goat stew and fried cheese, but all I could think about were Procopi-o’s.

I needed to get them out of my system. And, according to my own, special brand of logic, getting them out of my system could only be done by getting them into my system. I decided to make myself some Procopi-o’s, whatever those might be. I would take little bits of myself– metaphorically speaking– and put them into a recipe. I was going to find out what I was made of, throw it all together, and see how I turned out.

In essence, I was going to eat myself.

I tossed the idea around for days. Pasta? Of course. And said pasta would have to be circular because, after all, I was making Procopi-o‘s. But what to serve them with? How should they be dressed?

I wanted something cheesy and saucy and spicy, but with a little bit of ham thrown into the mix.  I thought about adding a bit of bitterness to the dish but, upon second thought, I decided to remain intentionally self-delusional and opted instead for a little bit of flat-leafed parley– purely decorative, which is how I like to see myself on my better days.

But there was something missing. “Oh, it needs a little booze,” I thought. Not to function, mind you, but merely to loosen things up.

I would look up recipes, because I allow myself to be influenced by others. I would sift through them and filter them to suit my tastes. And, being the genetic mutt that I am, I would hybridize: Pasta alla Vodka meets Pasta all’ Amatriciana. Boozy, hammy, and biting.

How appropriate. How perfect.

Or so I had hoped.

There was one small problem with this idea– I have a low opinion of vodka. To me vodka: a) It doesn’t taste like anything and b) serves no purpose except to make fruit juice boozier (see: girl drink drunks). I’m a gin man, so gin it would have to be. But would gin actually work in a pasta sauce?

Why not? It would certainly add a little note of interest that vodka could never provide. And, before you ask: yes, I do like to think of myself as interesting. Doesn’t everyone? I think it’s part of how we all get through the day.

Putting Myself Through The Wringer

handlerolling the pasta

I’d never given much thought to pasta-making, but when I pulled out my grandmother’s old machine, I realized three important things:

1. I haven’t made pasta since the late 20th Century

2. I lost the little clamp that holds the pasta maker in place at some point during the 21st Century.

3. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to form my pasta into cute little “o” shapes.

And then I thought to myself, “This is exactly why you should make this– you never really sure of what you’re doing anyway, so just do what you always do and make things up as you go along.”

I hunted around the kitchen looking for a way to make “o” shapes. At the back of a little drawer where all the small, unused cooking implements go to die, I found my grandmother’s cannoli forms. Those would do very nicely, I thought.

The making of the dough was simple enough: two kinds of flour, some eggs, a little olive oil, and a splash of water. Make a little well, mix it all up, and knead, knead, knead. Rather than knead by hand, I remained true to my own laziness and let my stand mixer do all the work. I thought about how that little machine was working so hard at developing the dough’s gluten. And then I thought about how it has been more than a year since I’ve been to the gym. I took another drag off my cigarette and continued to watch.

I turned the dough out onto a floured cutting board and shaped it into a disc and let it sit, covered, for thirty minutes to let it rest. I followed its lead by crawling back into bed for the same amount of time with a collection of James Thurber’s short stories.

You know, for inspiration.

After the dough and I were sufficiently rested, we met up again in the kitchen. I fed it bit by bit into the pasta maker, holding onto the machine with my free hand so that it didn’t fall over onto the floor and onto my feet, all the while imagining myself being put through that same wringer. “Well this feels familiar,” I said to the dough as I thought of the ghosts of boyfriends past.

I managed to achieve the shape I wanted for my pasta by rolling it around the cannoli forms, but worried how the pieces would perform when thrown into hot water. Would they hold up or would they fall apart? It amused me to think that nearly every step of this whole food preparation process had some sort of glaring corollary to my own life.

There was nothing to do but plunge the Procopi-o’s  into hot water.  It was mildly discomforting to stand over a pot of boiling pasta and stare into it as though one’s life depended on it. But, there they were– those little bits of me slowly floating to the top of the foaming water, surviving. And mostly intact. I scooped those babies out of the pot with a little bit of their bath water and let them cool. Then I tasted one of them.

I was disappointed.

It’s hard to imagine what it was I expected from a small circle of flour and egg. It tasted like pasta. Of course, it was pasta– a little doughy, but pasta, nonetheless. I was disappointed not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t perfect.  I caught myself staring at a bowl of pasta– one that was supposed to represent me– with scorn.

“Well, there you have it,” I thought, “So self-critical that I’m shaming myself over a fucking bowl of pasta.” Was I really so upset that it wasn’t perfect? Temporarily, yes. I stepped back for a moment and thought how ridiculous I was being.

And then I thought back to what a friend of mine said to me the other day. He left a comment on one of my previous blog posts stating that he was a little relieved I couldn’t come to a party was throwing, because I would have “spotted the flaws” in his desserts. He was nervous about “having a gaggle of food bloggers” standing around, judging them. In response, I wrote the following:

Dear Honky,

But here’s the thing… I adore flaws. Flaws are like fingerprints; they express an unavoidable individuality. To me, a home made dessert with a little flaw thrown in is infinitely preferable to the factory-made, calibrated sameness of anything that is store bought.

Long may the flawed flag wave.

Well, helloooo, hypocrite! Suddenly, I thought of a little song and hummed it to myself, though not as tearfully as the little girl below:

I tend to give others (or so I like to think) very good advice, but I very seldom follow it myself. I’m flawed. You’re flawed. Everything that’s worthwhile is flawed. If anyone on this earth were perfect, he or she should probably be whisked up into heaven like Jesus’s mother because there would be nothing left to do or learn here.

Flaws are what make people interesting, myself included. If I were perfect all the time a) everyone would hate me and b) I would be a complete bore. And since I consider being a bore a major character defect, we’d just be getting back around to being imperfect, now wouldn’t we?

Flaws are what make us individuals.

With that in mind, I tossed my little Procopi-o’s into the gin sauce, put great spoonfuls of it into a bowl, topped it with its awaiting garnishes, and dug in. Not perfect, but warm and cheesy, a little smoky and a little spicy. And it did not smell of booze. It was oddly satisfying.

Just like me.

Pasta alla Gin

I hope you’ll forgive me for not writing down the recipe for Procopi-o’s. Like myself, the recipe needs a bit of work. Besides, very few of you reading this are real life Procopios anyway, and those of you who are more than likely won’t be making “o”-shaped pasta any time soon. I suggest you find your own shapes and dishes- ones that better fit your own preciously flawed self.

The sauce, however, is worth making. Seriously. With gin. If you’ve got pancetta or guanciale lying about, you could certainly substitute that for the bacon but, other than one or two people I know, who has guanciale sitting in their refrigerator? I’ve used ingredients that are more or less easy to find because, well, I’m more or less easy to find.

Serves two to four of you. Or two to four of me. Given the subject matter of this post, it’s nearly impossible for me to tell.

Ingredients:

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes (San Marzano, if they’re available to you)
1 pound of any tube-shaped pasta you like (penne, rigatoni, mostaccioli, etc.)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted (it really doesn’t matter)
1 cup finely diced yellow onion
4 cloves finely minced garlic (garlic is minced, onions are diced– please discuss)
As much crushed red pepper flakes as you dare.
1 teaspoon of salt (or more, if you feel it needs it)
1/4 cup gin, stirred, not shaken. And very dry, please.
1/2 cup cream
Freshly-ground pepper, as much as you please
About 1 cup of freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Finely-chopped Italian parsley
4 slices of bacon, cooked, cooled, and chopped into adorable little chunks

Preparation:

1. Bring six quarts of salted water to a boil, which means turning the burner all the way up to “11″. Dump pasta into the boiling water and stir. If you are using dried pasta, cook for 8 to 10 minutes (until al dente), if using fresh pasta, just cook it until it’s done. You’re a big boy/girl; go with your instincts. Save about 1/2 cup of the water, drain pasta, place in a bowl, and mix with the water (to prevent the pasta from drying out).

2. In a food processor (or food mill), purée the tomatoes. Stare at them for a moment or to for no other reason but that you think they’re pretty and wonder that, if you stick your finger in for a taste and accidentally cut yourself on the blade, would any one notice? Would it change color? Would bleeding into the sauce take this whole “cooking myself” business a step too far? Add salt.

3. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and butter until hot and bubbly, but not so far as to brown it. Add onions and cook over medium heat for about two minutes. Add garlic and crushed pepper flakes. Cook for another minute.

4. Add your (blood-free) purée of tomatoes to the pan and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add gin: 1/4 cup for the sauce, 1/2 cup for the cook. Continue to simmer for another five minutes or so.

adding the cream

5. Turn off the heat and add the cream, gently incorporating it into the sauce. Add ground pepper and about 1/2 cup of grated cheese and stir in. Taste again, adding more salt and pepper flakes, if you feel the urge.

6. Add pasta to the sauce, gently tossing so that each piece is coated thoroughly.

7. Transfer the pasta into either a) individual serving bowls or b) one, enourmous communal trough. Garnish with bacon (or pork product of choice), parsley, and more grated cheese.

8. If you are eating this dish alone, pour yourself a large glass of wine (or a martini, because it pairs nicely with this particular dish), pick up a fork, and slowly cannibalize yourself. If you are serving this pasta to guests, sit back and watch them dig in, all the while saying, in a quiet little voice, “Eat me.”

And say it like you mean it.

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45 Responses to Eat Me

  1. julie says:

    How you continuously manage to write the most pithy and enjoyable posts while making food that sounds incredibly delicious is just… just… I’m at a loss for words without saying something stupid like “You’re so amazing!” Because that’s what I mean to say but like 1000x better.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      I’m relieved to know that’s what I’m doing.

      It always amuses me when an idea for a post comes out of nowhere. It starts as one thing and, in the process of thinking about and writing it, becomes something else entirely.

      That’s why I love doing what I do.

      And thank you very much for saying so, my friend.

  2. make my day says:

    mr jack honky sent us here…what a great morning read! I’m still giggling. cheers kari

  3. Another signature Procopio offering of divine delectations flavoured with incomparable imagery…

    grazi!

  4. Garrett says:

    Gin, dear boy, is good for everything.

  5. DW says:

    This is charming. And you ended up such a tasty sounding dish.

    I share you sentiments exactly on gin and vodka. But I never thought of gin in a pasta sauce. Since I cannot quite imagine this one, I guess I’ll just have to try it.

    To personalize it to me a bit: The bacon has to go, I think. (Maybe mushrooms.) And I’m more basil-y than peppery.

  6. Michael! Now I can’t get that darn jingle out of my mind! Maybe I can drown it out with some gin? Oh, but wait. I’m still at work! I wish this were the 60′s when I could have a stash in the office. You and your dish sound absolutely de-lish.

    Vic

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Vic,

      Gin might drown out the jingle, but it often leads to new, less pleasant noises, so I would proceed with caution.

      Very delighted to have you stop by my blog!

      Cheers,

      Michael

  7. Dee says:

    I hate to be a sycophant, but it cannot have escaped your notice that for some time now the feelings I have for your writing have grown. Dare I name it? Can it be love?

    • Michael Procopio says:

      How could you ever see yourself as a sycophant? I love that you love this stuff. It kinda makes me really happy and melty inside.

      xom

  8. ruairi says:

    Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst..

    Love it :-)

  9. vivvles215 says:

    I love the idea of putting gin in a pasta sauce, the way to my heart. Now, I feel the need for a gin martini….

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Well, like I said: a gin martini pairs nicely with this dish. I say go for it.

      Just skip the olives.

      Michael

  10. Thea says:

    This post is genius! And beautifully, ingenuously written. So happy I discovered this blog as it’s added an unlooked-for dimension to my life.

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Thea,

      An unlooked-for dimension? I’m curious to know what that is/was.
      Thanks very much for visiting me here. I look forward to more!

      Michael

  11. Susan says:

    Michael,

    You are definitely the product of a very successful recipe!!

    mm,mm good – POSSIBILITIES.

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Susan,

      Thank you. My mother and father may tell you differently, but I like to think of myself as a last-minute, impromptu dish.

      So what are YOUR possibilities?

      Michael

  12. Serene says:

    In essence, I was going to eat myself.

    Some boys have to get surgery to do that.

    Your Os look lovely, and it’s not a little bit charming that you wanted to make them in the first place.

  13. MrJackhonky says:

    As usual, I am amused, entertained and left slightly hungry after reading your blog post. I, of course, and double amused and (truthfully) flattered that you would include me as part of your post. And yes, I agree with you whole heartedly that it is the flaws that give us all personality. Thankfully I am chock full of flaws, which, in turn, I can only hope makes me a chock full of personality.

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  15. Rebecca says:

    LOVE this! I do have a hunk of guanciale in the freezer……lunchtime is drawing nigh….

    Brilliant as always, dear Michael!

    xoxo

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Of course you have a hunk of guanciale in the freezer. You’re going to have to use it up before you move to that other side of the country.

      Share.

      xoxo and an extra xo,

      Michael

  16. Loved your Storytelling session today at blogherfood had to head up to my room to check out your sight. Enjoyed very much! Procopio’s look very deliciOso’.

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Thank you! Thank you very much. I had fun with that session (I hope that was apparent). I probably could have talked for another hour on the topic.

      I think god invented time limits to thwart people like me.

      Really happy that you took the trouble to visit me here!

      Michael

  17. Like those before me, I too am a gin always, vodka never type of girl. If you can make a Bloody Mary with gin (and you CAN though they call it all sorts of crazy things, best to just tell the barkeep to make a “Bloody Mary with gin”), then why can’t you put it in tomato sauce?

    This sounds delicious and I can’t wait to try it next time I make pasta.

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Paulette,

      You are a woman after my own heart. I am very glad you have brought this whole Bloody Mary-with-gin business to my attention. It merely backs up my case.

      I’m a little ashamed not to have thought of it earlier.

      Michael

  18. jodi says:

    Being me, I’ll just go buy some wal-mart dollar pasta–which probably “is” me in a very literal sense. Cheap and pragmatic, although it’ll do in a pinch. For some reason your pasta reminded me of marrow bones.

    eat me? lol…happy dunking.

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Marrow bones? My first two thoughts when looking at the lede photo were:

      1. Calamari rings and
      2. Circumcision.

  19. Lana says:

    The best stories are sometimes woven around a jingle, a ghost of an idea, a scent reaching us from far away and waking up the dormant muses. Or it could be just a word that starts it all. Like your colleague’s. Whatever it is, a great story was born and I thoroughly enjoyed its progression.

    Vodka vs gin. Hmmmm. I am Serbian. My fist name is Svetlana. And gin was the last bottle we reluctantly reached for after every other alcoholic beverage in the house was exhausted, including home-made liqueurs. But I have been getting friendly with Bombay Sapphire martinis for some time now. Who knows what time may bring?

    And it’s definitely calamari rings.

    • Michael Procopio says:

      I am in full agreement with you, Lana.

      And I’m so glad to hear you’re coming around to Mumbai Bombay Sapphire. When you’re ready, we’ll move you up to No 209.

  20. Rachel says:

    You are hilarious. So glad I was sitting next to you on the bus because now I have something new to read! I am inspired to create my own post about convincing people to drink gin.

    • Michael Procopio says:

      It was a pleasure, Rachel.

      Tell me, did you get a swig of the passed-around bourbon? I wanted everyone to know that there is so much more to me than my love for gin.

  21. retro sweets says:

    I feel the need for a gin martini….
    I love the concept of including gin in a pasta sauce,
    the way to my heart.

  22. Stephanie says:

    I have read and reread this post countless times because a) it’s terribly funny and 2) I had to be sure it really was funny and I was not just delusional.
    3 martinis later it’s still makes me laugh out loud!

    • Michael Procopio says:

      Stephanie,

      It’s oddly comforting to know that you’re not delusional. Also, though I wish in no way to diminish your (wonderful) compliment, I often find things much funnier after 3 martinis. Or I find them blurrier. Or, god forbid, sexier.

      Cheers,

      M

  23. Gail La Carbonara says:

    This is the first time in my life I have ever been sorry that I was born with my own pasta. I want to MAKE one. :(

    I found this page while checking to see if anyone else had ever been crazy enough to consider making sauce with gin. I am simultaneously pleased and disappointed that I’m not the only one.

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