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27 August 2003 @ 10:28 pm
fan-fiction, published fiction  
Great post tonight from anaxila about how reading published fiction can differ from reading fan-fiction. Scroll down for my after-dinner thoughts. You can practically smell the butter dripping from every word!

Speaking of which, how do you make basic pasta sauce taste savory? For a long time I've been making this quick-and-dirty pasta sauce: chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh garlic, mushrooms, olive oil, and butter. I try to stay away from salt when I can--never mind the four handfuls of salt-and-vinegar chips I had earlier--so no salt. So, okay. I make this sauce and once in a while it's good, but lately I'm more often finding that it's very bland. If I have it in the house, I might grate reggiano on it, but say that I don't--how do I make this tastier? Aside from salt.


We were in love and his uncle had a farm
where he took me hunting
to try to be in love even more.

He wanted me to have what he had:
Black coffee,
toast buttered with bad light
in a truck stop splotched with smoke,

then moonlight on the hills and snow
like a woman stepping out of her dress.

And it was good even as we killed it.
The stalks lightening,
the sun rising like a worn, yellow slicker
over us, bent over panting
because it wasn't hit cleanly
and had run us both dizzy
before settling down.

There was a particular knife he used
to make the asshole bigger.
After that, one could just reach in
and remove anything that wasn't necessary,

and thinking about it now, I see
the old school desk behind his uncle's house
put there for that reason,
see my husband sadly hosing it down,
as if regretting how and what men are taught...

I'm lying...
Though the diner I see belongs
in a small town where I went to school,
the desk had no drawers, was in fact a table,
and he was whistling as he washed it.

The sun didn't rise
like something to keep the rain off us;
it hung, like a cold chandelier
in which I could see each filament
in each flame-shaped bulb
beating itself senseless against the light--
brilliant and hollow,

beautiful and inhumane...
But I wanted so badly
to forgive his hands, forgive his lovers,
and to forget how, driving home, I was fooled
by half an acre of decoys
and some camouflage netting,

how I wanted to honk but didn't,
and how the whole scene made me realize
that mannequins mate for life too,
in department stores, wearing back-to-school clothes,

made me remember that if you press hard enough
on a bird's dead breast, it will betray its own kind,
that when he took its neck and broke it
I said his first name.

-- Mark Cox

I like this even though it has a workshoppy feel to it in places and might not turn up in a poetry anthology a hundred years from now--sometimes you just get that sense, from the juxtaposition of images and language, that it has contemporary resonance but maybe not long-term significance. To me, I can zig-zag a line of cultural imagery through the poem--truck stop, slicker, knife and asshole, school desk, cold chandelier, filament, decoys, camouflage netting, mannequins. It's grounded in a very American idiom, mostly a rural idiom, and builds its meaning from that. And I think the significance of some of these images and things might fade quickly--if you combine all of the images above, you have a rural landscape, and you can track a path through the poem. These visuals are like the detritus and signs you'd see if you drove down a back-country highway: truck stop, fishermen or hunters in slickers, the old school desks something you might see sold in an antique shop. The knife-and-asshole conjunction is in a literal sense just the efficient work of geese hunters but it also calls to mind the acts of serial killers, either of which plays up, I think, masculinity in its most disturbing form.

There's a movement in the poem of driving away from that rural landscape toward an urban one--the civilization of mannequins. It's a feminine versus masculine dichotomy being created and it works pretty well.

This poem, grabbed at random from a stash of works that have my seal of approval (probably better than calling them "favorites"), reminds me of how poems often work--for me--as a kind of song of loose meaning that I don't have to fully understand in order to get feeling from. I get this almost watercolory impression from this, this sense of thoughts and feelings, jumbled in someone's mind as they replay memories.

I am avoiding writing. Sigh.
lexcorp_hope on August 27th, 2003 10:42 pm (UTC)
The best way to make sure your sauce is more robust is to make sure that you're using tomatoes that are outdoor vine tomatoes rather than hothouse or hydroponic (you can usually tell the difference if you split one open- paler, grainier tomatoes are hot house tomatoes, and they have less flavor, vine tomatoes are "meatier" for lack of a better word, richly red and wet inside.) If your tomatoes are good, but you're still getting a weak sauce, you can add a teaspoon of dutched cocoa (unsweetened,) or coffee to your sauce, and that will deepen the flavor and bring out some of the warm, low taste of the tomatoes.
Anna S.eliade on August 27th, 2003 10:43 pm (UTC)
I am a vine-tomato *fetishist*! Heh. *g*

So, hmm, I will have to try the cocoa/coffee thing then...thank you!
flaming june_flaming_june_ on August 27th, 2003 10:45 pm (UTC)
I'm skimming right through all the thinky parts of your post and heading straight on to the pasta sauce. Because I think I can hold my own with the tomatoes and the basil.

If you're thinking your sauce is too bland, why not do a kind of arrabiata (aka diavolo) sauce, which is essentially marinara with spicy red pepper? I'm sure you can find a recipe at Epicurious or someplace like it, though if you need specific I'd be more than happy to let you know how I make it.
flaming june_flaming_june_ on August 27th, 2003 10:46 pm (UTC)
Ooh, damn. specifics, that is.
namastenancynamastenancy on August 27th, 2003 11:22 pm (UTC)
Pasta, pasta, who's got the pasta? A couple of suggestions - if you are using canned tomatoes, buy the plum tomatoes imported from Italy. The flavor is much more intense. You can also add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste which also intensifies the tomato flavor. I always add a spoon or two of chili flakes and if you want to add another layer of taste, saute your garlic with a wee bit of chopped bacon. Look up the recipes in Marcella Hazen's book on Classic Italian Cooking - she's got a ton more suggestions. OR - go and browse on Epicurious.com. More recipes and even reviews from the people who have used them.

bon apetite!

namaste SF Nancy
Minim Calibre: TWIGminim_calibre on August 27th, 2003 11:34 pm (UTC)
Also, crush the garlic into olive oil and set it aside. Use some when you start to cook the sauce, some about two-three minutes before it is ready to serve (so that the garlic warms and cooks slightly, but doesn't go bland).

If you want some fresh bay, which is wonderful for helping add depth to the taste, I have a tree (small, but with plenty of leaves) in my front yard), and could probably get some to you.

(Also, use some of the fresh basil, chopped long and fine, as a topping.)

I rarely cook pasta, now that garlic and I have issues, but the basic red sauce was my baby for years. (I'm also a big fan of "a tablespoon of capers over the top!" although mileage does vary on that.)
Minim Calibre: Wesminim_calibre on August 27th, 2003 11:40 pm (UTC)
Also: fresh pepper.


I should really harvest my garlic this year. It does have more uses than just adding a natural fungal defense to my rose beds.

Oh! And if you can, experiment with different basils and oreganos. It's hard, as the basils are almost out of season, but hotter/bolder spices make a difference.

If you like fennel at all (I tend to only use it in meat sauces, but I suspect it would work with a standard red), crush about a 1/4 teaspoon of it into the sauce. A good balsamic, used sparingly, also helps.
witlingwitling on August 27th, 2003 11:35 pm (UTC)
A little bit of brown sugar and some vinegar. Not much. Just a bit. And pepper. Oregano, that kind of thing. But the brown sugar helps; deepens the flavour, and cuts the acidity of the tomatoes.

Brain smooth. Cannot read poetry or think thoughts about it now.
Mintwitchmintwitch on August 27th, 2003 11:45 pm (UTC)
The problem in Seattle is usually bad tomatoes. I sprinkle the chopped tomatoes with red wine vinegar and a tiny grind of sea-salt, and that cooks down to a lovely sauce.
Estepheiaestepheia on August 28th, 2003 12:13 am (UTC)
I agree on the cocoa. Make sure it's the stuff you use for baking, not the one for drinks with vanilla in it. I always add a pinch of cocoa to my chilli con carne. Works a treat.
As for tomato sauce: I use stock cubes for flavoring, but they contain salt. They also contain celery, which is a good addition.

I have a recipe for Indian Spaghetti:

Cut 2-3 onions into quarters or eights and separate the layers (the point is to get pieces of onion that have a large surface but are thin), glaze them in a tablespoon full of oil, then add 1 chopped (green) bell pepper, and, if you like, one or two chopped courgettes, then sliced mushrooms and the chopped up tomatoes, finally a can of sweetcorn.
Spices: 1-2 teaspoons of curry powder, 1 quarter of a tsp of tumeric, half a tsp of ground coriander, a pinch of salt (sorry), a pich of chili powder, black pepper (either whole or you ground some into the sauce when it's almost finished - too much heat kills the aroma), 1 bay leaf (leave in for about 20 minutes, not longer), garlic (added towards the end, because garlic gets bitter if cooked for too long). A stock cube doesn't hurt either.
I usually add a bit of garam masala at the end (an indian spice mix), but it works without it. We eat this with Spaghetti and ground cheddar cheese.
(Deleted comment)
Tuesday Has No Phones: angelbotthebratqueen on August 28th, 2003 09:54 am (UTC)
More to that, use a good salt. You want to use Kosher salt or sea salt. I'll spare you the food geekery and just say that they give you more bang for your buck.

Put ketchup into an Italian tomato sauce as per Torch's suggestion and I will hunt you down and kill you in your sleep. Consider yourself warned.

You don't say how you make the sauce. The way you prepare and cook the ingredients can affect the outcome. Also what do you mean when you say you want it to be more savory? Deeper flavors? More spice? Something else? Because you say savory and my first thought is adding meat.

But really what matters is what kind of flavors are you looking for. Tomato sauces can run the gamut, so it's hard for me to point you in a direction without knowing where you'd like to end up. =)
Audreyaud_woman_in on August 30th, 2003 10:39 pm (UTC)
More about *how* the tomatoes get cooked...
Have you tried roasting the tomatoes? Core 'em, cut 'em in half, lay them cut side up in a shallow baking dish/roasting pan/pie tie so that they're packed in pretty tight. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with minced garlic, salt, pepper and herbs. Roast in the oven at about 400 for...hm...15-20 minutes? They're ready when they're a bit brown, falling apart, pulpy and very aromatic. Chop/mash/food process the tomatoes and simmer in a skillet until saucy. At this point, add in the sauteed onions, carrots, peppers, cocoa, etc., that other folks have wisely suggested. The roasting adds a nice sweetness and depth of flavor.
Anna S.eliade on August 31st, 2003 02:59 pm (UTC)
Re: More about *how* the tomatoes get cooked...
Oh, yes--I love doing that! They *are* wonderful. :) In this case, I was just looking for a 10-minute recipe, not a more ambitious sauce. But you remind me that roasting tomatoes would be a great idea...I should also make some soup. I haven't done that in months. Mm, soup.
torchflambeau on August 28th, 2003 01:31 am (UTC)
Just tomatoes on their own tend to get a bit too sharp and acidic and, weirdly, lose their strong tomato flavor when cooked, so I agree with everyone who suggests adding a small pinch of sugar, and some tomato paste - or some good-quality ketchup that you like the taste of will also work. If you clean the seeds out of the tomatoes before cooking, that removes some of the bitterness and makes the sauce thicker, but it's a bit of work and feels like wasting half the tomato... I'd also suggest adding paprika and/or some mildish chili powder. Grated ginger (dried, not fresh) goes great with tomato sauce, adding both zest and flavor. (Fresh ginger tends to emphasize the acidity of the tomatoes, IMO.) I also like oregano in tomato-based pasta sauces, though not too much if you're using the dried kind, then it gets a little bitter.
Malkin Greymalkingrey on August 28th, 2003 05:01 am (UTC)
On the sauce problem:

Various things to try, singly or in various combinations:

A very very small amount of cinnamon (just enough to put a freckle or two on the surface of the sauce before you stir it in)
chopped shallots
a bay leaf
good-quality fresh-ground black pepper
twistedchick on August 28th, 2003 05:48 am (UTC)
Assorted suggestions:

My Italian grandmother started all her sauce with a beef bone -- it had a more robust flavor than all-vegetarian sauce.

If you're working from scratch, avoid beefsteak and regular 'eating' tomatoes and go straight for the plum and pear tomato varieties. They have a much better flavor and are *designed* for making sauce; they don't tend to drip liquid all over you but release it more slowly as you cook, and the sauce tastes wonderful.

Add a few very-thin-sliced pieces of green (or red) sweet pepper.

Garlic -- fresh and chopped or sliced or pounded (each way of cutting changes the flavor a little) or roasted (for a milder flavor)

Mushrooms, almost any kind except Chinese tree ears. I've used shiitake and portabellos and they make the sauce wonderful.

A hint of either cinnamon or nutmeg but not both.

Oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, summer savory, winter savory, any or several of these. I don't advise using sage or rue; too bitter. A sprig of sharp fresh peppermint can be interesting. I grow Mexican spice basil or Thai basil, which have more flowery/fragrant/spicy flavors. Savory, when added to anything that tends to make people gassy, will change the enzyme structure of the food to keep it from causing gas attacks; same as bay leaf.

I have seen people add either corn or carrots to sauce but I don't advise it; it turns into minestroni and goes too sweet.

Parmesan or romano or aged provolone cheese, but nothing cheddar.

If you're adding meat, brown it first in another pan and drain it before you add it; you can spice the meat in that pan before you add it and the spices will carry over.

Add seafood -- cooked if you don't have much time, or uncooked if you're simmering the sauce for a while. Add seafood broth for marinara sauce.

Do not ever under any circumstance whatsoever add pineapple; pineapple brings enzymes that essentially start pre-digesting the tomato sauce, and it gets really disgusting. It also makes it far too acidic.

If the sauce, with the best of your intentions, does taste acidic or bitter, stir in a pinch of baking soda and a pinch of sugar.

(Yes, I'm half Italian. Why do you ask?)

Wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey...stuffcasapazzo on August 28th, 2003 07:05 am (UTC)
I never make tomato sauce without a good couple pinches of dried oregano - if you can find it, use the black kind (I think usu. from Greece or Turkey) rather than the usual green, which is less flavorful - and some wine. A chianti/sangiovese is usually best, though a shiraz, or any type of bolder, slightly rougher ("peasant wine," my mother would call it) flavored red will do.
anodynaanodyna on August 28th, 2003 10:33 am (UTC)
I think based on your description you're making a quick, light sauce of briefly-cooked fresh tomato and basil, rather than a robust, slow-cooked tomato sauce, yes? I think the suggestions above cover just about everything I can think of for the slow-cooked kind of sauce. If that's what you're making, you have lots of advice already!

If your sauce is more of a light olive oil/butter/garlic sauce with pieces of fresh tomato, basil and mushroom, I would recommend adding white wine. Add white wine and clams, swap the basil for parsley, and you have a nice white clam sauce. Or you could try stirring in a bit of prepared pesto. I also always serve it with parmesan or romano or both. I will say--if you can have just a little salt, this is the dish to put it in.

Oh, and too--if you cook your pasta in salted water, your sauce will seem more savory. The amount of salt that goes into the water is about what you'd put in the sauce, and most of it is drained away in the water, so you end up eating less of it. All pasta tastes better to me since I started salting the water.

Hmm. Can you tell I really love eating?
Essene: B/S kiss lavellebelleessene on August 28th, 2003 06:21 pm (UTC)
My only recommedation is to add curry. Just the yellow powdered stuff from the bottle.

I add it to any red sauce I'm making. It gives it....depth.

But that's just me.

Also, you really do need the salt. Just a titch. It makes the other flavors...more.
Carenecarenejeans on August 28th, 2003 09:24 pm (UTC)
That's a great discussion over there on amyzoncom's LJ...

And your analysis of the poem is good, too. My mind kind of stuttered to a stop at "asshole"; it was like a big sign that said "warning: contemporary guy poem."

But I, of course, am going to talk about pasta. *g*

One trick I've learned for deepening the flavor of sauce is this: sautee chopped onions and garlic (in butter for preference) a few minutes. Then add about half a cup of wine to them (more, or less, depending on how big a batch you're making. Just sort of barely cover the onions). Now cook this down, stirring pretty constantly, until the wine disappears -- shouldn't take but a few minutes. Don't let it brown. *Then* add your tomatoes and spices.
for you I'd bleed myself dryboniblithe on August 29th, 2003 06:17 am (UTC)
Trick from the Italian mother-in-law: sautee fresh minced garlic and some minced fresh onion in the olive oil before adding anything else, use only peeled tomatoes as the peel adds bitterness to the sauce, and cook it on a low simmer for at least 3 hours. The longer you simmer, the more it reduces down to flavor, flavor, flavor. You don't get the most rich sauce from just heating it for 20 minutes and then pouring it on the pasta. Here in the middle of The Second Italy (NJ) nobody takes less than 3 hours to simmer a sauce :)

You know what else is good? Carrots. Chop them tiny, and they add such a sweetness and rich flavor to a slow-simmered sauce, it's surprising but delish. They turn basically to mush and you don't know they're there, but they make a wonderful difference.
par avion: buffy stake OTPpar_avion on August 29th, 2003 08:20 pm (UTC)
I have no advice for sauce, other than I still like my mom's the best. She simmers it with both homemade meatballs and sweet italian susage.

I have quite enjoyed reading the poems you have been posting (esp. Saint Judas and the "dim boy" one. I love poetry, and was sharing some of my favorites last month in my LJ, but analying them is too much like work, and it still summer.

Although, having said that, I reread this poem. I'm still not quite sure what the poem is trying to say, but I got more of the imagery the second time, and enjoyed the car/goose double meaning of how I wanted to honk but didn't.