Today is my brother’s 30th birthday. Josh has only cooked for me once. He made a spaghetti with arrabbiata sauce that I will remember forever. He had just returned from studying abroad in Florence, where he lived with a hateful Italian couple. Before he moved in, a friend told him that his host parents were fascists. My brother was young and naïve, and thought his friend was speaking figuratively. He didn’t realize that in Italy the word takes on literal meaning, and that his host parents were actual fascists. The couple was mean and ungenerous. They locked every room in the house except for his bedroom. There was even a lock on the refrigerator door. It was far from the nurturing cultural experience that he envisioned.
I, on the other hand, have fond memories of the couple, who cooked my family dinner when we visited Josh. The meal was unremarkable until after dessert, when they served a digestif of homebrewed limoncello. I usually avoid Italian liquors. Grappa’s gasoline flavor brings tears to my eyes. It is a drink so vile that the only way to sell it to trick consumers by putting it in artistic bottles. Likewise, limoncello usually is a highly undesirable beverage. Its neon yellow hue frightens me, and it breaks Alex’s rule of avoiding all flammable beverages. This limoncello, however, was delicious. The sweet lemon flavor balanced out the harsh alcohol. I left the meal happy and tipsy. Josh’s host parents may have been fascists, but they sure could make booze.
I believe that Josh’s arrabbiata recipe also came from his host mother. Arrabbiata is a spicy red sauce, literally called ‘angry’ sauce because of the inclusion of chilies. It is probably telling my two recollections of Josh’s host parents’ cooking are angry pasta and hard liquor. Regardless of the recipe’s source, Josh’s arrabbiata sauce was amazing. I don’t remember the precise recipe, but it definitely involved tomatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, red pepper and basil (olives and red wine also might have been included). The sweetness of the tomatoes and carrots combined with the pepper’s spiciness to create a deep flavor. I was impressed by my brother’s sophistication, and couldn’t wait to study abroad like he did.
I doubt Josh will ever cook for me again. I suspect that he was one of those bachelors who only excels at cooking one impressive dish. Now he is engaged, and his fiancée runs the kitchen. She is an accomplished cook, and is preparing a birthday feast for him as I write this. Happy birthday, Josh.