Tonight, for example. Tonight was about two foods, both relatively new on the timeline of my life, yet somehow they have both become comfort foods. Much like croque monsieurs, Caesar salad and tuna fish spaghetti snuck into my life in the past five years or so. But they are here to stay and are able to feed my soul just as well as they fill my stomach. And I think that's what comfort food means.
I can remember the first time I ordered a Caesar salad, on a whim at a local restaurant. Some people order Caesar salad all the time, but I am not one of those people. I don't know what made me do it, but I do know that it was good. And so, last night, when I happened to watch this video, I started craving a Caesar once again. As I watched, I realized that a Caesar is all about the salt. When asked to list salty foods, I, like most people, would list potato chips and french fries, popcorn and pretzels. I would probably even list anchovies--crucial to Caesar salad--but I would never think to list the salad itself. But the salt is there. It's there from the anchovies, it's there from the Parmesan cheese. And it makes sense. Salty foods are crunchy; in its way, Caesar salad is crunchy too, relying on the heart of a romaine lettuce.
Caesar salad, though, is not just salty and crunchy, the way snack-y foods are. The salt (anchovies) in a Caesar are emulsified into its dressing, adding what can only be called a silky component. All the parts of a Caesar dressing (I used chopped anchovy, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire, pepper, vinegar, and olive oil) combine as though by magic, with a spell of Parmesan cheese holding it all together.. Eating my salad tonight, I didn't taste any one ingredient. I just tasted dressing on crisp romaine. Concentrating, I tasted the heat of the garlic, the sharpness of the mustard, the acidity of the red wine vinegar and the ballsy richness of the anchovy. But no one thing overwhelms another. The Parmesan is key. A hard grating cheese, it is still a dairy product, so it brings both saltiness and creaminess to the table, and he's the one that creates the harmony. Delicious.
The second item on the table tonight was tuna fish spaghetti. I actually never eat my tuna sauce over spaghetti, favoring instead penne or rigatoni, but I just think of "tuna fish spaghetti" as the name of the dish. Strange, as I did not grow up eating this dish, but there you have it.
Into the equation add a candle, red wine in a juice glass and a red-and-white-checked tablecloth, and you've got one comforting Italian dinner on your hands.