Gather ye round, friends, and hear the tale of a ragu that cooked for five hours, perking away on the stove as the many pieces of meat that went into it–lamb shoulder, pork ribs, short ribs–slowly broke down and contributed their fat and flavor to the tomatoes and onions and garlic that made up the sauce, along with a secret ingredient (anchovies) we best not tell our guests about. Unlike Sunday gravies that I’ve made before, this ragu–which comes from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 2–asks you, at the three hour mark, to shred the meat by hand and return it to the pot. What happens then is that the meat continues to break down over the next two hours, as the sauce thickens, and what you have at the end is something so remarkable, so utterly delicious, you may as well throw away any other ragu recipe you possess because there’s no topping this one.
You may not be surprised to learn that when it comes to what I eat, at any given moment, I can be a bit of a control freak. In fact I have a theory that most food people are control freaks: what better way to control what goes into your body than to become an expert on the subject? It’s rare to find a food person grabbing handfuls of snack food willy-nilly off a snack cart. Give a food person the opportunity to select his or own snack from a larger selection and a careful decision will be rendered. That makes us discerning, but also kind-of obnoxious in terms of going with the flow.
So lately, I’ve been going with the flow. The other night I met my friend Lauren for dinner and when she suggested a restaurant I’d never heard of–Casellula off 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen–I said “sure.” Turns out that’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time.
When I told my friend Alex that I was cooking a dinner for my parents and Craig’s parents at the end of last week, Alex (who knew me in college) said to me: “Did you ever think, 10 years ago, that this would ever happen? That you’d cook a dinner one day for your parents and your boyfriend and his parents?” The answer to that question was most definitely: “No.”
It’s hard to get back into the headspace where that dinner would’ve seemed impossible. But in recent weeks, there’ve been so many tragic gay suicides–13 year-old Seth Walsh, 15 year-old Billy Lucas, 13 year-old Asher Brown and, perhaps the most publicized case, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge after his roommate broadcast his sexual encounter with another man online–that getting back into that headspace seems important. And so, inspired by Dan Savage and his “It Gets Better” campaign (in which openly gay men and women tell their stories to encourage suicidal gay teens that it, indeed, gets better) I’d like to tell you how I got from that world of impossibility to the dinner I cooked on Friday night.