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December 18, 2006

Facing Failure at the Squish of the Bean


Some of us are doomed to fail at the same thing over and over again. Each time we fail, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and go right on out and fail again.


Cooking lore warns of the dangers of adding bean to pasta. Beware, it says, for both are dry foods. Unless the greatest of care is exercised, you, too, will wind up with a dish that is dry enough that to consume it would be to risk causing the moisture in your body to flee in terror.


Failure down this path is both bitter and memorable. Who can forget the great olive oil disaster of 2005?  From whose mind can we purge memories of the great lemon and oil massacre of 2004? These, and other disasters, live on in the thoughts of the survivors, scarred this day to the point of tremors at incident’s mention.


Here is your call, however. When failure besets you . . . it is the time to begin anew. This is when you keep at it, time and time again, until you get it right. No matter the cost, whether it means a week of starvation, or three straight years of the same food, there is no excuse for allowing failure to get the best of you.


So, the lines are drawn. Armor is donned, swords are drawn and battle is joined. In the kitchen, we shall enter and either return victorious or return not at all.


It starts, appropriately, with our good friend the bean. You look at it and wonder why it would hurt you so. It would appear to be the natural accompaniment of the length of pasta. Both require water in which to soften, yet neither appear to like each other very well.


Soften the bean, either through the purchase of the canned variety, or by soaking it and boiling until it mashes easily with a fork. You say to yourself, “This is but one-third of the battle and by all appearances it must be an easy win.”


Delusion is thus a dangerous enemy. It creeps up upon you and whacks you across the head while you aren’t looking, dulling your senses and giving you a head injury-induced sense of euphoria. Yes, if the battle were as easy as boiling some beans, it would indeed be over.


When the beans are cooked, you must now advance over the tallest hill on the battlefield. Here, before you know it, you are at a place where victory is either won or you are cast down in abject defeat.


The sauce should be a simple one, to complement but not overpower the bean, which is meant to be the main attraction. Yet, at the same time, the sauce must be strong enough to keep both bean and pasta from drying out.


Start with onions and yellow hot peppers, plenty of them. Chop them into bite-sized parts. The beans know they are the star and will not appreciate upstart members of the supporting cast attempting to steal their thunder.


Sautee the vegetables in olive oil and garlic until soft and add enough tomatoes and dried oregano for the sauce to become a bit watery. Allow it to cook down, but not too much. Juice here is as precious as shelter in a storm, water in the desert or a good excuse when you’ve missed deadline.


When it has cooked down just a bit, add as many beans as the sauce can hold without there being serious danger of bean overload. This point is tricky. You will know when you’ve gone past it, but could live out the rest of your days wondering, “Was there room for perhaps just one or two more beans?” It is a curse, yes, but it is your curse, a miserable fate to which you are doomed by past failures.

Salt it, pepper it, stir it, mix it. Allow it to cook some more, so that if the water is lost, it is lost through absorption into the beans. Begin to pray.


Cooking the pasta here will seem like denouement. It is simple, uneventful. It does not tug at the heart or recall past failures. It requires only the boiling of water, and the adding of noodles for eight-to-10 minutes.


When finished, it is time to mix sauce and pasta. Stir them carefully.


The only test of success or failure comes at the end of a fork. Use it now. If it tastes delicious, if your mouth doesn’t go as dry as a desert, you have succeeded. If it does, failure continues to ride your back like a cigarette-smoking monkey.


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