When I was in high school my dad and I had a standing Friday night dinner date. If you're assuming from that statement that I didn't date much in high school, well then you'd be right. But that's ok, I'm totally fine with it, now. Most Fridays, my mom, a Geriatrics nurse, worked the night shift, which left my father, my brother and me to fend for ourselves. After getting home from school, my brother would go to his room and play Madden NFL and I would do my homework (yes, I did my homework on Friday nights). Afterwards, my dad and I would meet in the kitchen and cook dinner together. It was always pasta, mostly spaghetti.
After my brother loaded a plate and returned to Madden, my dad and I would sit at the table and eat and talk. During the week he and my mom would often ask, almost obsessively I think, how school was and if anything interesting happened. My answers were always, "good" and "no". But Friday nights held their own magic. Suddenly, school wasn't just good, and yes lots of interesting things had happened. Only over Friday night pasta could I reveal that I was worried about not being good enough to make the cheerleading squad; that I was afraid that I wouldn't be asked to the winter dance; or that my heart was breaking because the boy I liked only thought of me as a friend, or worse didn't think of me at all.
Friday night pasta night was much more than dinner. It was my safe zone. It held no reprimands, no judgment… just me, my insecurities, sometimes my successes, and other times my tears. Just trying to make sense of four years during which nothing made sense. My dad listened, laughed, cringed, offered comfort, and guided me through all of it.
Those Friday nights I was taught how to throw a punch, to do a perfect push up, to appreciate the power of vinyl, and to know the difference between al dente and overcooked, but mostly ... hat what you think of yourself is much more important than what others think of you, and that it’s okay to not fit in. And you should know also that ...
You're not a nerd just because you love to read.
It's ok to fail, as long as you keep trying.
Always stand up for yourself.
Laugh with, not at.
Learn to compromise.
Always be direct.
Don't worry, boys will like you.
Nobody has it all figured out. Particularly not in high school.
Life is tough, but so are you.
After high school I went away to college and because home was only an hour away, my dad and I continued our Friday night tradition. I would drive home after my last class, my car loaded with laundry, and I would meet him in the kitchen. This went on for a little while until I made friends and boys started to like me; then I decided that carbs were bad, but that mostly I now knew it all and I began to find reasons not to go home on Friday nights.
Last week my dad called to find out how I was doing after my awful week dealing with Rocco's decline. He was making dinner for my mom. Pasta. We talked for a while. About Rocco and about other stuff too. And then he told me to do some push ups and shake it off. It was only after we hung up that I realized that it was Friday night. Just like old times.
Braised Oxtail and Pappardelle
- 3 to 4 large, meaty oxtails or bone-in short ribs or 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 small head garlic, unpeeled, halved crosswise
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 cups dry red wine
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 2 dried bay leaves1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 cup demi-glace (store-bought or homemade)1/4 cup olive oil
- 12 baby carrots (actual young, slender carrots), blanched and halved lengthwise
- 1 cup mixed minced fresh thyme, rosemary, and flat-leaf parsley
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 pound dry Pappardelle
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Season the oxtails or stew meat with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and sear, turning once, until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a plate.
Add the celery, onion, carrot, and garlic to the oil and beef drippings in the Dutch oven and sauté until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and sauté for about 5 minutes to develop the flavor. Add the wine, stir to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, and cook until the wine is nearly evaporated, about 10 minutes.
Add the meat, thyme, parsley, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, demi-glace, and enough water to almost cover the meat. Cover, place in the oven, and braise for 1 1/2 hours.
Uncover the pot, rotate it 180°, and continue to braise the oxtails until the meat is fork-tender and nearly falls off the bone, about 1 hour more.
Using tongs, transfer the meat from the pot to a cutting board and set aside until cool enough to handle. Return the pot to the stovetop and simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half. Meanwhile, pull all of the meat from the bones in large pieces, if necessary, and discard the bones and any gristle. Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids.
Warm a large skillet over high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the carrots and sauté until slightly charred, about 3 minutes.Add the reserved meat, chopped fresh herbs, and wine and cook until the wine has nearly evaporated.
Add the reduced braising liquid and simmer until the mixture has a nice, sauce-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, boil your pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce. Cook, gently stirring, until the pasta is well coated with the sauce, about 3 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a little pasta cooking water to thin it. Divide the pasta, meat, and vegetables among warmed plates. Top each portion with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.