It started out as several sneezes in a row, coupled with some mild shoulder and upper arm muscle aches, and a slight wash of weakness and tiredness. Though I dismissed it as perhaps not having enough sleep, or just my body’s way of trying to adjust to the weather not being able to make its mind up in regards to the wild swings in temperatures here in southern California, I secretly knew better and a mild dread loomed over me. Sure enough, my confirmation came several hours later that I indeed was getting sick when the congestion set in, and my head began feeling like I was on a flight about to descend, ears popping and sinuses stuffy. Not fun. I really don’t like being sick; but then again, who in the world does? I’m beginning to think that perhaps it’s just the amazing human body’s own sneaky little way of imposing rest, albeit in an uncomfortable way, and reminding me that I have very real limitations; that maybe I need a little extra nurture and TLC, and that perhaps, I need to listen to myself a little better. Leave it to the “little ears” to show me that.
My robe, my blanket and the couch became my good friends when the vulnerability that goes along with not feeling well really took effect. It was no fun that hugs and kisses temporarily became a “no-no” as to not spread the cooties around to the rest of my family, and that hearty laughs and general giddiness were placed on hold because there was just no energy there for that. In the midst of being under the weather, I felt my desire to get better become so very strong, because I so desperately missed all of those precious little things that take place during the course of any ordinary day when I’m well; the little things that are often taken for granted—like being able to nurture my loved ones with a simple meal, or taking a walk in the morning sun—are what I found that I craved the most. And though my appetite was not particularly at it’s strongest while I wasn’t feeling well, I couldn’t help but crave something that would offer warmth, coziness and soothing comfort to lift my spirits and energize me over the next couple of days; and pasta seemed to be the answer. Taking my sweet time, I prepared some orecchiette in a hearty, saucy, caramelized eggplant and spicy pork ragu, and my, was it good; my belly was happy. The bowl was warm in my hands, and each flavorful spoonful contained the glossy sauce that clung to and coated each individual little “ear” that just seemed to listen to my inner woe, and sooth me. As I ate, I couldn’t help but think about these “little ears”, these orecchiette, and the idea of listening; listening to what the soft whisper inside speaks to me, to what my body says to me about slowing down, to the truth that can be overlooked in the busyness of a day. It made me question just how well I listen, indeed; and I wondered, just a little, if some of how I was feeling could’ve been avoided, or slightly lessened at least.
Though I’m still a little vulnerable, I’m now well on the road to being fully myself, once again. Oh, am I ever so grateful! Getting sick this time around in particular made me think about the pace of my life just a little bit more; it made me realize that perhaps things don’t have to come to utter misery before I provide myself with some nurture and TLC. Of course it doesn’t mean that I expect to never be under the weather again, but I know that if I can at least help myself out and be a bit more kind, that I should; not only for my own benefit, but for those that I love (and love to nurture) so very much, too. Funny how a cozy little bowl of orecchiette pasta in savory ragu can inspire such things.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu
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(Serves about 4)
½ pound ground pork
1 ¼ teaspoon sea salt, divided use
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided use
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
¼ teaspoon (more or less depending on taste) red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press, divided use
1 teaspoon dry oregano
• Drizzles olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 Italian eggplants (small variety), diced into small, ½” cubes
1/3 cup red wine
1 (28 ounce) can San Marzano diced tomatoes
8 ounces Orecchiette pasta (“little ear” shaped pasta), about half a package
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup grated Asiago cheese for garnish
-In a medium-size bowl, add the ground pork, ¼ teaspoon of the sea salt, ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper, the red pepper flakes, 1 clove of the pressed garlic and ¼ teaspoon of the dry oregano, and mix well with fingers to combine; set aside.
-Place a heavy-bottom braiser or large pan over medium-high heat, and add about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to it; once the oil is hot, add in the onion and the eggplant, and sauté/caramelize for about 6 minutes until a light golden color; once caramelized, remove the eggplant/onion mixture with a slotted spoon, and set aside for a moment; next, add another little drizzle of olive oil, and the ground seasoned pork to the pan by taking little chunks and crumbling them in (you want to keep the meat slightly chunky and not have it completely “melt” into the sauce); gently sauté the pork in the oil, gently moving it with a spoon to brown, but not break up, for about 4-5 minutes; next, add the eggplant/onion mixture back into the pan with the pork, add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, as well as the remaining 3 cloves of pressed garlic; stir the mixture together gently, and then add the wine in, scraping up the good, browned bit on the bottom of the braiser/pan; next, add in the diced San Marzano tomatoes and the remaining dry oregano, stir, and place the lid slightly askew on the braiser/pan, and simmer on low for 45 minutes until thickened.
-During the last 20 minutes that the Ragu cooks, cook the Orecchiette pasta according to package instructions; once cooked, drain the pasta, and drizzle with some olive oil to keep it from sticking; leave it in the colander covered with a kitchen towel to keep warm until the sauce is finished.
-Once the Ragu has simmered, turn the heat off, and add the chopped fresh oregano and parsley, and stir to combine; next, add the cooked pasta directly into the sauce and gently fold the pasta with the Ragu; once the pasta is well coated with the sauce, spoon equal amounts into bowls, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and garnish with a generous amount of the grated Asiago cheese.