In another lifetime it seems, I walked into Takumi Ramen on University Place, sat myself at the window counter and had my first meal alone.
Of course, I eat alone all the time, college student- and general human-style. On-the-go, snatching mouthfuls off my fork before running to class or to meet a friend and so on. Standing in front of the fridge at God-knows-what time, eating carrots dipped (submerged) in hummus without bothering to take the tub to my room. Morning coffee is often an experience that is best-performed solo, standing in the kitchen in the early morning with a body screaming at me to go back to sleep. I’m not a very nice person until that first sip, so I try and avoid all human contact before then as an act of courtesy.
But breezing into that familiar ramen place in early March was a game-changer. I had decided to treat myself. An endless pile of reading and a freezing winter’s day were making me totally miserable, and completely undecided on what to eat, a bowl of soup seemed like the best solution. I wasn’t wrong. Sitting down, I felt embarrassed at first. When I realized my most trustworthy time-wasting activity and seeming protector-from-social-turmoil, my phone, was almost out of battery, the anxiety began to increase. I had reading to be done for class in my bag, so I fished that out.
My body was responding in the way it always had to food during the semester, which is to look for a way to not “waste time," to make my meal more effective and apparently reduce my stress. But I was starving, I was cold, and I couldn’t and didn’t want to concentrate on my papers. When my food came, a delicious vegetarian ramen made even better for how desperate I was for comfort that day, I set my reading aside and focused on what had been prepared for me, and how grateful I was. The window counter had the perfect view of Washington Square Park in all its Saturday glory: busy, entertaining, New York-y, and brilliant. With each sip of broth, I could feel myself becoming much more grounded. Even though I was only in there for about 45 minutes, I left so much more ready to tackle the impending mountain of stress.
I learned so much about myself, about my habits, about prioritizing and taking care of myself that day. As someone who struggles with eating, breaking out of my routine and eating something spontaneous doesn’t come lightly. That was the first day I listened to what my body needed instead of what my mind was telling me to do, which was eat something healthier, eat something lighter, or find somewhere to sit and do my work. I’m sure other people can relate to this feeling of trying to push back against your own brain, and this day was a victory for me.
The purpose of that trip down memory lane is this... we’re at home. There’s time now, to sit and digest. There’s time to prepare a meal for yourself, for your loved ones, and reject all other responsibilities for that most basic human need to eat. I know that eating is often just something robotic, done out of necessity rather than indulgence, but why can’t it be both? To eat is to nourish, to rebalance, to take care of yourself. Next time your hand instinctively reaches for your phone when you sit down to eat, acknowledge it and redirect it back to your plate.
The recipe I offer this week is perfect for lonesome consumption. Pasta Aglio e Olio is simple, easy to clean up, DELICIOUS, and best of all no-one can bear witness if you decide to faceplate into it. It tastes so much more complex than the ingredient list would suggest, so I urge you to try it out. The end result is fresh and zingy. The pasta sings without being too carby. Despite totally lifting the recipe from Binging with Babish (who in turn was inspired by the film Chef), my parents refer to it as Ava’s Pasta (sorry Babish) and request it every time I’m at home. I have yet to reveal how simple it really is.
I’m offering this recipe in a single-serving format, with a very vague guide to quantities because I think you can add more or less of what you like. This is a recipe that, for the most part, is meant for you to follow your own instincts. Enjoy!
AGLIO E OLIO FOR ONE
-3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
-A decent bunch of fresh parsley, rinsed and chopped (parsley stalks also contain great flavor so don’t discard them all)
-Extra virgin olive oil
-A teaspoon of red pepper flakes
-Long dry pasta of your choice (I love linguine)
-Lemon (to be freshly squeezed)
-Salt and pepper
Bring a pot of water to the boil, adding a decent amount of salt to season the water. Add your pasta, and take away maybe 2 minutes from the recommended cooking time. Do the rest of the steps while your pasta cooks. Reserve a cup of the pasta-cooking water.
Heat your olive oil in a large pan, and when the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic. When the garlic slices become slightly golden, add the red pepper flakes and lower the heat.
Add the pasta to the pan, mixing with the garlic and red pepper flakes. Add about 1/4 of the reserved pasta water, and squeeze the lemon over the top. Mix in with the fresh parsley. Keep cooking until sauce is your desired consistency—if too thin, keep cooking, if too thick, add some more pasta water.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve into your favorite bowl, your favorite plate, or straight out of the saucepan. Enjoy!
There are some great riffs on this recipe online—Bon Appétit offers a version with lots of kale, for instance. All options are worth exploring! My parents add parmesan cheese, but it’s absolutely not necessary if you are vegan or dairy-free. It’s fabulous on its own, but also can be dressed up however you like. Definitely excellent with a side salad that is peppery in flavor, such as arugula.