Joseph Conrad’s Dark Linguini
by Giovanni Berchtold
“Conquest…is not a pretty thing when you look into it.” — Heart of Darkness
The ship laid anchor in a small port south of the A. Region where I was headed. From there I took a local guide up into the high country. I’d been sent by headquarters to find out what was going on, whether or not chef G. was still working for us. They hadn’t received a report from him in over 6 months. There were stories, rumors about ‘the bald man’, but nothing else. I had been given orders to do whatever was necessary.
As we passed through the last major outpost I noticed the indifferent expressions on the native’s faces, all of them dressed the same in D&G jeans as they went in and out of MacDonald’s, TGIFs, Red Lobsters and other chain eateries lining the main road. The people were different than me, yes, but I could recognize them somehow, relate to their modern disaffection. The guide gave me indications on how to reach the village M., the last place chef G. had been seen, so I picked up some supplies and proceeded alone.
After meandering uphill through a dense wood the path I had been told to follow led unexpectedly into the main square of the village. Around it stood a semi-circle of two-story dwellings, and on the ground floor there was a café with two tables out front. Some native men were seated at the tables. They were dressed in mono-color clothes without any distinguishable label and as I approached they stared at me with dark eyes and vaguely hostile expressions. They were alien to me. I asked them in their language if they knew where I might find G., but they didn’t respond. Then I said ‘the bald man’ and one of them pointed up to the right without saying a word. I looked toward where he was pointing and there, on a balcony in a narrow street that opened onto the square, I saw him. G stared at me a second, seeming to know that I had been coming, and then turned and went inside. It was 1:30 in the afternoon. I made my way into the side street.
Outside the first building was the sign that I was looking for. It was supposed to read ‘The Olive Garden’ but the middle word had been removed so it simply read ‘The Garden’. I stepped inside. There were 15 tables or so, all packed with natives sitting and eating. The place smelled divinely of well-prepared food. When I went through the door they all stopped and watched me in utter silence. Then chef G. appeared at the far end of the dining room. He motioned me to come forward.
Once in the kitchen the chef G,, he was a fat man in his fifties, shaved head, (I suppose he thought it made him look cool or something,) led me to the cooking area in silence. He quickly mixed in some sacks of cuttlefish ink with some flour, salt and water and adeptly kneaded the thickening dough until it reached a perfect texture. Then he moved me to the main stove and showed me a fish stock he was reducing and enhancing using the shells of some shrimp and white wine. Then he sautéed some garlic in a pan with some local extra-virgin olive oil, and then added some calamari, shrimp, mussels and finally some fresh chopped parsley. Only after did he ladle in some pre-reduced chinoised and strained fish sauce. He added some boiled squid-ink linguini and sautéed the whole dish together with a skill and nonchalance I had never imagined. Then he handed me a fork and motioned for me to taste the dish. It wasn’t at all like anything I’d ever had before. Perfection.
G. started turning around to do something else but as he did something on the floor caught his foot and he fell, hitting his bald head on the stove in the process. I turned him over and looked into his eyes. He seemed to read into my very heart, seemed to see all those chain eateries in the town and back home, and the centralized decision making process on their and our international menus, as if my thoughts were open for him to read like a tourist menu. He pulled me close to tell me something in my ear. Though I was hoping for a detailed recipe all he whispered was “the pasta, the pasta.” I stood up and made my way quickly out the back door.
I don’t know what happened to “The Garden” but the rumors and whispers died down after that. G. was never heard from again. Now as I sit in my 35th floor VP–in-charge-of-menu-development office looking down at the city and all the neon lit $12.99 dinner special offers on the windows below, his words still echo in my mind.
The real recipe: (see paragraph 5) Pre-made squid ink linguini can be used if you’re not in the habit of making fresh noodles. Clean the fish and parsley, slice the calamari, peel the shrimp and place the heads and shells in a small pot along with some fish stock, reduce, and pass the resulting reduction through a chinoise, crushing the shells as you do. Strain the liquid back into the pot, add white wine and reduce to the right consistency. Meanwhile place a large pot of salted water on to boil on a back burner and sauté the well-cleaned mussels in a pan in front, removing them one by one as soon as each opens. Remove the shells and discard. Finely chop the parsley. Once the water in back is boiling, add the linguini. Sauté the diced garlic quickly in some olive oil, then add the calamari, then the shrimp and finally the mussels, all for no more than 2-3 minutes. Strain the noodles and add them into the pan along with the fish reduction and toss, add the parsley and toss again. Sprinkle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with a fruity white wine from Poland, if you can find one.
|Giovanni Berchtold is a rather oldish guy, hairy and round. Well, by comparison anyway. Maybe too much time cooking, maybe a bit fanatical on looking at behavior as emergent and...other stuff. He spends much of the time in Italy but was born and raised in Cleveland - so is therefore critically perplexed about the whole LeBron thing.|