Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Midnight special.

Late one night. Home from work in an office in the city by train that was late and dirty and full of those newspapers they give to commuters to stare vacantly at while they ride the rails back to suburbia, and then strew on the floor as they get off at Ginifer or Alamein or Mount Waverley or Mooroolbark. They call it Mx, but it's just tomorrow's Herald Sun without the Terry McCrann column.

Close to midnight. But you have to eat.

I turned on the radio. There are two classical music stations. Sometimes they play classical music. Other times the ABC one plays endless audience applause while the announcer draws out his vowels, ABC-style, and gushes. It sounds like a live weather report. Over at MBS the announcer tells you the composer's life story and then plays a two-minute minuet. I rolled the dial to an oldies station.

Pasta shells with tuna, cheese and peas.

I set a pot of water on the stove and salted it and threw in a few drops of oil and lit the burner. Yawn.

Then I walked to the larder to get a tin can of tuna. There was one there, I seemed to remember. The tuna cans are wider, so they sit underneath the cans of beans and corn and tomatoes and asparagus on a shelf at head height. I looked and found it and pulled it out and four cans of beans fell to the floor with a resounding crash that was sure to wake the household, or at least some of the louder members of it. I picked the cans up and put them back.

I walked to the refrigerator to get some cheese for grating. A dish like this is ideal for using up leftover cheese. There was a stub of kefalograviera in the shelf in the door of the fridge, and a piece of Jarlsberg almost down to the rind. I grated these and a piece of cheddar, making about one cup of grated cheese.

Then back to the larder for the shells. Shells were made for tuna and cheese. Food is all about aroma, then eye appeal, then flavour, then texture. Texture jumps a couple of places with this dish. The cheese melts and hides in the shells, capturing shards of tuna and the odd pea. You bite into the shells and the soft, warm melting cheese oozes across your taste buds and then your teeth hit the pea and it yields. If that's not over-analysing it. Half the stuff written about food is rubbish. You just don't know which half. I poured a glass of white wine and decided not to write any more rubbish about food.

The water was boiling. I tipped the shells in, stirring them around so that they wouldn't sink to the bottom and stick to each other in fright. Now it was a waiting game. I went outside and picked some parsley in the dark, by feel. I came inside again and pulled the weed out of the parsley, and got a bowl and a fork out of the dresser and some grated parmesan out of the fridge and the pepper from the top of the fridge. I keep it there so I know where it is, along with my portable 1960s HMV radio, the car keys and today's mail. All life's essentials in one convenient place.

I opened the can of tuna and drained off some of the oil and left some of it in. The pasta was almost done so I reached the frozen peas out of the freezer and tipped a cupful into the roiling water straight from the pack. This is tricky. Sometimes the pack collapses and the peas spill. You can try to avoid this by making only a small cut in the corner of the pack, but then you have to contend with frozen lumps of peas. Life's dilemmas. Why don't they sell frozen peas in a stiff board pack? The things you think of at midnight.

The peas take seconds to heat through. I drained the pot, returned it to a low flame, tipped the tuna and cheese in and folded them through the pasta and pea mixture until the cheese melted. Twenty seconds depending on the heat retention qualities of your pot.

Then into the bowl. Top with grated parmesan and chopped parsley and pepper. Definitely no salt. It's salty enough.

I ate in the infinite silence of the midnight hour, when the louder members of the household are dreaming too deeply to wake. Dream on, sweet children. One day you too will eat at midnight.


And they march you to the table to see the same old thing.
Ain't no food upon the table, and no pork up in the pan.
But you better not complain, boy, you get in trouble with the man.


paula said...

ah midnight special, must have been gold 104 then...

neil said...

Lyrics by the band that contained the embryo of the Blue Ridge Rangers, I know that because of you. Speaking of which, belated congratulations on your recent addition.

kitchen hand said...

Nice try, Paula; but I switched bands as well: Magic1278.

Thanks Neil. Where have you been?