FOOD BY THE BOOK: Rising above a crisis

Being confined indoors is a perfect time to assess our cupboards and use up what is already there. With a little bacon, canned tomatoes, and pasta, you can create a sweet and savory sauce for very little money.

Whenever we face a crisis in America, we look to the past to see how people handled the situation under similar circumstances. The current challenge with grocery store shelves emptied of more than just toilet paper reminds me of M.F.K. Fisher’s classic, “How to Cook a Wolf” (World Publishing, 1942), published during the rationing years of World War II. In the revised prologue, Fisher makes a point of saying that there is nothing more shamefully careless than to take for granted the food we eat. Today we can feel just how much we may have taken for granted in our health, our daily lives, and the America we love and live in.

Fisher, however, would go on to say that the human ability to learn from keeping the proverbial wolf away, whether it is a nasty virus or war rationing, is proof that we can be more than beastly ingrates. She ardently asserts that we can above all learn about ourselves in our quest to understand the intricacies of preparing and eating food. Through the thoughtful consideration of food, we can retain our dignity in the face of poverty, fear or times of tribulation. As someone who had gone from the extravagancies of the 1920s to rationing tokens during WW II to post-war adjustments and food fads of the 1960s and beyond, Fisher’s dialectics on the purpose of cooking and eating teach us that we can rise above whatever the fates hurl our way.

Of course, we are not going to eat a real wolf. The wolf is merely a metaphor for the trials we face. But, like that proverbial wolf in the children’s story, we may find only onions in the refrigerator. What to do then? With chapters entitled “How to Be Cheerful Though Starving” or “How to Keep Alive,” Fisher’s recipes and advice are both humorous and philosophical. Read it at Google Books or order it online from your favorite book vendor.

Being confined indoors is a perfect time to assess our cupboards and use up what is already there before going out to the store. With a little bacon, canned tomatoes, and pasta, we can create a sweet and savory sauce for very little money. A simple yet comforting dish for these strange times.

Pasta with Bacon and Tomatoes

1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

6 cloves garlic, divided

4 tablespoons olive oil

6 slices good quality bacon

1 medium onion, chopped

1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 package refrigerated fettuccine

1 tablespoon butter

Grated Parmesan cheese

Make bread crumb topping by sautéing 3 whole cloves garlic in olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Remove cloves and pour oil into a small dish. Place bread crumbs in a dish and pour about 2 tablespoons of oil over to moisten. Mix well, adding more oil as needed. Set aside.

Fry bacon in another skillet until crisp. Remove and drain all but 2 tablespoons of grease from pan. Fry onion and 3 minced garlic cloves on medium heat until onion wilts. Add canned tomatoes, sugar, and red pepper flakes and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss with butter. To each individual serving dish add pasta, sauce, crumbled bacon, Parmesan, and top with bread crumbs. Approximately 3 servings. Increase proportions of ingredients as necessary to serve more. 

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