(Tomato) Sauce Three Ways.
Back in Brooklyn, dinner came in a weekly round of foods—not to be confused with a regimen of recipes [think Nature, not Army]. Our week had an alimentary shape, with two rises and their twin dips, like the curves of a Venus de Milo. The high points were Thursdays and Sundays, which were buxom by virtue of a first dish of pasta with sauce, invariably followed by a fancy second dish, and an especially fancy one on Sunday, when dinner was eaten midday, soon after coming back from the late morning Mass. This first dish of some pasta shape or other with tomato sauce was a kind of basso continuo for the varying main dishes, which chased the graces of the seasons, the sales, or the moods of the moment.
After the big Sunday dinner, Mondays and Tuesdays were lighter meals that might include leftovers or grilled meats, buttressed by first dish of pasta soup or pasta sauté with seasonal vegetables. Wednesdays and Fridays were fish days, not usually preceded by a first dish (so as not to blunt the appetite), but often followed by cheese (so as to fill out the fish). Saturday was the day for roasted meat with a variety of fancy vegetable sides.
I once had a gentile friend liken my mother’s round to his mother’s rotation of seven recipes [no need to mention the woman’s particular Northern European provenance—could have been any]: she had one recipe for each day of the week, the same week after week. That sounds to me like a post-modern Dante’s reconstruction of an infernal punishment, a gustatory No Way Out in which an eternal return of the same is greeted by a desperate Pereat mundus! instead of an exuberant Da capo!
No, no, my mother took a Bachian delight in inventing fugal variations on gustatory themes, imitating Nature’s ingenuity in varying her fixed species. Of course we but imitate, and lacking Nature’s power of self-renewal, our cycles, unlike Hers, roll out in straight lines that have a beginning and an end. Fix on such successive delights as your end, and human life becomes a restless desire of desire after desire ending only in death; but make use of them as sacramentals, and they offer a foretaste of what lives without dying.
This waxing and waning of aliment, in alternating forms of fish, fowl, kine, or swine, variously winged by seasonal vegetables, kept appetite alive with expectation. It was a little like Christmas—you knew the sort of present you might get, but you were never sure of what exactly until the day came, and your expectation could be as delighted by the unexpected as by the long-desired. Yes, yes, it was like Christmas every day!