the “Inscrutable Brilliance” of Anne Carson and a little pasta Puttanesca

March 27, 2013

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“Who is the subject of most poems? Not the beloved. It is that hole.” ~ From Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson

“That hole.”

Carson is talking about poetry, but that hole that she is referring to is the subject of much more than poetry. It’s the subject of a lot of powerful prose. It’s the subject of much of our lives. It’s the human condition.

That hole is the reason we end up in therapists’ offices, on psychiatrists’ couches, on drugs, or alcohol. Or addicted to food, or pain, or love, or sex, or gambling, or suffering or whatever it is that at least temporarily fills “that hole” – that big burning hole that represents something or someone missing. 

Need, desire, unrequited love, yearning, missing – these are the things that create the great gaping holes in our hearts that leave us writhing and anguished or empty and searching. The heart-stopping power, the pleasure, and the pain of love and desire.  Agony – and lack – these are the elements of that hole.

I encountered the work of Anne Carson while I was in Vermont doing a writing residency. Previously I had heard about Carson only as a name and by the labels – the labels we love to apply – intellectual, feminist, poet, writer. I knew she was a Canadian working at an American university. I’d heard her described as Socratic – which I took to mean that she asked more questions than she answered. And beyond that I knew nothing more.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about that line. About that hole. About what the hole is – and why? About how that hole is both the thing that reminds us we are alive and yet feels as though it will nearly kill us. About all the ways I’ve spent a lifetime trying to fill the hole – to circumnavigate the longing – spiritually, physically, and intellectually.

In Eros the Bittersweet Carson links erotic desire with the thirst for knowledge – an idea that is both reassuring and brilliant. So in my quest to understand and sate that hole – my starting point is reading more Anne Carson.

Here’s some food for thought from Carson…

“Love is, as you know, a harrowing event.”

“Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.” Grief Lessons: Four Plays

“When I desire you a part of me is gone…” Eros the Bittersweet

“Could you visit me in dreams? That would cheer me. Sweet to see friends in the night, however short the time.” Grief Lessons: Four Plays

“Desire is no light thing.”Autobiography of Red

“Then a miracle occurred in the form of a plate of sandwiches. Geryon took three and buried his mouth in a delicious block of white bread filled with tomatoes and butter and salt. He thought about how delicious it was, how he liked slippery foods, how slipperiness can be of different kinds. I am a philosopher of sandwiches, he decided. Things good on the inside.” Autobiography of Red

According to a recent New York Times Magazine article, fabulously titled, “The Inscrutable Brilliance of Anne Carson,” Carson met her partner, Currie, when he was working a book table at one of her readings. Carson brought Currie a plate of food.

I love this. Carson met her partner by bringing him food. Food – that common denominator – that universal expression of love and care and appreciation. Food like love, is a necessity – and at least temporarily – it fills that hole.

It seems like a good time for Pasta Puttanesca.

There are a lot of colourful stories about the origins behind the dish which originated in Naples. Puttana  means prostitute in Italian.  Some say that prostitutes could throw the dish together quickly between ‘visits’. Others say that prostitutes lured in Italian men with the rich, pungent aroma of the sauce. Regardless, I like the connection between love, sex, desire, aroma, and food. 

This recipe is a conglomeration of the various Puttanesca recipes I’ve tried – they’re all much of a muchness. I like my Puttanesca light on the pasta and heavy on the tomatoes and olives. You can use canned tomatoes if you prefer. I use fresh cherry tomatoes when I have them. If I had fresh basil – I would have used some of that too. Basil season is coming…

Perfect Pasta Puttanesca

 225 grams or about 8oz dry spaghetti or other noodles

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small red onion, sliced into semi-circles

½ tsp red chilli pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, chopped

4 – 6 anchovy fillets, whole – go ahead and skip these if you’re vegetarian!

1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup pitted olives, black, green or a mixture, coarsely chopped

1 tsp capers

black pepper

Parmesan –coarsely grated

Set a large pan of salted water to boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, sauté the olive oil, red onion and chilli flakes until the onion is soft and slightly caramelized – approximately 5 minutes.

About now would be a good time to add the pasta to the boiling water.

Add the garlic and anchovies and cook a minute or so before tossing in the tomatoes. Continue cooking for another couple of minutes – then add the olives and capers and a splash of wine or whatever you like, if the sauce is too dry. Cook on medium until the pasta is cooked – about another 5 minutes. Season to taste with black pepper.

Drain the pasta. Place it in a large serving bowl or skillet. Top with sauce and garnish with coarsely grated Parmesan.

Should serve 4 with a salad and  a loaf of good bread.

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16 Comments

  • Reply Darya March 28, 2013 at 4:06 am

    Puttanesca is one of my favorites! I usually use canned tomatoes, but I like your idea of replacing them with cherry tomatoes! I’ll definitely be trying that when I can get my hands on some!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 28, 2013 at 11:03 am

      I forget about Puttanesca and then rediscover it and love it all over again. So incredibly simple and such robust flavours. I don’t suppose using fresh tomatoes is really authentic but I kind of like it that way. And I might try adding artichokes too. Sacrilege!

  • Reply apuginthekitchen March 28, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Brilliant, now I must read Ms Carson. You beautifully intertwined philosophy which is an intangible with food, a tangible and it works. Love your recipe for Puttanesca!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 28, 2013 at 10:59 am

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment Suzanne. I am reading Eros the Bittersweet – I can only manage a page or two at a time and then have to stop and digest it. (Like rich food!) So easy to fall in love with Anne Carson’s staggering intellect and her decency and everything I read about her makes me like her more and more and more.
      happy long Easter weekend to you!
      Lindy

  • Reply Dave More March 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Brilliant. And delicious.

  • Reply johnnysenough hepburn March 28, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Beautifully written post! As for puttanesca I’ve never tried it before. However, what’s not to like. Like you I would go heavy with the olives and tomatoes.

  • Reply chef mimi April 1, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Absolutely beautiful post. And pasta!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen April 1, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Ah Mimi – what a lovely thing to wake up to on this first day of April – thank you!
      Lindy

  • Reply laura mechefske April 2, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Wow. Really great post, I love the quotes! This is one of my favourite recipes – both with fresh and canned tomatoes – thanks for keeping me fed Mum!!

    xoxoxox

  • Reply Maria Dernikos April 3, 2013 at 9:27 am

    I wondered what you would write about Puttanesca, to me a very powerful title to a dish. Little did I realise that Anne Carson’s words were even more powerful. “Love is, as you know, a harrowing event.” goes over and over in my mind. The two are really food for thought. Beautifully written post.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen April 3, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Ah Maria – so generous – thank you. I’m smitten with Anne Carson. And yes – that line is the one that got me too. I’m limited in my internet access (en route to Montreal as I write this) but looking forward to catching up with your blog soon too.

  • Reply christinajane April 8, 2013 at 9:00 am

    What a beautiful piece of writing. Food – the common denominator.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen April 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Christina – thank you – that’s incredibly kind and generous of you. I feel the same way about your blog. I loved your last post – your evocative description of the little coffee shop in New Zealand with the blue and white striped awnings, le Français, the beautiful espresso….

    I'd love to hear from you...

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