It’s 6:05. Stephen’s got Harry at the playground while I’m frantically working against tomorrow’s deadline. It’s also—finally—the official end of Passover. Harry’s constant refrain from the past week, “I want macaroni and meatballs” is playing in my head, so I dash into the kitchen and fill a pot with water. Salt it. Put on a lid, over a high flame. Pull out the bag of Trader Joe’s mini-meatballs, Harry’s absolute favorite food in the entire world.
Five minutes later I realize that Stephen and I should probably eat, too, so I can go back to work after junior goes to bed—no need to waste more time eating our own meal then. Jarred sauce seems like the obvious solution. (No fool I, there’s always a jar of Rao’s in the pantry. I love to cook, but I’m realistic.) Out of habit I open the fridge, in case the dinner fairies have left us a fully cooked chicken or something, and spy the withering grape tomatoes. The zucchini begging to be used. I grab a knife, a small baking dish. Garlic, olive oil, salt. Crank the oven up to 500—I’m fighting the clock here. Rinse the tomatoes, throw them into the dish. Quarter and slice thin the zucchini, in it goes. Two cloves of garlic, also sliced—not Goodfellas thin, but thin as I can get it in 13 seconds. Douse the whole thing with several healthy glugs of olive oil—at high heat, you need the lubrication—and a handful of sea salt. Bam! Into the oven it goes, just as the water comes to a boil.
The front door opens. Harry bounds in, pink-cheeked and filthy. “What you making, Mommy?” “Macaroni and meatballs!” He bounces so excitedly I feel cruel for denying him all week. “It ready now?” “No, I’m about to put the macaroni into the water, and then it has to cook for twelve minutes. Go ask Daddy to turn on the TV and I’ll tell you when it’s ready.” This buys me exactly two minutes.
“It ready now?” “No, I’ll call you.”
“It ready now?”
“It ready now?”
Every so often, I reach into the oven, pull out the baking dish, and give it a frantic shake. Damn, grape tomatoes, burst already! They’re not bursting. The timer is ticking. When Harry hears the beep he comes running yet again.
“It ready now?” “Yes, the macaroni’s ready, but your meatballs aren’t. Give me one more minute, ok?” I pop the meatballs into the microwave. While Harry’s back is turned I pour some olive oil onto his pasta—he insists he only likes it plain these days, but I feel compelled to sneak some healthy fat into his skinny little body.
I check the tomatoes one more time. They’re blistering, but not yet burst. I give up on us all eating at precisely the same time, and let junior go nuts on his macaroni and meatballs. I’m tired of wasting vegetables while he’s in his I-hate-vegetables phase, so I give him strawberries instead. He’s happy. I’m happy.
Five minutes later, my Hail Mary sauce is done. The tomatoes have burst and let out some lovely, sweet, thick juice. The zucchini have softened, on their way to translucency. The garlic is golden and fragrant.
I toss in some pasta cooking water I (thank god) remembered to hold back, and the lovely browned bits release from the pan. There’s a lot of flavor in there, I think. I dump the whole thing into the pasta pot, give it a stir, and serve.
It’s good. Very good. When Harry the vegetable hater finishes his own pasta, he eats quite a bit of mine—he just avoids the veg. Stephen and I have a telepathic conversation across the table, acknowledging that this pasta our boy has just eaten has sauce on it, even if it’s a very light sauce. It’s progress, of a sort.
Today’s lesson: Sometimes even a Jew can make a Hail Mary play and have it work out just fine.
Hail Mary Pasta
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
several good glugs of olive oil
1 package macaroni of your choice (I used Barilla Plus penne)
grated Parmesan cheese
Turn the oven on to 500. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil, with a lid. Toss everything but the pasta into a baking dish and stir. Put it in the oven before the water boils, if you can manage it. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook according to package directions, reserving 1/2 a cup of cooking water. While it’s cooking, give the baking dish a good healthy shake every few minutes. If you’re lucky, the tomatoes will burst before the pasta’s done. If not, drain the pasta and put the colander over the pasta pot, then put the pot’s lid on top of the pasta to keep it warm. When the tomatoes burst and look lusciously goopy, the sauce is done. Pour the reserved cooking water into the baking dish and stir it around, to get all the good stuff off the bottom and sides. Put the pasta back into the pot, dump in the sauce, stir, and serve. Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Hail Mary.