Michiana Chronicles: Hundred Dollar Pasta

Aug 16, 2019

I just ate the most expensive meal of the year.

It all started back in May.  One Saturday, in a fit of yard care, I decided it was time to dig up our old vegetable patch.  The raised bed had not been tended in several years and it had come to resemble a giant chia pet put on railroad ties.  The last time I tried to address the issue, I was surprised to discover a family of rabbits living under an abandoned squash plant.  Suitably sobered, I left them to do what rabbits do.

But this year, no rabbits.  So out came the shovel, the impact driver, the sweat and toil.  Two hours of honest work and we had a bare patch ready to become lawn once more.

But here’s where the madness begins.  For what is a back yard without beauty?  And what is more beautiful than hand-planted vegetables stretching up to greet the sun day by day as their humble urban farmer looks modestly on?  What to do?  Having ripped out the vegetable patch, I needed to start again, but this time far enough removed from the ground that no weeds could grow up, no rabbits could insert themselves.  What this called for was a veg bed on legs!

Inspired by the internet, I purchased sturdy lumber and set to work.  The result was a four-foot -by-eight planter, bolted securely to four stout legs – standing three feet off the ground.  Loaded with soil, it stood serenely in the late spring sun – gleaming with the promise of harvest, scented heavily of fresh cut lumber, a dash of manure, and the smug odor of rash optimism.

At the garden center, I wandered the aisles, asking myself what vegetable exactly I would even want to eat.  I settled on one tomato plant, one green pepper, one oregano plant and two basil.  Then for good measure threw in a packet of zucchini seeds.

Credit Andrew Kreider

Back home, I settled the tomato and green pepper at one end of the planter.  At the other end sat the basil and cilantro.  In between, I seemed to remember that I needed to build a mound for the zucchini.  Very well, I fashioned a small volcano, poked a decent hole in the top, and tipped in all the zucchini seeds. 

I learned many things in the coming weeks.  For starters, cilantro goes to seed startlingly quickly.  Certainly too quickly for a slow-witted Englishman to even harvest.   Green peppers take forever to do anything interesting and are unceremoniously forgotten in favor of more exciting vegetable-related activity.  For example, the kind of commotion caused by someone planting an entire packet of zucchini seeds in a single place.  Within a couple of weeks, there was happy anarchy as zucchini runners flowed like lava from their earthy Vesuvius.  My mother intervened at last, persuading me to transplant half the population, even carrying one home with her in a pot.  Ironically, the zucchinic conflict led to a complete crop failure – I must be the only person in Michiana not to produce a single zuke this summer.

But… looking down on the merriment was the proud tomato plant.  It stretched high towards the fence, inviting me to run twine in three directions to keep it aloft.  And there, on the highest bough, three beautiful tomatoes began to grow.  I tended those fruits day by day, until this week, it was finally time to harvest, picking them at their most beautiful rosy ripeness.  To go along, from the other end of the bed, I was able to collect two cups of basil leaves.  Those went straight in the blender with pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil.  Presto pesto. 

A steaming plate of bowtie pasta made the perfect bed.  Three garden tomatoes as garnish, creamy pesto tossed with the pasta.  Red, green and white.  The colors of Italy, the taste of heaven.  One magnificent meal.

I savored every mouthful, gazing out at the planter just outside my window.  The tomato plant waved silently, the basil bowed.  Doing the math, the materials cost me about eighty bucks.  The plants a further twenty.  All told, a hundred dollars – for one single plate of pasta.  But what a meal.

Music: Theme from Fawlty Towers