Leftovers. dinner for one.
Desperately in need of a snack, I come home and rummage around the fridge in search of something to eat. Dinner is still a few hours away, too soon for some cold roast chicken, and I am hungry now. There is the remainder of a loaf of bread, rapidly going stale. Some salami, wrapped in layers of paper and foil. A small piece of mozzarella, looking slightly forlorn in its clear plastic tub, floating in water. A handful of slightly wilted basil in a plastic box. It only takes a few minutes to cut four thin slices of bread, each a little larger than the palm of my hand, then squeeze the mozzarella dry before slicing it and dividing it between two slices of bread. On go a few leaves of basil, a couple of pieces of salami, then the last two slices of bread. I pour some olive oil into a small skillet, brush a little more on top of the assembled sandwiches. When the heat rises I slip the sandwiches in, let them sit there and sigh quietly until the sigh becomes a sizzle, and the bread turns a toasted golden brown.
I think about Amanda Hesser making grilled cheese sandwiches (made with good Parmeggiano-Reggiano and "grains of paradise" instead of the standard black pepper) for her then-boyfriend (and later, husband), standing over the stove the way I am now, spatula in hand, feeling the heat rise from the pan, the tv on in the background, my book abandoned on the sofa. (The difference between us is also that she was cooking for someone else, her Mr. Latte, and I am cooking for myself). She served her sandwiches with a glass of chilled white wine, but I think I will have a tall glass of iced orange juice with mine. I flip the sandwiches over, let them sizzle a little while longer while I clean up the kitchen. The cheese has melted, the salami is warm. Out they come, onto a paper-napkin-lined plate, which I carry back to the living room, folding myself down on the floor. The bread is crisp and a little oily, giving way to melted cheese, almost bland-tasting but for the spicy bite of salami, the bright sweetness of basil. I brush away crumbs and settle back in to while away the hours until I am hungry again for dinner.
Much later I find myself again in the kitchen with half a cold roast chicken and the leftover vegetables from the other night. I love the taste of cold roast chicken almost more than I do roast chicken hot from the oven, much the way I like leftover cold pizza for breakfast. It makes me think of Laurie Colwin, who loved roast chicken in all forms and who used to roast a chicken in the morning on hot summer days, and leave it in the fridge, to eat cold for dinner. I like the solidified juices pooled in the bottom of the plate like a savory jelly, sticking to every bite; I like the cold roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts and carrots straight from the pan. Other times I would make sandwiches or chicken pot pie or a pasta salad with cherry tomatoes and bits of mozzarella cheese and fresh herbs and olive oil and perhaps a splash of balsamic vinegar. But tonight I just want the cold meat, that taste of chicken which somehow becomes intensified by the chill of the refrigerator, the prickle of freshly ground pepper and the sweetness of onions that were roasted alongside the bird. Dinner, for one, in front of the tv.