The Invented Meal
Praise the invented meal, the pound of bacon
scissored into bite-size chunks and dropped
into the deep pan. Praise the meal invented
to stretch meat and the ignorance of generations past
as the grease won’t be skimmed off, but stirred in.
Praise the feel of a wooden spoon in fist
as the fat shrinks to crumbles,
as the can of crushed tomatoes is dumped in,
onion powder and oregano added. Praise
the red pepper flakes, heat that sticks like a slap
and steam that rises—elbow mac drained into a colander.
Praise anything that rises, even cholesterol,
because watching what falls is for every other day.
Not days with sauce this red, with bowls this empty.
I always hated this Jackson family meal when my Mom would make it when I was growing up. She continued her mother-in-law’s Depression-era mentality of stretching the sauce to cover 2+ lbs. of pasta, but this needs to be saucy. My revised recipe calls for 1 lb. of pasta to serve 3-4 people, but most days, my husband and I make it with only 2/3 – 3/4 lb. and devour all of it between the two of us. My “to taste” for the listed spices is heavy. I shake them over the pan right from the bottles, but I think it would probably be a good palmful of all three. Yes, even the red pepper flakes; we like this spicy!
1 lb. of bacon, chopped into bite-size pieces
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
Oregano and onion powder to taste
Red pepper flakes (optional, but highly recommended)
1 lb. elbow macaroni
Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
Sauté bacon pieces until crispy in large pan. Add crushed tomatoes without draining any of the rendered bacon fat. Stir until fat is incorporated. Add oregano, onion powder, and red pepper flakes. While the sauce simmers, cook the elbow macaroni according to the box directions. Drain macaroni, then stir it into the sauce. Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Jennifer Jackson Berry is the author of The Feeder (YesYes Books, 2016). Her most recent chapbook Bloodfish was published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2019 as part of their Keystone Chapbook Series. Her other chapbooks include When I Was a Girl (Sundress Publications) and Nothing But Candy (Liquid Paper Press). She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.