The other day, I made toast for breakfast, using organic wholewheat sourdough bread from MOM's Organic Market, where we sell our Sugo Sauces premium fresh pestos. The bread has a dense, chewy texture, and a bitter taste that lingers on the tongue long after eating - qualities that only seem to intensify as the bread grows stale. The bread I used was four days old, and had hardened to the point where I had to chew it slowly and carefully, to avoid causing injury, but this somehow only increased my pleasure in eating.
All day, I found myself replaying the bread's texture and flavor in my mind, savoring it again in memory. Even the slow deliberateness with which I had been forced to eat became a source of remembered pleasure, as was the fact that the slice I ate was smaller than I would have liked, leaving me wanting more.
Paradoxically, what I most enjoyed about the meal were the very qualities I might have expected to put me off, which is so often the case. A meal that hits all the expected notes (or worse, one note) is often disappointing, and certainly unmemorable, like a chocolate chip cookie made with overly-sweet chocolate chips, and no salt. By contrast, some of the most enjoyable things in a dish can sometimes be the unexpected - a sour note when you are expecting sweet; a texture that forces you to work hard; even, occasionally, a dish that is lacking enough of a key ingredient (like a chocolate mousse that's deliciously bitter but not quite sweet enough), leaving you slightly dissatisfied, and subconsciously pining for whatever was missing.
In a classic dish like basil pesto, the astringent, bittersweet flavor of the basil is counterbalanced by the rich fruitiness of the olive oil, the pepperiness of the garlic, the umami richness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the relative blandness of the pinenuts and pasta, creating an explosion of taste, touch, and aroma that commands the attention and leaves the eater craving more - as it always did when my mother used to make pesto for family lunches at weekends, and my sisters and I would rush to the table in anxious anticipation.
Somehow, it my mother never quite made enough, so my sisters and I would trade strands of garlicky green spaghetti back and forth, watching each other like hawks for signs that one of us had taken more than our share. But we never thought to complain about the restrained amount of pesto pasta my mother always served, or begged her to make more. Deep down, I suspect, we knew that part of the pleasure of eating came from savoring each bite, knowing we would inevitably be left wanting more, and it was perfect that way.