The Food Almanac: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Food Almanac: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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Food Calendar
Today in 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared June 25 National Farm-Raised Catfish Day. Farm-raised catfish has the advantage of being available all the time at a consistent price. Restaurants love that, because wild-caught fish are so unpredictable. It's pretty good, but the trend in recent years has been to allow the catfish to grow bigger and bigger, which for catfish is not an improvement. Also, some fish farms have environmental issues. Wild-caught fish from good sources is better. But rolled in corn meal, fried till golden, splashed with hot sauce. it's a treat. Makes a good poor boy sandwich, too.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Catfish Paradise is a fishing hamlet on the Arizona side of a marshy reservoir off the Colorado River. It's across from Needles, California--a town famous for its frequently being the hottest place in America on a given day. The old Route 66 passed nearby, as did I-40 and the Santa Fe Railroad. Doesn't sound like a great place for fishing, but indeed there are catfish in there. And crappie (a.k.a. "gaspergou," various bass, and bullfrogs. The nearest interesting restaurant is Munchy's, in downtown Needles.

Edible Dictionary
channel catfish, n.--The most popular species of catfish among fishermen, channel catfish is also the one most used for aquaculture. It's scientific name is Ictalurus punctatus. It's native to North America east of the Rockies, with the Mississippi River Basin being its primary home. Channel catfish like fresh water that moves, but not rapidly. It eats almost anything, including scavenged food. It is a very adept feeder even in muddy water; the barbels (whiskers) around its mouth are taste organs, and its sense of smell is very keen. Catfish of ten pounds or more are considered very large. The smaller ones are actually better for eating.

Annals Of Food Writing
Food adventurer Anthony Bourdain was born today in 1956. He grew up in a bourgeois New York family and was well educated. But he went his own way, working years as a chef. With that experience and a gift for colorful expression, he began writing. His breakthrough book was Kitchen Confidential, published in 2000. In it he showed a side of the cooking profession few people (other than those engaged in it) realized. He went on to write other books about the restaurant biz, along with a few crime mysteries. He became a big star when his No Reservations television show on The Travel Channel became a phenomenon. Bourdain became famous for his willingness to try almost anything in both the culinary and other sides of the worlds he visited. He's genuinely entertaining, seeing facets of the world most people miss and commenting with offbeat humor about all of it.

World Food Records
The world's largest lollipop was certified on June 25, 2002. it weighed 4,031 pounds (with stick), measured 18.9 inches thick and was more than 15 feet tall with stick (about as tall as a giraffe). Can you guess the flavor of the world's largest lollipop? That's right.

Deft Dining Rule #110:
A restaurant offering "lamb lollipops" is best advised to limit them to the small plates section of the menu. And they had better include a thick, very good sauce.

Unusual Foods
The discovery of a previously unknown mammal called the saola was announced today in 1994. Also known as the Vu Quang ox,it lives along the border between Vietnam and Laos. An ungulate that somewhat resembles cattle, it was classified in its own genus. It weighs about 200 pounds and has sharp horns. There are only a few hundred of them in existence, living in steep mountains covered with jungle. However, the natives have killed and eaten them, and say it tastes a lot like bo.

Food Namesakes
Football player Bob Griese retired from the game today in 1980. Pro basketballer Dell Curry (he used to play for the Hornets) tipped off today in 1964. . Harold Roe Bartle, former mayor of Kansas City, was born today in 1901.

Words To Eat By
"Fettuccine Alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults."--Mitch Hedberg, American comedian.

Words To Drink By
"To your good health, old friend,
May you live for a thousand years,
And I be there to count them.
--Robert Smith Surtees, British writer of the middle 1800s.

Pink Celery?


Red (or pink) celery is still around and still being grown. Most commonly available seed is for a variety called Redventure, developed in the early 1990s as a cross between an heirloom red celery and a popular green variety - name now forgotten by me - that is more tender and less strong flavored.

Could be it's not much in evidence because there isn't much heirloom/artisanal/etc. celery of any sort in evidence, outside of the kinds best suited for cooking or use as flavoring. Crisp, non-stringy, mild-flavored celery is very difficult to grow without factory farm style inputs

Very likely it will lose the colour in cooking b/c the colour most certainly comes from anthocyanins, which are volatiel and easily broken down by heat. Same way purple carrots, purple cauliflower and purple okra lose most of their colour in cooking.
But I would LOVE to see some red/pink celery! Post whatever you find out.
PS: In recent days, there have been posts on purple hot pepeprs and purple tomatillos. I am growing some of the latter right now, thanks to seeds from a good friend in Europe.

Most likely the colour will go away when cooked as it most certainly comes from anthocyanins, which are quite volatile and unstable in heat. Purple carrots, cauliflower and okra lose most of their color when cooked. I've seen posted lately items on lavender hot chili peppers and lavender tomatillos, the latter which I am growing. Do please keep us in the loop and let us know if you find a source for growing red celery.
David F., Chicago

Interesting, Leslie - I am glad it is still being grown. But why is it not more popular - is it tht it is more stringy or something? I would have thought that growers could produce a tender yet crisp, non- stringy celery?

Hello David. I am getting a few emails about this celery so I will post a follow-up when I have some more information. I have seen purple chillis here (in Queensland, Australia)

Than you for profiling the humble celery, Janet. I think this plant is highly underrated. I save all the leaves from our home-grown celery and dry them in the oven then crumble them to add to soups and stews. Celery seed can be collected from plants that bolt and it makes a delicious tea. I also grow a plant called Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), that is claimed to be a precursor to Celery and named after Alexander the Great. It is extremely hardy, has lovely glossy leaves and the long slender stems have a very strong celery flavour. All parts of the plant are edible. The big black seeds taste of lovage and can be chewed or added to herbal teas. The strong flavour of Alexanders would probably put some people off eating it but the plant can be blanched to reduce the bitterness. So many plants, as well as foods, have fallen by the wayside in our modern diet that it’s good to be able to resurrect a few at times.

Hello Anne. I agree, it is an under-rated vegetable. I have a post planned for 'Alexanders', so keep your eye out! I agree that it is sad that we have sacrificed diversity in order to grow plants that pack and store well - or whatever the myriad reasons are that we have 'lost' these foods.

The chef at the retirement community where I live often includes "braised celery" as a side dish.

I just found a reference to pink and red celery in "The Canadian Horticulturist" of 1885, and had to look it up myself to see whether they were referring to rhubarb or not. Might have to see if I can source some seeds and give it a try for myself!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pasta alla Norma

Sicilian dishes rely on three things: the fertile volcanic soil from the landmark Mount Etna, the surrounding bodies of sea water and the influence of the many cultures that have conquered the region over time.

If you’re wondering which dishes you should eat for a true taste of the local cuisine I would suggest: Eggplant Timballo, Sicilian Pizza, Limoncello Zabaglione, Caponata, Arancini (deep fried rice balls), Tuna Carpacio and of course, Pasta alla Norma.

Although pasta is popular throughout Italy, it’s Sicily that features it with eggplant in the classic Pasta alla Norma one of the region’s most well-known vegetarian pasta dishes. Originating in the town of Catania, it is rumored that the name of the dish derived from Vincenzo Bellini’s well-loved opera ‘Norma’. Pasta alla Norma is typically served with short hollow pasta, which allows the silky sauce, loaded with aubergine, to cling beautifully.

Although every family across Italy has their on version of this classic Sicilian dish, the basic ingredients are the same: Sicily’s ever-popular aubergine, fresh basil and salty ricotta salata.

Debates on whose recipe is better stem over: how to cut and cook the eggplant, to whether adding crushed chili is appropriate (I say yes). In this version the eggplant is diced and sautéd with onions to bring out the delicate flavors of both.

After being tossed with sauce and fresh basil, the dish is finished off with shavings of ricotta salata…a hard, dry type of ricotta cheese.

  • 2 medium eggplants cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp coarse salt plus additional for cooking pasta
  • 5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • peperoncini flakes
  • 2 14½- oz cans whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • shaved ricotta salata

    Place eggplant cubes in colander and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Let eggplant drain 15 minutes. Pat dry, removing excess salt.

    Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add peperoncini and tomatoes with juice cook until tomatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes. Remove tomato sauce from heat.

    Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in another heavy large skillet over high heat. Working in 3 batches and adding 1 tablespoon olive oil for each batch, cook eggplant until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to tomato sauce in skillet.

    Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water. Add cooking water to sauce bring to boil. Add pasta and basil to sauce and toss to coat.

    Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowl top with ricotta salata and serve.

    Tuesday Ten: Foods That Fight Headaches

    This scenario has happened to me more times than I would like. There are few things more frustrating than a headache that won’t go away. When I feel a migraine come along, I make sure to drink an entire glass of water to rule out dehydration. When that doesn’t help, I rely on 10 foods that help to relieve the pain.

    Without further ado, here are 10 foods that fight headaches…

    1. Cherries
    I had always heard about cherries having headache-fighting properties and apparently it’s true. After doing a little research I discovered that this fruit has a compound called quercetin, which has strong anti-oxidant, anti-allergy, and anti-inflammatory properties. This compound helps your body to put up a shield that blocks sensitivity and pain. All you night to calm a headache or migraine are 20 tart cherries. You can also reap the benefits by sipping on a glass of cherry juice.

    2. Coffee
    You wouldn’t think your favorite vice could help headaches, but the caffeine in coffee helps to constrict blood vessels which provides headache relief, according to Livestrong. Just be careful—too much coffee can dehydrate you and make your headache worse.

    3. Salmon
    Lean protein like salmon will discourage a hunger headache because it gives you lasting energy throughout the day and stabilizes your blood sugar. Salmon comes chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the frequency, duration and severity of headaches, according to Joy Bauer. In fact, eating a high-sodium, processed meat like pepperoni or salami can actually make you dehydrated, thus making your headache worse. Load up on your B vitamins and reap the benefits of increased brain functioning by eating salmon twice a week.

    4. Whole Grains
    FitSugar says that whole grains like millet and oatmeal contain magnesium and B vitamins, both of which will stop a headache in its tracks. I love making this vegetable millet recipe for lunch or dinner, and eating up the rest of the leftovers throughout the week.

    5. Spinach
    If you didn’t already know, spinach is a major super food and one of the best leafy greens you can put in your body. Not only does it clear up your skin and make your hair shiny, it battles headaches too. According to WebMD, vitamin B2 has a relaxing effect on your brain, which will ease any pain your body is going through. Make a spinach salad for lunch for a headache-free day.

    6. Spicy Salsa
    Spicy foods like salsa, hot peppers and siracha can help ease the pain of a sinus headache. The spiciness will clear your sinuse,s which will open your airways. This will alleviate pressure and calm your headache, according to Women’s Day. Who knew chips and salsa could be so helpful?

    7. Corn
    Healthy Living says that corn and other foods that are rich in vitamin B3- support blood vessel function and calm nerves. In turn, not having enough vitamin B3 in your diet can result in stress-related headaches. If you don’t like corn, try munching on beans, tomatoes, or potatoes.

    8. Bananas
    Let’s come full circle and talk about all the B vitamins. Vitamin B6 (just like B3 and B2) is a headache-fighting powerhouse. It is found in bananas, and it will help to increase the levels of serotonin in your brain, which acts as an anti-depressant. This will then lower the amount of pain your body is feeling. Studies have even shown that vitamin B6 fights mental fatigue too, so eat up!

    9. Watermelon
    Dehydration is one of the biggest causes of headaches. The next time you’re hungry and have a headache, snack on a slice of watermelon before you pop a tylenol. Watermelon is a water-rich food, so it will immediately help to rehydrate your body. You can also blend this fruit into a smoothie or make a fruit salad with other hydrating fruits such as berries, cucumber and melon. (Women’s Day)

    10. Flaxseed
    Flaxseed are associated with many different health benefits because of their omega-3 fatty acids. These acids help to fight migraines, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties (FitSugar). Add a scoop of flaxseed to your overnight oats, or bake it into healthy treats like banana bread or flax carrot apple muffins…yum.

    Before you stock up on these headache-fighting foods, it’s also important to know which foods may actually trigger headaches. Cheese, artificial sweeteners, processed meats and caffeine (if you’re not used to it or if you drink too much) are all foods that WebMD cites as headache triggers. So now that you know what to eat and what to avoid, I want to know…

    Do you have any tricks for banishing headaches? (Advil doesn’t count!)

    Supreme Court strikes down key section of Voting Rights Act

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court struck down a key part of the historic Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, ruling that Southern states may no longer be forced to seek federal approval before making changes in their election laws.

    The ruling came on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. speaking for the court.

    Roberts said the 1965 law had been a “resounding success” and has ensured that blacks now register and vote at the same rate as whites.

    But he said it was no longer fair or rational to subject these states and municipalities to special scrutiny based on a formula that is more than 40 years old.

    “States must beseech the federal government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have a right to enact and execute on their own,” he wrote. This conflicts with the principle that all the states enjoy “equal sovereignty” and cannot be subjected to different federal laws, he said.

    “Our country has changed in the last 50 years,” the chief justice said. He said that Congress needs to “speak to current conditions.”

    As it currently stand, nine states are covered by the law based on voting data from the 1960s and early 1970s.

    Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined with the chief justice.

    The decision may have an immediate impact. Texas has been fighting federal courts over its voter ID law and plans to redistrict its congressional districts. Those state actions were halted under the part of the law struck down Tuesday.

    The decision leaves open the possibility that Congress could adopt a new formula to target states or municipalities for special scrutiny.

    The decision leaves intact the rest of the Voting Rights Act, which makes it illegal to adopt or enforce laws that have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. But civil rights advocates say the provision struck down Tuesday was still needed because it stopped discriminatory measures before they could take effect.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke for the four dissenters. She said the court had made an “egregious” error by striking down a law that had been extended in 2006 by a near unanimous vote in Congress.

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