Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.
~Oscar Wilde

Another long held food hypothesis thankfully proven lab sound: memory influences eating and food choices. Researchers at the University of Bristol explored the nexus between satiety and memory, and their findings were published in a recent issue of the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science). They isolated the extent to which memory for a recently consumed meal influences hunger and fullness over a 3 hour period — by covertly refilling or drawing soup from bowls while participants dined. A scientific trompe-l’œil of sorts.

The study noted that those who engage in distracting tasks (e.g., watching television or playing a computer game) while eating suffer memory impairment not only for that meal but also experience increased hunger in the interim and then enhanced consumption at their subsequent meal. They are not making memories of their food, and may be setting themselves up for munchies later. Distraction likely influences eating rate, mood, and level of stress, all known to moderate appetite and food intake. Ever see a svelte driver hurriedly munching on a midday burger while talking on an earpiece and anxiously navigating traffic between meetings?

While stopping short of drawing a cause-and-effect relationship between hunger and memory, the Bristol team’s research was consistent with emerging literature on “memory for recent eating” and opened avenues to further studies. Their observations did provide evidence that hippocampal memories often mobilize behavioral responses to food.

Seems like even more than a starter. Just try that terrifying act of shutting off the gadgets and sitting down to really savor your meal, not just once but more than…

FARFALLE, PANCETTA & BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Sea salt
8 ozs farfalle pasta

2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 ozs pancetta, cut into lardons
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Freshly ground black pepper

1+ C brussels sprouts, thinly sliced on a mandoline
Sea salt and freshly ground red and black peppers
Chicken stock
1 T unsalted butter
Dollop of heavy whipping cream

Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Thyme sprigs

Heat large, heavy sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmering, add the pancetta thyme and rosemary, and sauté until the fat on the pancetta starts to turn translucent and just lightly brown, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and sauté until garlic and pancetta turn richly brown, about 3 minutes. Remove and discard garlic, thyme and rosemary.

Add the brussels sprouts, a large pinch of salt, peppers and a splash of stock to pan, and sauté until sprouts just start to soften, about 2 minutes. Spread sprouts mixture in pan and press down to flatten. Let it sear for a minute, then stir and repeat to lightly brown. Add the butter and cream, and sauté for about another couple of minutes or so.

Meanwhile, bring large pot generously salted water to a boil. Add the farfalle and cook until pasta is just al dente, about 10-11 minutes.

Drain fafalle and add to pan with brussels sprouts mixture. Cook briefly, tossing, until all is nicely admixed. Spoon into pasta bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parmigiano-reggiano and thyme sprigs.

Advertisements

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…
~William Shakespeare, (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is derived form the Latin for ‘dew of the sea’, a reference to its pale blue dew-like flowers and the fact that it often grows near the sea. Native to the Mediterranean basin, rosemary is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant and silvery evergreen-needle leaves.

Sprigs of rosemary have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 3,000 BC. Ancient Greek students would wear garlands of rosemary or braid rosemary into their hair in order to enhance memory, thus leading to rosemary being dubbed the “Herb of Crowns.”

Recent research has even suggested that rosemary contains an ingredient that fends off free radical damage in the brain. This active ingredient, known as carnosic acid (CA), can protect the brain from stroke and neurodegeneration that is due to toxins and free radicals which are thought to be one of the contributors to stroke and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The leaves of this strongly fragrant herb possess a pungent flavor that is a cross between lemon and pine which is why it marries well with lemons.

This delicate, summer fettucine can be made with dried pasta, but fresh is much preferable. Consult the post on Basic Pasta Dough (06.10.09) for both machine and hand made pastas. For your convenience, I have repeated the machine method below.

FETTUCINE WITH ROSEMARY, ROQUEFORT & LEMON

Sea salt

1 lb fresh* or dried fettucine or tagliatelle

3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
3 T Roquefort cheese, room temperature
Juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed

3/4 C reserved pasta cooking water
Grated nutmeg to taste
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced

Freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated

In a medium glass bowl, combine the butter and Roquefort by mashing with a fork, adding lemon juice along the way. Set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a large pot over high heat and add a liberal amount of sea salt. Cook fresh pasta until tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. For dried pasta, follow the cooking directions on the package. Drain the pasta through a colander, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.

Place the pasta in a large bowl and add the mixture of butter, Roquefort and lemon. Toss gently until pasta absorbs the mixture and then slowly add the cooking water by spoonful until the pasta is evenly coated. Season generously with pepper, then add nutmeg, lemon zest and rosemary. Toss again, lightly grate with parmigiano-reggiano, and serve.

*Basic Pasta Dough (with machine)

Attach the flat beater to your stand up mixer, then add half of the flour mixture and the eggs, turning to a low speed and mix 30 seconds. Add the rest of the sifted flour mixture and mix an additional 30 seconds, adding sprinklings of water as needed. Variables such as humidity, temperature, egg size and gluten content of the flour will govern water needs.

Note: To test for correct consistency, pinch a small amount of dough together after mixing with the flat beater. If it stays together and not gluing to your fingers, the dough is in good shape. It may be necessary to adjust by adding flour or water to reach the proper harmony.

Exchange flat beater for the dough hook. Again turn to a low speed and knead for 2 to 3 minutes, until a dough ball is formed. Remove dough from bowl and on a lightly floured surface hand knead for a couple of minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic with a slight hint of stickiness. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap to prevent a dry skin from forming. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before dividing, rolling and cutting.

Divide the dough, but cutting into 4 pieces, wrapping 3 of them in plastic or covering them with a towel. Flour the dough very lightly then flatten until it is about 1/4″ thick. Set the rollers of the the pasta machine to the widest setting. Feed the dough into and through the machine with your hands. As the flattened dough comes out of the machine, retrieve it gently with your open palm. Avoid pulling the sheets of dough out of the machine; instead allow the pasta to emerge and support it lightly with your hand. Fold the dough into thirds, flatten it slightly with your hands and roll it through again and repeat this process 4 or 5 more times.

If throughout the process the pasta sheets become become too long to work with, cut into two pieces and continue.

Set the rollers to the next thinnest setting and lightly flour the dough, but do not fold. Pass the dough through the machine on each progressive setting until the dough is at desired thinness (usually the next to last or last setting). Repeat the entire process with the remaining pieces of dough.

Let the dough rest on towels or a floured work surface. Use machine to cut into desired fettucine strands.

Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.
~Fernando Pessoa

Records of chocolate use date back to the pre-Columbian Olmec culture, with evidence of the oldest known cultivation of cacao having been discovered at a site in the Honduras, dating from about 1100 to 1400 BC. Cacao beans from this tree native to lowland, tropical South America were used by the Aztecs to prepare a hot beverage with purported stimulant and restorative properties—with the white pulp around the cacao beans likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink. Chocolate was commonly reserved for the upper crust, such as warriors, nobility and priests for its reputed ability to confer wisdom and vitality. Offered as a drink, this chocolate concoction called xocoatl was also served during religious rites, and the sacred concoction was associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. Not surprisingly then, legend has it that each day emperor Montezuma II drank 50 golden goblets of frothy, sometimes bitter xocoatl. (Later, the nuns of a Mexican convent quietly made the bitter drink more palatable with the addition of vanilla and sugar.)

The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, had lavishly praised chocolate in a letter to Charles V of Spain, and brought an ample supply home in his galleons after the cruel conquest and colonization of the Aztec nation which was completed in 1521. He also established a cocoa plantation in honor of the king, and as he explored other tropical lands and islands, he planted cocoa beans in their native soils. It should be said that Cortés was far from a truly romantic hero, noble explorer or munificent soul—rather, he has been roundly accused of open brutality and heinous violence towards the Indians by many historians.

About a century after the Iberian iniation, the Spanish enthusiasm for chocolate was passed to the French court with the marriage of Marie Thérèse, a chocoholic of the first order, to Louis IV in 1660. Here, the drink was considered an aphrodisiac and happily imbibed by the court and members of the wealthy classes. The popular drink was also spread throughout Europe when the Spanish friars carried the beverage with them from monastery to monastery. Originally, the Europeans mixed their chocolate with water, coffee, wine and a number of fermented drinks, as well as with pepper and other spices. Remember, chocolate was only served as a beverage or used as a pastry ingredient until the 19th century, when the bar was invented.

Recent research has linked flavanols, especially epicatechin, to improved blood circulation, heart health and memory in mice, snails and humans. Besides improvements on certain memory tests, researchers also found increased memory function in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, and the entorhinal cortex, which is often impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

These chocolate gems known as “truffles” are meant to mimic the highly prized edible fungi found in France and Italy which fetch such exhorbitant prices. Once the truffles are formed, they are often rolled in cocoa powder to simulate the “dirt” found on the real truffles.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

6 oz quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 organic, free range egg yolks, room temperature
2 T heavy whipping cream
1 t strong coffee
1/3 stick butter, cut into small bits

1 t brandy, Grand Marnier, kirsch, rum (optional)

Coatings: quality cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, toasted coconut flakes

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler—a medium size bowl set over a large saucepan with simmering water. Remove bowl from heat, but allow the saucepan to continue to simmer. Add the egg yolks to the melted chocolate, slowly and constantly whisking for a few seconds to avoid curdling. Add the the cream, coffee (and alcohol), then place back over the simmering water for a few seconds until smooth, while constantly whisking. Remove the bowl from the heat again and add the butter bit by bit, whisking after each addition. Once all the butter has been fully assumed, whisk for 3 minutes or so to aerate the mixture. With a rubber spatula, spoon into another medium sized bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for approximately 6 hours.

Place your chosen coatings for the truffles on a plate. Remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator, and using a spoon, divide the mixture evenly to make small balls. With your hands, form the chocolate into rounds about 1″ to 1 1/4″ in diameter. Immediately roll the truffle in the coating and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Carefully cover and place in the refrigerator until firm.

…the taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex….For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate…entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better.
~Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Some misled foodies have asserted that mouse au chocolat has become hackneyed, banal, and instead opt for the more eccentric desserts on a menu. Check error on their box scores. This lustrous, chocolate-intense dessert has never become trite to me. No way, no how. We are talking chocolate.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, named by the famed 17th century Swedish naturalist, Linnaeus who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. Translated from the Greek theobroma, “food of the gods,” they are small, understory trees that demand rich, adequately drained soil and bear small white beans. These environmentally particular trees only grow within about 15 degrees of either side of the equator.

Most things sensual reside in the recesses of our gray matter. Because of chocolate’s reputation as a subtle aphrodisiac, the renowned Italian libertine, Giacomo Casanova, ate chocolate before bedding his many mistresses. Centuries later, a study of Harvard graduates showed that chocolate consumers lived longer than abstainers. Their longevity may be explained by the high polyphenol levels in chocolate which reduce the oxidation of low density lipoproteins and thus reduce the risk of heart disease and even cancer. So, the antioxidants produced by chocolate purportedly increase HDL (“good”) cholesteral levels, and release polyphenols which are a form of antioxidant. Chocolate is also rich in flavonoids, a compound shown to promote several beneficial effects in the cardiovascular system, including decreasing oxidation of LDL cholesterol (a harmful process that allows cholesterol to accumulate in blood vessels); inhibiting aggregation of blood platelets (which contributes to the risk of blood clots that produce stroke and heart attack); and decreasing the body’s inflammatory immune responses (which contribute to atherosclerosis).

Chocolate has also been described as a “psychoactive” food. It affects the brain by causing the release of particular neurotransmitters which are molecules that send signals between neurons.

Some trials have even suggested chocolate consumption may subtly enhance cognitive performance, increasing scores for verbal and visual memory. Eating chocolate also increases endorphin levels, lessening pain and decreasing stress. To go a step further, a chemical found in chocolate, trytophan, causes the release of serotonin which serves as an antidepressant. The ultimate comfort food?

Chocolate has a distinct tendency to absorb surrounding odors, so take care to store it well covered or sealed. Otherwise you will taste a mousse which is flavored with its disaffected food neighbors.

MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT

8 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate (85% cocoa), coarsely chopped
1/4 C strong coffee

6 T unsalted butter, softened
4 large egg yolks

4 large egg whites
6 T confectioners’ sugar

2 C heavy cream, chilled
1 t vanilla extract

Melt chocolate and coffee in a double boiler over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Beat the softened butter into the the melted chocolate, and then, one at a time, whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly blended.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. While beating, stir in the sugar by tablespoonfuls. Beat them until shining and stiff peaks are formed. Fold the chocolate mixture and egg whites together.

Beat the cream and vanilla in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form, and then gently fold into the chocolate, butter and egg mixture with a rubber spatula. Do not overmix, but make sure that the mixture is well blended and that white streaks have disappeared.

Spoon mousse into stemmed glasses, ramekins or a serving bowl and chill, covered, at least 8 hours. Serve atop crème anglaise or topped with freshly whipped cream.