Gnudi = Nude Morsels?

November 29, 2016

I was there to see beautiful naked women. So was everybody else. It is a common failing.
~Robert Heinlein

Well, it appears the title says all because gnudi are simply translated from the Italian language into nudity. (The word means just how it sounds in English — naked “pasta.”) Really, need one say more as you cavort about in nakedness together and then prep, serve, and gorge on fine fodder and perhaps have some quaff alongside. Sounds like a sublime day/evening.

Unlike their dumpling cousins gnocchi, gnudi are not made with potatoes, but with ricotta and semolina fused/buried overnight to create a more silky dish.

Ingenious, shrewd, perhaps sublimely lewd (thanks to The Spotted Pig, a gastropub in the West Village, NYC).

Gnudi

1 C fresh ricotta cheese
1 C parmigiano-reggiano, grated+
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolks, local
1 t nutmeg, grated
2 T fresh chives, minced

1/2 C all purpose flour
4 C semolina flour
3 T unsalted butter

12+ sage leaves
Parmgiano-Reggiano, grated
Black pepper, freshly ground
Capers, drained (optional)

Combine the first five (5) ingredients in a glass bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. The mixture should be airy, fluffy.

Fold in the 1/2 C of flour until it is combined with the ricotta mixture, adding more flour by the tablespoon if needed so that the mixture is not too sticky to roll into 1″-2″ or so oblong balls.

Roll the ricotta mixture into balls (dumpling shaped) and place in a glass dish that has 1/4″ of the semolina sprinkled on the bottom. When there is a layer, cover the balls completely with flour and begin another layer by way of wax or parchment paper. Finish by completely burying the ricotta balls in an even layer and transfer to the fridge and leave overnight, so the ricotta fuses with the semolina to form a delicate skin, leaving about 1″ or so between each.

Allow the gnudi to come to room temperature, and prepare the brown butter (otherwise known as beurre noisette). In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat. When the butter solids begin to brown and the butter is foamy, add the sage leaves until the mix turns a nutty brown color.

Meanwhile, bring a well salted heavy pot of water to boil. Gently plop the gnudi into the boiling water. Cook for about 1-2 minutes or so. They do not need long to boil at all, then drain with a slotted spoon.

Place a heavy skillet over medium high heat and cook, shaking the pan and gently stirring the gnudi until the butter and pasta water emulsify into a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt.

Transfer gnudi and brown butter to deep bowls. Top with fried sage leaves and drizzle with browned butter. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano-reggiano, ground black pepper and strewn capers. Serve promptly.

We are like travelers using the cinders of a volcano to roast their eggs.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now, as is the French inkling, I started by doing claufoutis with cherries and blueberries, so they would become desserts.  This time, they tend to go more poignant.  Apparently, I adore eggs in most forms.

I began reading (unlike the Donald claims to actually does read, but really does not) The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar just the other day in part because Trump has assaulted Mexicans so many times in the past, calling them without any knowledge whatsoever “rapists, drug dealers, murderers, criminals.” Sometimes, we are goaded by others to look at someone who feigns to read, and yet who continues to make outlandish, deplorable, and unfounded statements about other cultures.

The Barbarian Nurseries is a rare, inspiring and sprawling novel that brings the city of Los Angeles (and even Earth) to life through the eyes, flesh, dreams, reveries, solitude, ambitions of a Mexican immigrant maid, by the name of Araceli.  The first chapter is called The Succulent Garden about how a lawn mower would not start for the angry and frustrated landowner, Scott the techi, whose maid watched from the window, apart — but Pepe, an earlier magician of gardeners, now since fired, had no problem with the same mower starting ever so sweetly with a wily, deft touch, sweaty and brown, sinewy and glistening biceps.

SAVORY CLAFOUTI, FLAN, CUSTARD (YOU NAME IT…)

3/4 C whole milk
3/4 C crème fraîche
4 large or 5 medium farm fresh, local eggs, preferably laid by hens raised on pastureland
2 1/2 T all purpose flour
2 T fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 T fresh dill leaves, chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 C Gruyère cheese, grated

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh leeks, white and light green parts (cut off ends and leaves)
2 C fresh corn kernels
1-2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh bunch Swiss chard leaves, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 C Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Honey, a dollop
Cayenne pepper, dried
Thyme, dried

Heat oven to 375 F

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, crème fraîche, eggs, flour, chopped parsley & dill, sea salt and pepper until smooth. Whisk in 3/4 cup Gruyère cheese.

Heat olive oil in a heavy oven safe skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in corn, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook until garlic is fragrant and corn is tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add chard leaves and cook until they are wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Season the mixture with sea salt and black pepper.

Pour crème fraîche admix over the corn and chard mixture, and then sprinkle the remaining Gruyère and the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until the “egg custard” is lightly set, about 40 minutes.

Serve sparsely topped with a dollop of honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper and thyme.

The more you approach infinity, the deeper you penetrate terror.
~Gustave Flaubert

ParisLa Ville Lumière, le Paname…an eternal, perpetual place in many psyches (including mine).

A psychotically surreal Friday the 13th evening. I admit to feeling empty, melancholic, enraged, mournful, abhorrent, sorrowful all at the same time — no way to view a match at the Stade de France, savor a meal at lieux like Le Petit Cambodge, La Belle Équipe café, Le Carillon, Café Bonne Bière, Sushi Maki, La Cosa Nostra and La Petit Balona, or revel in a concert at the Théâtre de Bataclan.

Yet, I feel somehow staunch and resolute en même temps. A bewildering mélange of emotions…confused thoughts, but by no means nothing like the victims’ loved ones whose souls suffer and agonize. The outpouring of empathy has been overwhelming. My sincere condolences and thanks, that simple.

The etymology of the word “terror” is sadly and Frenchly ironic. Terror (n.): from the early 15 century late middle English “something that frightens, causes fear and dread” is derived directly from the Old French terreur (14 century), earlier from the Latin terrorem or “fear, fright, dread, alarm,” from the Latin verb terrere “to make fearful, frighten.”

The term “terrorism” itself was coined in Paris during the wake of the 1789 revolution as a term to describe the government’s bloody campaign against counter revolutionaries. The Reign of Terror also known as Le Régime de la Terreur, a ruthless movement begun after the execution of Robespierre by guillotine in the late 18th century, was meant to purge the country of enemies of the French Revolution. The Reign was incited by competing legislative bodies, the moderate Girondins, also called the Brissontins, and the militant Jacobins, and was marked by political repression and mass executions of purported rivals.

Now, one must perplex at what W (who held hands longingly with a theocratic “royal” Saudi prince), Cheney and Rumsfeld have recently wrought upon the world. Once a country piques or provokes a tribe what other tribes, caliphates or sub-tribes are created? There is little doubt that simple hypothesis was not lucidly thought through at high places.  If not or if so, for shame.

In any event, just wonder aloud, openly discuss, and consider the calamitous precedents before invading other countries with boots on the ground.  Forget not l’Arabie saoudite as have W and his friends, confidants so conveniently done.  Please do not overreact with bellicose language, saber rattling and hawkish behavior as was done after 9.11 and the “War(s) on Terror” which have destabilized the Middle East and have spawned the now thriving Daesh, Dai’sh, Islamic State, ISIS, and/or ISIL. Whatever their nomenclature du jour may be.

This is dire reality not a time for spewing knee jerk, xenophobic and visceral, wrong headed, rash polemic and panic.

You know the drill well, Parigots — stay steady, resolute and resilient, do not deny your lifestyle or rituals, embrace your senses and those about you, rebound however maimed, cherish the ephemeral nature of life, and remain quietly vigilant yet defiant of the malefactors.  No doubt it may prove cursive to feel vulnerable and doubtful, but please keep all in perspective. Please do not allow delirium to trump reason and forever remember those words:  liberté, égalité, et fraternité.

The word “terrorism” has a somehow slightly different, peculiar sense but still maintains the same hues, although the meaning stays insidious. It usually means the “use of violence to human life, fear, coercion or intimidation in pursuit of political or religious aims.” It often is an abhorrent, indiscriminate act of violence against innocent humankind, against society. But, the word still retains its blurred vernacular and semantic ambiguities — for instance, is it mere lunacy?  Who terrorizes, intimidates, displaces another? What constitutes such an act?  While no one definition of “terrorism” has gained universal acceptance or precise use, it does remain an emerging combined military and political-religious word and applies to varied circumstances.

But, the “definition” and “history” of terrorism aside, there remains zero doubt about who should take responsibility for the deaths of blameless victims this Parisian weekend.  The same arcane, cruel and oppressive jihadist bunch that has an apocalyptic black flag and severed head for emblems. Non-believers? Really?

And enough of your false and deceptive misnomer, allahu akbar, bros, as you ruthlessly carve off kidnapped heads with bound hands and fanatically kill and maim innocents with AK-47 assault rifles at close range.   In no way can this horrific carnage be affirmed by any contorted interpretation of the Holy Qur’an or any other known sacred scriptures.

Bistro fare often comforts on dark days. Please slowly dine on this sauté + ragoût with family and friends, preferably with bare feet.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE + LENTILS

2 lbs local chicken wings, legs, thighs (perhaps more goodies, like gizzards)
Some chicken stock, a couple tabs of unsalted butter & extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 medium turnip, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
4-5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 t dried herbes de provence
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 t dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves

1 lb dried lentilles du puy
3 C water and chicken stock, combined in equal parts (1 1/2 C each)

Splash of apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Grated parmiggiano-reggianno & tarragon

Put the wings, legs, thighs, etc. into a large, heavy, Dutch oven or sauté pan with some chicken stock, butter and olive oil. Cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is browned.

Add the carrots, onion, turnip, garlic, oregano, thyme sprigs, herbes de provence, and bay leaves to the Dutch oven or sauté pan and cook for about a minute or two.  Do not burn anything.

Then, add the lentils du puy, water, salt and pepper, apple cider vinegar, and reduce the heat but still boil gently, covered, for some 30 minutes. Assure that the lentils are quite tender and, of course, most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.  Serve in shallow soup bowls with chicken atop, and finish with fresh tarragon leaves and a fresh grating of parmiggiano-reggiano.

I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.
~Frank Lloyd Wright

Just horrific, blatant madness. Enough has been enough — a churlish and cowardly National Rifle Association, a despicable and misleading Wayne La Pierre, a dysfunctional, pugnacious and pandering Congress and a meddling and fawning usual majority of the Supreme Court who all huddling together create this arrant bedlam. Irrational.  Each of you know without any doubt that our country is awash with guns, an absolute disgrace, a contagion of non-hunting firearms. Feckless thoughts and prayers forever from Congress? Do you not even comprehend that that those words are flat empty?  C’mon man.

Some 90 people die from gun violence each and every day in this self annointed pre-eminent (not really) of nations. This number does not even include that over 270 souls are maimed by gunshot wounds each day nor does it parse out the vast numbers of children that are crippled (20) or killed (9) by gun violence daily. A cowardly slaughter occurs followed by typically incoherent, often pathological, statements from asinine donors, imbecilic gun lobbyists, gullible politicians, naïve citizens and others. Do the right thing, at least sometimes.  This is not nuance, which would be more aptly defined as a “subtlety” or “tinge.”

Gun bloodshed has been rampant for years. The utter reality is that there are now over 300,000,000 guns in shaky and often mentally unstable civilian hands either kept openly or surreptitiously by a third of households across this country. This number does not even include the vast arsenals of ammunition, shells and massive clips which have now become prodigious. A recent study showed that many guns were sold without a single background check. Moreover, there is absolutely no support for the claim that owning more guns deters, drops or reduces violent crime. No studies have supported that fallacious and invalid reasoning. Instead the opposite has been proven — rampant gun ownership correlates with and causes more homicides and harm to others and selves. Actually, Congress has even capitulated to lobbyists by refusing to allow the CDC or others to amass evidence of gun injuries and deaths. We keep tabs on car wrecks, cancers, foods, drinks, the flu and not guns? Really?

Just so you know, some 42,500,000 American adults (or 18+% of the adult population) suffer from some documented mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia — for which little or no treatment is received in this country. This does not even take into account people whose metal illness is not documented or should simply not be brandishing firearms. Criminals, of course, go underground through straw purchases or unlicensed buys, for inherently dangerous demons of death.

In other developed nations in the western world, gun homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings pale in comparison.  For instance, in Japan, persons die from guns at rates far less than an American chances at death by a lightning strike.  In Scotland, the chances of dying from a storm are greater than that of the very rare gunshot wound.  And so on, for more advanced western democracies…

Remember the easily debunked myth that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people?” I call nonsense (expletive deleted) on that one. Is it much more cogent to assert that “mentally ill, insane or unstable people freely and easily armed with guns and abundant ammunition kill or mutilate their victims.”  One sad state of affairs.

This makes no mention of mass shootings which now occur more than once a day according to a recent compilation of news reports. Mass shootings are sadly defined as ones where at least four or more people are left dead or injured.  Just consider the recent horrific past — at a movie theater in Aurora, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a manufacturer in Minneapolis, a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, a Fort Hood army center, near the campus of UC Santa Barbara, at a movie theater in Louisiana, a military center in Chattanooga, at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, on the campus of Northern Arizona, at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and now the carnage at a social services center in San Bernardino, California.

How long will it take for you to get off your bald headed, pale faced, nasty-tongued, flat keisters, Congress members,  while the victims’ blood palpably streams down your hands, arms, and sleeves?  Yet, you lick boots, cater to a lobbying body as daft and inane as the NRA?   It might be suggested that you get off your bums. Right now, or you will face the wrath of mothers, fathers, lovers and family members again and again.  In case you did not take note, this insanity is far beyond an epidemic stage — there is no counterpart anywhere for a supposed developed nation.

And please do not give me that Second Amendment absurdity. The Bill of Rights reads as follows: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Whatever happened to the first two provisos, and the days of single loading, tamped down powder one-shot muskets and before assault rifles and extended, high (almost immense) capacity magazines?  In Heller, a firearm unconnected with service in a militia was used for lawful purposes, such as self-defense within a home. An extremely narrow reading of Second Amendments rights at best, and of course authored by Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

To quote Chief Justice Warren Burger, who was appointed as a conservative justice by President Richard Nixon, the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime,” and later proclaimed that “the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to have firearms at all.” In the last quarter or less century though, special interests (often paunchy members cloaked in SCOTUS black robes, with callous and scathing remarks, by slim majority votes) have sadly prevailed.

Speaking of, the same Richard Nixon, and later Ronald Reagan, proposed gutting the market of Saturday night specials, considered banning handguns altogether and simply refused to cater to gun owners who feign some inarticulate interest in assault and hand weapons. The NRA, of course, was opposed to these actions given its historically recent opposition to any gun control or restrictions.

Several previously Oval Office recordings and memos show a conservative who was often willing to feud with the NRA, even though “trusted” presidential aides fretted about political consequences.

“I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house,” Nixon commented. He asked why “can’t we go after handguns, period?” He added, “I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it.” But, he implored “people should not have handguns.” Finally, Nixon flatly declared that “guns are an abomination.”

The lack of gun control has become a national shame. Despicable, deceptive stuff. Wall Street, Congressional hacks, the Supremes, et al. are allowed to strip those of their constitutional right to a jury trial (by arbitration) yet imagine if they these same dark folks in cloaks took away the same by barring gun ownership.

The failure of our elected few (hostages taken by the NRA), corrupt lobbyists (the NRA), and the Supreme Court to simply refuse to protect innocent victims from guns, ammunition and explosives is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Thankfully, grub overcomes guns.

FARFALLE WITH CHICKEN, SHALLOTS AND BLUE CHEESE

1/2 lb shallots, peeled and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black and pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

1-2 lbs dark hued chicken (thighs)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T dried thyme
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
Chicken stock
2-3 T cognac or brandy

1 lb dried farfalle
Sea salt and water

3/4 lbs blue cheese, such as bleu d’auvergne, in small chunks
A few dollops of crème fraîche and/or heavy whipping cream

Parsley leaves, chopped
Capers, drained
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Toss shallots in a deep, heavy skillet with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and olive oil. Then, add seasoned (salt, pepper, thyme) chicken thighs and brown. Add stock and finally some cognac or brandy. Toward the end, add crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream or both.

Remove and cut chicken into 2 1/2″ pieces.

While cooking farfalle according to instructions in a separate pot, add bleu d’auvergne and pasta al dente to skillet and cook until finished, adding chicken pieces.

Strew with parsley, capers and a sprinkling of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

Yes, this is cherubic Carter pasta (sorry about the gun polemic, but it is vital).

I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.
~Nicolas Kurti, physicist and chef

Kepler 425b, one of the closest, yet older, cousins to our own earth, has been found. (Perhaps the orb age is a celestial topic upon which both seculars and Christians can finally, somewhat agree.) A so called exoplanet which is some 60% larger than our world was discovered by the Keplar spacecraft, some 1,400 light years away in the habitable zone — where water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. It revolves around a bright star in about 385 days, and the temperatures are suitable for liquid although the jury is out whether the planet has a mountainous surface or is gassy like Neptune. Both Kepler 425b and its star (G-2 type) closely resemble the earth and our sun.

Many opine that this exoplanet will have a bulky atmosphere, rocky crust and restless volcanoes with more gravity than we experience. Does Kepler 452b sustain life?

Awe inspiring.

Admittedly, the under-served, lifted and puffy soufflé with its molten interior is almost sacred.

MUSHROOM SOUFFLE

2 T finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 1/2 T unsalted butter

1/2 lb mushrooms (wild fungi such as cèpes, porcini, oyster or chanterelles or, if too expensive, buy cultivated such as crimini, shitake and button)
2 T unsalted butter

2 1/2 T unsalted butter
3 T all purpose flour
1 C whole milk
1 bay leaf

1/4 t pimentón
1/2 t sea salt
Nutmeg, a small grating
White pepper, a healthy pinch, preferably freshly ground
Cayenne pepper, a small pinch

4 large local egg yolks
5 large local egg whites
1 C gruyère cheese, grated

Gruyère cheese, grated, for topping

Preheat oven to 375 F

Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in saucepan. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and purée. Set aside.

Butter the surface of an 6 cup soufflé dish. Add the grated parmigiano-reggiano and roll around the dish to cover the sides and bottom, knocking out the excess.

Heat the milk with bay leaf in a heavy saucepan. Once hot, discard bay leaf and set aside the milk.

In another heavy saucepan, melt the butter, then blend in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a smooth loose paste. Stir over medium heat until the butter and flour come together without coloring more that a light yellow, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Let stand a few seconds and then pour in all of the hot milk, whisking vigorously to blend. Return to medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon; bring to a gentle boil for 3 minutes or until the sauce is quite thick. Whisk in the pimentón, salt, nutmeg and peppers and remove from heat again. Add the mushroom mash and mix well with the whisk.

While off the heat, add egg yolks one by one into the milk, herb and mushroom sauce, all the while whisking.

In a separate bowl, using a hand or stand up mixer wither fitted with a whisk, whip the egg whites until glossy and peaked. Stir in a quarter of the egg whites into the sauce with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once they are assumed in the sauce, fold in the remaining egg whites and the gruyère cheese. Turn the soufflé mixture into the prepared mold, which should be about three quarters full. Sprinkle a small amount grated gruyère on top.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown, and the soufflé has puffed about 2″ over the rim of the mold. (Do not open oven door for 20 minutes.)

Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one’s arms around a side of beef.
~Tom Stoppard

One time, a velveteen skinned, stranded sea lion came to me on a beach much like a tired, whining and throaty barking hurt dog. We were both, well all, naked (as if that matters), and we did not know what to do as cell phones were inoperable due to canyons and obtusely did not know what the recovery timing was then.

He/she was not totally emaciated and did not appear close to death, so the dance was confusing and misguided for both of us. Whether to pet, touch, caress or simply feel or hug — never a good time to be bitten by a potentially sickened sea mammal. But, there appeared a cry for help. I had read about the starving sea lion population, particularly those who needed nursing that had “washed up” on the Channel Islands and California coasts. It seemed apparent that this sea lion was a victim of the consequences of climate change and rising ocean temperatures — confused, somewhat gaunt and forlorn. I could not even tell how old she/he was due to my ignorance. Later in the day after staying nearby she/he walked away, and the sea lion was hopefully rescued, rehabilitated and ultimately released.

Then again, who really knows?

CARPACCIO

8 or so ozs lean beef, such as tenderloin or top round, trimmed of fat, sinewy membrane, or silverskin (connective tissue)
1 T capers, rinsed
Arugula leaves and/or micro-greens, washed and spun dry
Extra virgin olive oil

Parmigiano reggiano, shaven into curls
Lemon wedges

Chill the beef (and platter) in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes. Cut beef against the grain into thin slices with a very sharp knife, trimming away any fat or gristle. Put each slice between layers of heavy duty plastic wrap or waxed paper and gently pound beef flat with a meat mallet to a thickness to about 1/16″ (about paper thin). Refrigerate flattened slices in plastic, until chilled, almost frozen.

Peel plastic from each slice and invert onto a chilled platter and top each slice with capers and arugula and/or micro-greens. Drizzle each portion with olive oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper.

Garnish atop carpaccio with shaven parmigiano reggiano and lemon wedges, squeezed, and serve promptly.

Buon appetito!

Pourboire: other times, carpaccio is slightly covered in pickled shallot, fine anchovies, garlic, chopped red onion, sliced grilled fennel, chives, even cherry heirloom tomatoes. Your call, but I prefer simplicity.

L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. (We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians).
~Massimo d’Azeglio

Unification (Risorgimento) was a 19th century political, and socio-cultural movement that aggregated a patchwork of unique states of the peninsula into a single kingdom of Italy. Although many scholars dispute the dates, it is likely that conservatively the process began with the downfall of Napoléon Bonaparte followed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna and ended in 1871 when the country’s capital moved from Florence to Rome…except for the Vatican which became an independent state inside the city. In between that half century, much happened throughout Italy. (I could not begin to discuss the entirety of the movement here.)

For centuries, the Italian peninsula was a politically, culturally and linguistically fragmented conglomeration of neighboring states. Local dialects and regional power conflicts abounded. Although Italy still remained splintered through the mid 19th century, the concept of a united country then really began to take root. With nationalist fervor ignited, pervasive arisings occurred in several cities, mostly advanced by adherents such as professionals and students and often directed at Austrian rule. Giuseppi Garibaldi, a native of Piedmont-Sardinia, also cobbled together the then southern peninsular states into the unification process. With French resources appropriated to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Napoléon III ordered his troops out of Italy. Then, the final thrust for unification was orchestrated by an adroit diplomat, Piedmont-Sardinia’s Prime Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour. Through many struggles — regions, nations, leaders, peoples, wars, revolts, skirmishes, and strifes — Italian risorgimento was finally achieved in 1871.

Italy celebrates the anniversary of risorgimento each semicentennial (every 50 years).

The risotto rendition below is a tad tardy for this farmers’ market season, but likely there still will be some heirloom tomatoes making their final curtain call. Certainly, though, the same recipe can be used during next year’s iteration (and afterwards) when fresh corn ears, ripe heirlooms and basil leaves together grace the stalls. Thanks, locals.

RISOTTO WITH CORN, TOMATOES & BASIL

2 medium to large, local sweet corn ears

8 C chicken stock, seasoned

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 C dry white wine, e.g., sauvignon blanc
3-4 T unsalted butter, cut into tabs
Freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

3 T fresh Italian basil, cut into chiffonade

Remove corn kernels from cobs and set aside the kernels in a bowl. Simmer the cobs in stock for 20 minutes. Remove from stock and discard. Bring back to a gentle simmer over low heat, with a ladle at hand.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or Dutch oven until shimmering and not smoking. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and arborio rice and cook, stirring, until grains of rice separate and begin to slightly crackle, a minute or so. Stir in heirloom tomatoes, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until tomatoes have reduced slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add wine and stir until it has evaporated and has been absorbed by the arborio rice. Begin adding simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time. Stock should just cover the rice and should be simmering, not too slowly but not too aggressively. Cook, stirring often, until just nearly absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this mode, adding more stock and stirring when rice appears to dry. You do not have to stir continually, but often and vigorously. After 10 minutes, add corn and continue for another 10 minutes. When the process is complete, the arborio rice will be just tender but al dente (chewy to the teeth), which is about in 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary.

Add another partial ladleful of stock to the arborio rice. Stir in butter and parmiggino-reggiano for about a half minute and remove from heat. The admix should be creamy. Top with basil and serve somewhat promptly in shallow soup bowls with spoons.

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
~Oscar Wilde

From last year’s lucre alone, the often indifferent rich could have paid to feed the world’s famished, sometimes starving, children by some 160 times. In simple terms, they could flat eradicate poverty without pain, save relinquishing another yacht or vacation home.

According to a recent Bloomberg report, the world’s wealthiest cumulatively grew $524 B richer last year. At the same time, hourly wages for most Americans are not growing much faster than the rate of inflation.

To add some more fat to the fire, consider that wages adjusted by inflation of nonsupervisory workers in the retail trade have fallen almost 30% since the early 70’s; while the national minimum wage was raised a few years ago, it is still seriously meager by historical standards, having consistently lagged well behind both inflation and average remuneration levels; since the late 70’s real wages for the bottom half of the work force have stagnated or fallen, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have nearly quadrupled; hiking the minimum wage has little or no adverse effect on employment, while significantly increasing workers’ earnings; the wage and benefit discrepancies and wealth inequalities between CEOs and workers are simply astonishing now; in the wealthiest nation on earth, many workers are still mired in poverty; the bottom third of the American work force has seen little or no rise in inflation adjusted wages since the early 70’s; in no state in this vast country can a minimum wage worker afford a two bedroom apartment working 40 hours per week. For shame.

Happy New Year. Oh, and a simple dip below.

RADICCHIO CON RICOTTA E GORGONZOLA

1 C whole milk ricotta
1/2 C gorgonzola
1/3 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and finely chopped
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Finely grated zest from 1/2 lemon
2 t fresh lemon juice
2 t thyme leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 head treviso radicchio and/or endive, leaves separated
Thyme leaves, for garnish

In a glass bowl, stir together ricotta, gorgonzola, parmigiano reggiano, fennel, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, thyme, salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and garnish with thyme leaves. Serve with radicchio and/or endive.

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.

Aperçu of An Egg

April 18, 2012

No clever arrangement of bad eggs ever made a good omelet.
~C.S. Lewis

My abiding love for these smooth, sumptuous ovals known as eggs has been well chronicled here. I am unabashedly smitten.

Recently, from small farmers to urbanites and in between, there has been a marked upsurge in local egg coops. Backyard hatcheries are sprouting up across the country. Home-raised fresh eggs from well fed and exercised hens with rich, dark yolks and intense flavors and textures are in vogue. Some of this movement is cuisine based, others find pleasure in raising their own stock, but still others are drawn to home coops due to concerns about the health and welfare of egg layers shoved into cramped quarters on fetid farms. Cries of cruelty and abuse in the egg industry have been heard. Admittedly, the thought of a dozen lifer hens crammed into a cage the size of an oven does make me cringe. Then again, this is a nation that takes perverse pride in lengthy, overcrowded incarcerations–at shameful rates that dwarf other societies. Not exactly the land of the free range.

But what of a glimpse at a hen egg’s oological self? Its anatomy and architecture?

The hard outer shell, composed mainly of calcium carbonate, has several thousand pores which allow moisture and gases to permeate in and out of the egg. This porous structure also can leech foul fridge odors, so store eggs in their cartons. Directly inside the exterior shell are two other protective membranes, the testa and mammilary layers.

Chicken eggs emerge in varying shades because of pigments which are deposited as the eggs travel through the hen’s oviduct. The pigment depositions are determined by the bird’s genetics, with eggs ranging from deep brown to pale blue to pink to green to cream to white. Although not always consistent, chickens with white ear lobes tend to produce white eggs, while those with red ear lobes lay brown eggs. Classic white egg laying breeds include Andalusians, Faverolles, Dorkings, Leghorns, and Lakenvelders. Barnevelders, Rhode Island Reds, Jersey Giants, Delawares, and Orpingtons are known more for brown eggs, which vary in hue from light cream to dark brown.

When the egg is freshly laid, the shell is completely filled. An air cell is formed at the wide end by contraction of the contents during cooling and by the loss of moisture. The smaller the air pocket, the better the egg.

The white, or albumen, is composed of 90% water with the remainder protein. The outer white is the thin edge of the white which cooks more quickly than the center. The inner white is thick and firmer than its cousin on the edge. The white’s ability to form a relatively stable foam is crucial to the development of structure in dishes such as angel food cakes, soufflés, and meringues. It also serves as a clarifier and binder.

Chalazae
are a pair of spiralled cords that anchor the yolk in the center of the thick albumen. Chalazae may vary in size and density, but do not affect either cooking or nutritional value.

The clear yolk membrane (vitelline membrane) surrounds and cushions the yolk. An egg’s yolk delivers vitamins, calories and nutrients, including protein and essential fatty acids along with a natural emulsifier called lecithin. Yolk color ranges from light yellow to deep orange usually depending on diet. The germinal disc, or nucleus, appears on the surface of the yolk as a white dot. Yolks are critical to sauces such as mayonnaise, hollandaise and some vinaigrettes, even pastas and soups.

As with scrambled, soft boiled, fried, poached, and countless others the recipes below use the whole egg. Just a couple of additions to other deviled egg ideas on the site. See A Devil’s Eggs.

DEVILED EGGS WITH DUCK RILLETTE

6 large eggs

3 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1 T crème fraîche
1/2 T dijon mustard
1 scallions, white and light green part only, finely chopped
1/4 C duck rillette
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Capers, rinsed and drained

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the white.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then crème fraîche, mustard, scallions, duck rillette, salt and pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag snipped on one corner, pipe mixed filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill eggs in an airtight container for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with a few capers.

DEVILED EGGS WITH PROSCUITTO

6 large eggs

4 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1/2 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 C proscuitto, chopped
2 T parmigiano-reggiano, grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the whites.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then the mustard, lemon juice, proscuitto, parmigiano-reggiano, salt and pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag snipped one corner, pipe mixed filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill eggs in an airtight container for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with some ribboned basil.