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.

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Words are all we have.
~Samuel Beckett

Did I say that right?

Just a slight variance in intonation can lead to a near scandalous difference in linguistic meaning, often making proper enunciation vital. For instance, fico is an Italian noun, which translates in English to that sweet and succulent fig. Diction demands this word be pronounced in a distinctly masculine way so that it finishes with a marked and unequivocal o. Be wary, since if lazily uttered like figa or fica then you have slangily yet openly referred to vagina or vulva…a bilingual blunder.

Similarly, the next time you peruse a menu at that trendy trattoria in Rome, New York or home, and that primo piatta of penne yanks your chain, take care how you address the waiter or hosts. Penne is the plural form of the Italian penna, derived from the Latin penna (meaning “feather” or “quill”). Tubular, diagonally cut penne are produced in two main variants: penne lisce (smooth) and penne rigate (furrowed), the latter having ridges.

In the Italian tongue, a doubled consonant (here “nn”) significantly affects pronunciation. In phonetics, this is referred to as gemination — when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. The effect is to shorten the preceding vowel and lengthen the consonant itself. With lengthened stops, the obstruction of the airway is prolonged, somewhat delaying release. Thus, the word penne should be pronounced as pen’-neh or ˈpe(n)-(ˌ)nā. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, long consonants are normally written using the triangular colonːas in penne [penːe]. This seemingly subtle difference in pronunciation may be difficult for English speakers to appreciate and reproduce, however to Italians the difference is quite patent and even affects meaning.

Also, do remember that the letter “p” in English is often aspirated, resulting in an extra puff of air along with the pronunciation of the consonant. This never occurs in Italian.

Although the unsophisticated often fail to discern the difference between correctly pronouncing the double “nn,” Italian ears definitely do. If pronounced as pene without shortening the first vowel and lengthening the consonant “n,” you are referring to the word penis. So, be a touch couth and avoid ordering penis at the table.

PENNE RIGATE WITH SAUSAGE, TOMATO & CREAM

1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 lb Italian pork & fennel sausage, uncased and crumbled

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded

One 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped (retain juice)
1 T tomato paste
1 small rind of parmigiano-reggiano
1/4 C dry red wine
1 t red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bay leaf
Bouquet garni of fresh parsley, thyme and oregano sprigs

3/4 C heavy whipping cream

1 lb penne rigate pasta
Fresh basil leaves, whole or chiffonaded
Parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated

Capers, rinsed and drained (optional)

Using kitchen scissors, chop tomatoes while still in can.

Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then add sausage and cook, stirring to break up large chunks, until meat is browned and just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer meat to a bowl lined with paper towels using a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring some, until softened and translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and carrot, sauté and stir occasionally another 1 minute or so.

Stir in the tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, rind, red wine, bay leaf and bouquet garni. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 30-40 minutes. The sauce will thicken to a porridge consistency. Remove and discard the rind, bay leaf and herb bundle. Adjust seasoning to your liking.

Add enough cream and bring the tomato sauce to a simmer, stirring, then add drained sausages for a few minutes to heat. The sauce should be pinkish in hue.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large, heavy pot of generously salted boiling water according to directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain pasta in a colander. Add to the tomato sauce in the Dutch oven and toss to coat, adding pasta water if necessary to moisten.

Serve with grated parmigiano-reggiano, basil leaves and optional capers.

Penne “Risotto(s)”

December 9, 2009

Quill, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly wielded by an ass; this use of the quill is now obsolete, but its modern equivalent, the steel pen, is wielded by the same everlasting Presence.
~Ambrose Bierce

Penne, the plural form of the Italian word for “quill,” are produced in two main variants, penne lisce (smooth) and penne rigate (furrowed), the latter having ridges on each noodle which tends to capture sauce more readily. In these incarnations, cylinder shaped penne is cooked risotto style in lieu of the conventional boiled in salted water method. Rather, these pastas are browned lightly in olive oil, then cooked leisurely and gradually in ladlefuls—gently stirring and tossing the penne throughout the process until just al dente and luxuriantly veiled with aromatic sauce. You may just as easily substitute other similar pastas, such as fusilli or gemelli.

PENNE RISOTTO WITH CHICKEN, MUSHROOMS & TARRAGON

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
3 T extra virgin olive oil

8-10 C chicken stock

3 C crimini and shiitake (stemmed) mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh tarragon, minced

1 lb penne rigate
3/4 C dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t white truffle oil

Chopped fresh tarragon
Capers, rinsed and drained
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat with olive oil. When hot, add chicken thighs and cook until done, about 4 minutes per side. Do not overcook as they will be heated again some at the end. Remove chicken, slice 1/4″ thick, tent and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep at a constant simmer.

Heat the oil and butter in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven over moderate heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until browned and the juices begin to exude, around 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle the mushrooms with minced tarragon, toss and set aside. Wipe out the skillet with paper towels.

Pour the remaining olive oil into the skillet over medium high heat. When hot and shimmering, add pasta to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and begins to just slightly brown on the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Then in a slow, continuous risotto-reminiscent process, slowly ladle hot stock into the skillet a ladle at a time, stirring after each addition. When the stock is just about to evaporate, add another ladle and so on…until the pasta is al dente, about 16-18 minutes.

When pasta is about 1-2 minutes away from being done, add chicken, mushrooms and truffle oil; stir to heat and combine. If necessary, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking. Serve in shallow soup bowls garnished with tarragon, capers and parmigiano-reggiano.

PENNE RISOTTO WITH TOMATO & SAUSAGE

1 C good quality italian sausage, casings removed
1 T extra virgin olive oil

8 -10 C chicken stock

1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed slightly

1 lb dried penne rigate

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 T tomato paste
2 T finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Red peppers flakes, to taste
2 T red wine vinegar

Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons

Heat olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until barely no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Do not overcook as it will briefly cook some at the end. Remove with slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep at a constant simmer.

In a large, deep heavy skillet heat the olive oil over moderately high heat. When it is hot and shimmering but not smoking, add the garlic and heat until only golden brown, pressing the cloves all over the surface to subtly flavor and perfume the oil. Do not burn or you will have a restart on your hands. Remove and discard the garlic.

Then, add the pasta, stirring occasionally until the pasta begins to brown lightly around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato paste and the rosemary, stirring constantly until the pasta is evenly coated. Slowly add a ladleful of stock, stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. The pasta should cook slowly and should always be covered in at least a light film of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently and tasting regularly, until the pasta is tender and al dente, about 16-18 minutes.

Add the already cooked sausage, red pepper, red wine vinegar, and toss gently for a minute or so. Serve in bowls, generously sprinkle with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and garnish with basil ribbons.