I’m usually a good speller, but was concerned when I saw a couple of my contributors recording a favorite comfort food as “lasagn a ”. I’ve been spelling the dish as “lasagn e ” for years. Then I was relieved to find that lasagn e indicates more than one piece of the pasta ribbon. I promise to get a life. However the dish is spelled, this beloved casserole really does hail from Italy, unlike some of the other so-called “foreign” favorites that have become completely Americanized. The early Italian version was typically layered with cheese, sauce and other ingredients. But the term originated in ancient Greece as “lasagnum”, referring to a dish or bowl. When eventually the region was acquired by the Romans, they used the same kind of dish, then developed the layered pasta meal to be baked and served in that dish. The early Italians ultimately changed the name of the container from “lasagnum” to “lasagna”, and later, the word began to represent the entrée baked in that dish.
With summer upon us, grilled steak has natural appeal, especially irresistible when its alluring aromas waft over the neighbor’s fence. No one was happier than I to receive an assignment to pair wine with New York steak, my favorite cut, for it’s substantial texture, juicy potential and powerful flavor. Although I wouldn’t kick a filet mignon to the curb, its character is more subtle than the New York’s. Found on the short loin of the cow, the New York cut actually comes from the same cut as the t-bone and porterhouse. Having fewer muscles than other parts of the animal, this section of the cow is therefore worked less and the meat is more tender.
Say “vodka sauce” and I instinctively think “sexy”. But truly, the relatively recent classic dish, normally consisting of a tomato-cream sauce with fresh parmesan blanketing thick, penne pasta, warms me like a comfort food. Because vodka’s subtle flavor is drowned out by the other ingredients in a typical vodka sauce, cooks needn’t worry over what wine to pair with the vodka flavor. The necessary match is really between the wine and the tomato-cream found in most recipes. In fact, foodies often question why vodka sauce exists. Was this mid-eighties invention a fad, gimmick, or simply a vehicle for vodka pushers? Surprisingly, the vodka in the sauce serves a chemical role in creating complex flavors. The tomato is what is called alcohol soluble , meaning some of its flavor compounds are released to the palate only in the presence of alcohol. The best tomato sauces contain some kind of alcohol, whether wine or vodka; otherwise, the mixtures would be missing an appealing component. Vodka is the spirit of choice when wine would impart a more powerful note than desired.
Although the origin of spinach salad is unclear, Germans who settled in Pennsylvania are credited with bringing a similar concoction to the United States. Food expert and humorist Alton Brown claims the original mixture comprised dandelions, bacon drippings, vinegar and hard-cooked eggs. Because dandelions were not necessarily appreciated in this country, they were later replaced with spinach.
My intent for dinner tonight was admirable by any standard: green tea, salad loaded with nutrients and tomato soup. However, upon sitting down to start this piece, I watched a video of Greg Ng from FreezerBurns.com eating and reviewing Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese. I immediately abandoned my plan and reached for my own stand-by Stouffer’s, then cracked a bottle of chardonnay. I pride myself on discipline, and have abstained from dish after dish even while editing mouth-watering, gourmet pairings described by the expert contributors to this column. Macaroni and cheese done me in.
Best Wine to Pair With Beef Ribs...with a Quote and Recipe from Award-Winning Chef, Michael Chiarello
Rumor has it that beef ribs are often overlooked, as pork ribs are what most people visualize when they hear “ribs”. French politician Jean Glavany claims: “Those restaurant chains that are withdrawing beef ribs are . . . participating in this psychosis and should try to avoid it, . . . There is no question of banning beef ribs in our country.” And posts can be seen on American forums begging for good beef rib restaurant recommendations. Evidently, pork prevails in the ribs race.
Patagonian toothfish? That’s the real fish behind the so-called Chilean sea bass, not even in the bass family. Marketing geniuses correctly believed their coined name might make the fish more desirable. Authentic sea bass has firmer, denser flesh than its mimic, and comes in several versions: black sea bass appears in Chinese cuisine, red and black groupers are used in Latin countries’ cooking, white sea bass tends to come from Mexico and Hapu’upu’u hails from Hawaii.
Overcooked, battered and abused? No longer. Americans tended to eat less lamb than any other red meat, but consumption has come up bit since younger chefs traveled to discover its intense, interesting flavor and learned the correct way to cook the meat. Finer restaurants have been released from their fears that guests will reject a lamb dish now that it is properly prepared. This influence, coupled with the flood of immigrants who serve lamb as a staple, has greatly increased the popularity of the meat, particularly lamb shanks, in this country.
Polarizing fare – you either love it or hate it. The phrase “blue cheese” elicits strong responses from most. I suspect the ribbon of blue, representing nasty mold in naysayers’ minds, may play a greater role than any objectionable taste. The grossout factor cannot be underestimated in analyzing individuals’ culinary rejections. It is just those blue veins, however, coupled with a racy mouthfeel and piquant flavor, that attracts those perpetually looking for more “edge” on their plates and on their palates.
Pesto sauce, generally comprising basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, grated hard cheese and salt, originated in Genoa of Northern Italy, but no mention appears in the United States until 1944, when the New York Times reported an imported, canned pesto paste . Soon after, a recipe appeared in Sunset Magazine in 1946, contributed by Angelo Pellegrini. But the sauce did not gain popularity in the United States until the 1980s and 1990s, partly because fresh basil was not sold here until the 1970s. For a time, a mini pesto fever took hold with chefs and home cooks prolifically turning out recipe after recipe, varying the proportions of olive oil, cheese and basil and even changing the herb and nut combinations to such concoctions as parsley and/or mint with pistachios.