Articles in Novelty
Yes, meatballs are here again, those eternally returning spheres of gastronomic delight. Not high on anyone’s culinary sophistication list, meatballs have an earthy attraction that seems to come and go through the years. Now they are back big time with Michele Anna Jordan’s collection of meatball marvels, “More Than Meatballs” (Skyhorse, 2014).
“More Than Meatballs”
“From Arancini to Zucchini Fritters and Everything in Between”
By Michele Anna Jordan, Skyhorse, 2014, 176 pages
» Click here to buy this book
The more-than-ness of the book puts the traditional meatball in a broad culinary context, as the subtitle —”From Arancini to Zucchini Fritters and Everything in Between” — suggests. There are more than 75 recipes, plus variations, so you can imagine just how far Jordan has ventured.
Yet the soul of the book remains the traditional meatball – named thus for good reason: Try making a meatcube, meatpyramid or meatcone. Even those words look horribly wrong! No, the meatball is a culinary merger of form and function no less perfect than its mechanical relative, the wheel.
The only other cooked product of man’s hungry genius that rivals the meatball for salutary simplicity and earthy economy is, I believe, the omelet. Curiously though, the omelet works inversely to the meatball: Omelets begin life round (the egg) and leave it flat. The meatball starts life flat (chopped meat, poultry, fish, etc.) and ends round.
Of course there are flat-sided meatballs: sausage and hamburger patties and the monolithic American classic — meatloaf. These more-than-meatball entities are what one observant aficionado of this class of foods, the eminent European artist, writer and restaurateur, Daniel Spoerri, has labeled “the premasticated” — chopped animal-based foods. The ancient Persian word for meatball — kufteh — means, according to my sources, “chopped” or “ground.”
Context is everything
It was actually Spoerri who introduced me to meatball-ogy. After absorbing his postmodern deconstruction of the meatball in “A Dissertation on Keftedes” (keftedes, a Greek variation on the Persian kufteh) in the 1970s, I reprinted the work in a collection of Spoerri’s food-related texts, published as “Mythology and Meatballs: A Greek Island Diary Cookbook” (Aris Books, 1982). The dissertation is full of learned and charmingly funky discourse on the social history and symbolism of the meatball in the context of world gastronomy.
But Spoerri’s material (Newsweek called it “a Dadaist sampler of culinary oddments”) seems a bit beside the point when we are truly hungry and a well-made bowl of sauced or souped meatballs, steaming hot and redolent with spice, is placed in front of us. For example, there’s Jordan’s meatball and pasta dish of Spanish descent, Sopa de Albondigas y Fideo, from the chapter titled with meatball-in-cheek irony, “Context Is Everything.” It’s a perfect dish to warm the soul on a cold winter’s night.
Out of context, served “neat” as Jordan puts it, the book’s mother of all meatballs is, logically enough, The Meatball (see recipe below), an “Americanized Italian immigrant,” writes Jordan. It is made from ground pork and beef and mixed with grated cheese, egg, onion, red pepper flakes, nutmeg and clove. Jordan adds that this meatball, as good as it is on its own, lends itself to almost any context: in classic spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce; in lasagna; in soups; or as part of sandwiches and sliders.
Optionally, these balls can be wrapped in caul fat — readily available now at trendy butcher shops — for added richness and succulence. Jordan’s introduction of caul fat — the stomach lining of pigs used as a casing for the traditional flat sausage patty in France known as the crépinette— makes for a perfect “coverup” for The Meatball and many other versions in the book. The very good step-by-step photographs of caul-wrapping technique are helpful to the novice caul wrapper.
Using caul connects Jordan’s creations to the ancient “minces” wrapped in pork omentum (caul) one finds in meatball compilations dating to ancient Rome, including the classic cookbook attributed to the gourmet, Apicius — De Re Coquinaria (“on the subject of cooking”).
Karma goes around, too
After decades in and around the food world, it’s starting to dawn on me that I have a karmic relationship with the meatball. First with Spoerri’s Dissertation, which inspired one of my first Foodoodle cartoons, “The Global Meatball” (see illustration). And now with Jordan’s “More Than Meatballs.”
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I first met and worked with Michele Anna Jordan when she approached me in 1988 with her groundbreaking manuscript for “A Cook’s Tour of Sonoma” (Aris, 1990), the first of her many fine cookbooks, many of which are coming back into print. Spiraling forward through the decades, I was delighted by the opportunity to connect with her again, this time providing the foreword (without compensation, I should add) to “More Than Meatballs.” How could I resist my meatball karma?
Although I didn’t know it when I took on the task, it appears the humble, global, historical meatball is, as Jordan explains in the book’s introduction, back in fashion, and apparently for some time. And not just on restaurant menus and kitchen tables. There are now meatball-themed food shops and food trucks popping up across urban America and a new Guinness World Record for a meatball at more than 1,100 pounds.
“More Than Meatballs” is just the latest, and surely one of the best, examples of the meatball’s enduring power to please and sustain. Jordan puts it better than I could: “Yes, meatballs are on a roll, a rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s dance! Let’s have a ball!”
Prep time: 25 minutes (45 minutes if you are grinding your own meat)
Cook time: 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size
Total time: 35 to 65 minutes
Yield: About 32 small or 16 large meatballs
1 cup torn white bread, from sturdy hearth bread, preferably sourdough
3/4 cup milk or white wine
1 pound grass-fed beef, ground twice
1 pound pastured pork, ground twice
1 small yellow onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Dry Jack, or similar cheese
Black pepper in a mill
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
2 large pastured eggs, beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, or 6 ounces caul fat
1. Put the bread and milk or wine into a mixing bowl and use a fork to crush the bread and blend it into the liquid. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
2. Add the beef, pork, onion, garlic, Italian parsley and cheese to the bowl and mix well. Season generously with salt, several turns of black pepper, red pepper flakes, and several gratings of nutmeg and mix again. Add the eggs, mix well, and then knead for a minute or two until very well blended.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.
4. To finish, cover a sheet pan with wax paper.
5. Use a 1-ounce ice cream scoop to form small meatballs or a 2-ounce scoop to make larger meatballs; set each ball on the wax paper.
— If using bread crumbs, put them into a mixing bowl, add a meatball, and agitate the bowl to coat the meatball well. Set it on a baking sheet and continue until all are coated.
— If using caul fat, spread the fat on a clean work surface and wrap each ball.
6. To cook, pour a thin film of olive oil on a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot add several meatballs, being certain not to crowd them. Cook for about
45 seconds and then agitate the pan so the balls roll. Continue cooking until the balls are evenly browned and have begun to firm up, about 5 to 7 minutes, depending on their size. Set the cooked balls on absorbent paper and continue until all have been cooked.
7. To serve neat, return the meatballs to the pan, reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes for small meatballs and about 12 minutes for large ones, until the meatballs are just cooked through. Transfer to a platter and serve hot.
Main photo: Fresh Herb Meatballs are among the recipes featured in Michele Anna Jordan’s book. Credit: Liza Gershman
Want a new way to serve pasta? Ditch the fork and try these handheld pasta snacks. They’re delicious and fun to eat.
Pasta has branched out from its traditional role as a first-course dish and now stars in unusual forms in Italy’s bar scene. Apericena — “appetizers as dinner,” an assortment of tiny plates served in lieu of a formal sit-down dinner — is a new trend in Italy, especially in the northern cities of Milan and Turin. Hip restaurants and bars present elaborate buffets, with many lush pasta offerings, included with the price of a glass of wine or cocktail.
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Creative finger foods such as oven-baked pasta “pretzels” are offered as nibbles. Any long hollow macaroni with a hole in the center — such as bucatelli or perciatelli — boiled, tossed with a little oil and baked, turn out as perfect golden crisps with a pretty bubbly surface that look just like pretzel sticks. Great served plain, with just a sprinkle of sea salt or jazzed up with dry spices such as ground garlic, cayenne or smoked paprika, they are eye-catching served poking out of a wine glass. “Pasta pretzels are a delicious bar snack,” says Riccardo Felicetti, president of the World Pasta Organization and owner of the Felicetti Pasta Company, “accompanied by assorted cheeses, salami and olives, (they) are a nice menu item as well.”
Another highly versatile offering are bite-sized foods wrapped in a strand of fresh pasta and fried. A strand of fresh pasta can be wrapped around all sorts of foods — seafood such as shrimp, oysters, scallops; veggies such as whole mushrooms and baby sweet bell peppers; and even mini-meatballs all make great finger foods. Chef Andrea Fusco, of Ristorante Giuda Ballerino in Rome, serves shrimp with mortadella mousse wrapped in strands of pasta — spiedino di gambero, what he calls “a dish eaten with the hands, informally.”
Another especially adaptable dish, Pasta Cups (recipe below), is Italy’s modern single-serving riff on timballo, the baked pasta pie featured in the movie “Big Night.” Bake up a batch in mini-muffin tins and then either serve them plain or fill the tiny cups with anything you like, from diced tomatoes to cheese or salami.
Pasta as bar food
Andrea Mattei, Michelin star chef of La Magnolia Restaurant in the Hotel Byron in the chic Tuscan seaside resort town of Forte de Marmi, created a delightful mini bite of pasta for guests to enjoy at the bar. He fills penne pasta with a puree of dried sea cod (baccala) and adds hints of Tuscan ingredients, including farro from Garfagnana and tomatoes from Livorno. He explains, “I invented this tiny tasting for our clients, who coming in from a day at the beach wanted a little something cool and refreshing with the flavor of the sea and of Tuscany to pair with a cocktail. It was an immediate hit and now returning guests specifically ask for it. It’s become a bar menu staple as we noticed that sales of aperitifs and cocktails rose significantly after this tiny, unique bar snack was introduced. It’s so popular that we also offer it poolside.”
Macaroni fritters, a typical Neapolitan street food, are hand-held morsels of seasoned pasta dipped in batter and fried. They can be found throughout Naples, in every rosticceria and in the city’s most popular pizza shops such as Scaturchio and chef Ciro Salvo’s 50 Kaló. Similar to arancini, Sicilian stuffed rice-balls, these pasta fritters are spreading from Naples throughout Italy. Author and Italian TV personality Gabriele Bonci even serves them in Pizzarium, his Rome pizza shop.
The fritters, called frittatine di maccheroni, are traditionally made with bucatini, the long thick hallow pasta specialty of southern Italy, but any shape pasta can be used and any sort of sauce. Crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside, they are a great restaurant starter or bar snack, as they are a make-ahead dish that can be assembled in advance and fried as needed. “Macaroni fritters are not just a creative way to enjoy pasta, but they are very economical too, as they’re a terrific use for leftover pasta,” notes Emidio Mansi, sales manager for Garofalo, a renowned pasta company founded in 1789 near Naples, in Gragnano, a town with a legendary pasta-making history.
Fried spaghetti, Frittata di spaghetti, another southern Italian specialty, is like a jumbo variation of macaroni fritters. Instead of individually frying each portion, all the seasoned leftover spaghetti is fried in one skillet and then served sliced like pie. A staple in Italy, it’s surprising that more restaurants and pizzerias in the United States don’t serve it, especially considering that it is low-stress on busy kitchens, as it’s made in advance and served at room temperature. At the charming Acqua Pazza restaurant on the Amalfi Coast, chef Gennaro Marciante serves seasonal variations, including a frittatina infused with the area’s famed huge, aromatic lemons.
What I love about traveling through Italy is seeing the myriad ways pasta, a simple flour-and-water product, is creatively used. Italy, a country we view as bound by tradition, is really evolving. It’s easy for us home cooks to take a strand from the Italian box and wrap it around something new! Pasta served as a breadstick or cracker or a handheld snack. No forks required!
Pasta Cups (Capellini in Timballo)
From: “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
Total time: 17 minutes
Yield: 24 pieces
These little nests of Parmesan-flecked angel hair strands are baked to form perfect one-bite nibbles. Though excellent plain, there are endless ways to fill these chewy, crunchy morsels: with prosciutto, pesto, tomatoes, shaved Parmesan cheese, mozzarella, salami, caponata, garlicky broccoli rabe — or anything the chef comes up with.
3 tablespoons grated grana padano, Parmesan or other aged cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound angel hair or other long thin pasta
Optional ingredients: salami, pesto, anchovy, prosciutto, cheese etc.
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil 24 mini muffin cups (or use disposable mini cups and set them on a baking pan).
2. Combine the egg, grated cheese and butter in a bowl. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and toss with the ingedients in the bowl until well combined and almost all absorbed. Using a fork, twirl a few strands into a nest shape and put into a prepared muffin cup. Repeat. Drizzle any remaining egg mixture on top of the nests.
3. At this point you can either put an ingredient the center of the nest, or bake them plain and top them with something yummy afterward. Bake for about 12 minutes or until set.
Macaroni Fritters (Frittatine di Maccheroni)
Recipe courtesy of Garofalo
Prep time: 20 minutes (plus rest 6 hours or overnight)
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: Dozen 2-inch fritters
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk, warmed
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and white pepper
1 pound cauliflower florets
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 ounces sharp provolone or scamorza cheese, chopped
1/2 pound bucatini or other long thick pasta
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying
1. Make a béchamel: Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then off the heat, use a fork to stir in 2 tablespoons of the flour until smooth. Return to the heat and cook for a minute until golden, then slowly add the milk, stirring a few minutes until thick. Stir in the nutmeg and season with salt and white pepper.
2. Boil the cauliflower in a pot of salted water until very soft, about 10 minutes, and remove to a food processor with a slotted spoon. Puree the cauliflower with the béchamel, Parmesan and provolone cheese until it resembles cooked oatmeal. Place the mixture in a large mixing bowl.
3. Meanwhile, break the pasta in half and cook in boiling salted water for 3 minutes less than package directions. Drain and stir into the cauliflower mixture. Taste and add more cheese or other seasonings, if needed.
4. Lightly butter an 8-inch round high-sided pan and spread with the pasta mixture, packing it down firmly. The mixture should be about 2 1/2 inches high. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.
5. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons flour with 4 tablespoons of water in a bowl to form a smooth slurry. Spread the bread crumbs onto a plate. Using a 2-inch cookie-cutter, cut out rounds from the cold pasta. Gather up any odd bits of pasta and form into another round; you’ll get about 12 rounds.
6. Dip each round into the flour-water mixture, then into the bread crumbs, coating all sides.
7. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small skillet over high heat. Add the rounds and fry until dark golden on both sides. Drain on paper towel-lined plate. Serve at room temperature.
Main photo: A slice of fried spaghetti makes the perfect finger food. Credit: Giovanni Castiello, Maistri Pastai
The orders for bread shaped like a turkey roll in year-round at Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque, N.M., but they start coming in fast and earnest at the beginning of November.
In Thanksgiving parlance, the turkey is the showstopper. It comes out glistening and golden, a centerpiece of magnificence and meaning, its scent of browned skin and moist meat and herbs so powerful it fills the room with its presence. The almost-national bird. Even in a time of mixed message food culture, no other American holiday is suffused with the image of a single, shared dish.
These were the images and connotations Pratt Morales was trafficking in when he decided, 30 years ago, to try to make a full roasted turkey out of bread.
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“We started making it for vegetarians who wanted a centerpiece for Thanksgiving — and we still do — but now it’s become a great gift for local customers,” Morales said.
It wasn’t the first time Morales had tried to make something un-breadlike with yeasted dough. He’s done turreted castles, saguaro cactuses, horses with wagons trailed behind them. He’s sculpted dragons, roadrunners, doves in a nest, and once, bread-shaped cockroaches and mice for a pest control company. Cute parlor tricks, yes, but nothing like this. Turkey bread is a marriage of images: the staff of life and a sign of seasonal thankfulness all in one.
And so, after weeks of experimentation, turkey bread was born in a tiny family bakery in New Mexico.
Albuquerque’s oldest family-run bakery
It’s just before the lunch rush on a side street outside of Old Town in Albuquerque. The scent of yeast, sleeping loaves tinged with green chile peppers and warm cinnamon from just-baked wedding cookies seeps out of the constantly open door of a 1950s adobe ranch, home to Golden Crown Panaderia, the state’s oldest family-run bakery. Morales pulls chairs for customers while his son, Chris, kneads dough on a long table in the kitchen.
Forty years ago, Morales was a trained accountant just out of the National Guard when he decided to open a bake shop. He was raising his son by himself and needed an environment in which he could be a father and make a living at the same time.
“I can’t think of any better place to raise a son as a single dad than at a bakery,” Morales said. “There’s lots to do.”
Morales raised his son while he raised his business, and now he and Chris work side by side with a team of dedicated bakers. Together, the father-son team has weathered competition from industrial competitors by doing everything better. The bakery has made a name for itself with its authentic biscochito (a dry wedding cookie), hand-thrown pizza crusts and a wide variety of specialty breads.
“What we do is time consuming and difficult to do,” Morales said. “Nobody else knows how to do it.”
At Golden Crown, bread has never left its central role as the staff of life. But the Turkey Bread — oh, there is nothing like the turkey bread. The bakery will make around 500 turkey breads in the run-up to Thanksgiving, in three varieties costing between $35 and $50 — green chile, peasant dough and even a dark-legged and white breasted version combining whole wheat and Italian white bread.
The making of a Thanksgiving centerpiece
There are no YouTube videos of anyone at Golden Crown making the turkey bread, no morning talk shows in which Morales brings his firecracker wit and energy to a New York stage and audiences of millions (though he is often visited by the Food Network). And with good reason. Like all of the bakery’s recipes, the method and ingredients have been honed and shaped over many decades. It’s all secret — the thing that has helped the family enterprise to thrive in a climate in which the family bakery as an institution has waxed and waned. So to see it made, in person, is to marvel at the power of muscle memory. It is as if you are watching a gymnast perform a routine of magnetic precision, one practiced so often he could do it blindfolded.
At a long, waist-high wooden table, Morales gathers his ingredients and prepares his surface. This dough — an egg-based mixture dotted with slices of jalapenos — is already made. First, he pats the dough into an oblong shape the size of a loaf of bread. With a dough slicer, he cuts off two pieces that will become the legs. Then he cuts the breast, forming a backbone by making a small ridge. He slices two slots for the wings and scores the legs so they will look like feathers when baked. The dough will rise twice. He scoops it with his hands from all sides, tucks it in, like you might tuck in a child or, perhaps, yes, a turkey you are preparing for an oven roast.
Morales knows exactly how this dough will rise, exactly how it will brown, exactly the right temperature to get it to bake through without become too overdone in any one spot. A sprinkle of parsley on top, and the bird is ready for the oven, where it is baked at 400 degrees. When it comes out, it will be browned in all the right places, rendered in deep crusty browns.
“We always get the same response from people who buy it as a gift for Thanksgiving,” Morales said. “The host opens the door and they say: ‘You didn’t have to bring the turkey!’ ”
Main photo: Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque, N.M., makes a golden turkey — out of bread. Credit: Golden Crown Panaderia
A little lavender goes a long way in the kitchen. But use too much and that floral essence you love from one of the world’s most versatile culinary herbs might turn a dish to something as welcome as a perfume-soaked Chatty Cathy on a long-haul flight.
Below are seven ways to use lavender in a manner that will enhance, not overpower.
Preparing the flowers
A member of the mint family, lavender grows in upright, evergreen shrubs that might reach as tall as 3 feet and as wide as 4 feet. The bushes are fragrant on their own, but summer is when lavender stems shoot up, blossoming in tight, brilliantly purple flowers. These flowers will produce the most pungent and aromatic additions to your experiments in the kitchen, lending a perfume that mingles well with the flavors of the season.
Now is the time to let your dreams of cottage life in Provence come to life, no matter where you live. If you have access to one of the many wonderful lavender farms popping up in the United States, such as Hill Country Lavender in Blanco, Texas, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm near Albuquerque, N.M., or the English Lavender Farm in Applegate, Ore., you can pick your own. Better yet, you might be growing it in your backyard. Note: If you buy lavender from a farm for culinary use, be sure to ask whether it was grown with pesticides. You don’t want to eat it if it was grown using pesticides.
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If you grow lavender, here’s the steps to preparing the flowers:
- Harvest the lavender. The blossoms are ready when the brilliant purple flowers have emerged and have not yet begun to wilt. If you are cutting lavender yourself, cut the stalks a few inches above the plant’s woody growth and gather the lavender into a bunch. Tie it together.
- Dry the lavender. At this point, you can use it fresh, or you can hang it up or lay it flat to dry it. Note: If you are cooking with fresh lavender, use three times the number of flowers as in a dried lavender recipe.
- De-stem the lavender. You can use the whole stalk in cooking, but many people prefer to remove the flowers from the stalk and store them separately.
- Store it well. Store lavender in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. A Mason jar is a good choice.
7 ideas for eating and drinking your lavender
Lavender works a lot like rosemary — a little can create a great perfume. But just as with all scents, too much can overpower. Use it sparingly, and adjust the amount of lavender according to your specific palate.
Take a stick (½ pound) of room-temperature butter and top it with a tablespoon of dried, ground (if desired) lavender. Mix the lavender and butter together in a bowl. Chill it for a few days to let the lavender flavor develop. Use it with honey atop your favorite biscuit, scone or other baked good.
Use about 1 tablespoon dried lavender for every 2 cups of sugar. Grind the lavender in a food processor for about 15 seconds to develop the lavender flavor. Add a cup of granulated sugar to the process and blend well, about three or four quick presses on a Cuisinart. Store the lavender sugar in an airtight container such as a Mason jar and use it in all of your favorite sweet baking recipes that call for sugar.
Using a funnel, drop about a ¼ cup lavender flowers into a bottle of your favorite vodka. Take out the funnel and close the bottle. Shake, so the flowers mix throughout. Store in the freezer for three days. Strain the vodka into a separate container, using a fine-mesh sieve, a cheesecloth or a paper towel. Squeeze the bundle with the flowers in it to extract as much lavender flavor as possible. Pour the vodka back in the bottle and store in your freezer for use in a lavender vodka tonic with a splash of lime.
Lavender balsamic vinaigrette
Lavender can add a quick, floral kick to any basic vinaigrette recipe. In vinaigrette recipes calling for a combination of balsamic vinegar, oil, honey and ground pepper, add 1 tablespoon of fresh lavender (or a third of that of dried) for every 1½ cups of vinaigrette.
Create a rub for roasted chicken using about a tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1½ tablespoons dried lavender, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon honey.
Lavender and blueberry anything
Lavender and blueberry are fast friends, and in many parts of the country appear at the same time. Try putting lavender sugar into your favorite blueberry cobbler at the height of the season, bake some lavender directly into blueberry lavender scones, or infuse some milk with lavender and pour it atop fresh blueberries. About half a teaspoon of lavender is usually a good fit with a pint of fruit.
Salmon and lavender
Create a rub of lime zest and lime juice from two limes, ½ teaspoon thyme, ½ teaspoon dried lavender, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub the seasoning mix on salmon fillets and bake as you would in your favorite salmon recipe.
Main photo: Lavender is ready for harvest when most of its brilliant purple flowers have emerged. Credit: Emily Grosvenor
In the 1950s and 1960s, the food industry churned out a veritable buffet of newfangled food products with recipes to match, uniquely combining foods such as peanut butter, pineapple and Velveeta in a single dish. Such odd recipes made their way into the American culinary vernacular as the food industry sought domestic applications for food preservation technologies and products created during World War II.
Laura Shapiro tells this tale of convenience foods in “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America.” Through recipes printed on can labels and the back of boxes, in free pamphlets and branded cookbooks, the food industry sought to instruct housewives, who were initially leery of these new convenience foods, on how to cook with them, at every meal and for every audience. As Shapiro argues, rather than being rooted in any particular gastronomic tradition, “packaged-food cuisine” was its own invented culinary phenomenon, aimed at promoting specific food products. As a result, these recipes often recommended flavor and ingredient pairings that were unusual, to say the very least.
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I’ve rounded up a selection of such recipes, drawing from cookbooks such as “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book,” published in 1950, and Campbell’s “Easy Ways to Delicious Meals,” whose revised edition made its way onto bookshelves and into kitchens in 1968. Are these product-pushing recipes inventive or insane? Do they provide an unexpectedly right combination of savory and sweet or do they completely miss the mark? Are they surprisingly tasty or downright gross? You be the judge.
1. Beans & Franks Chiquita. A simple recipe designed for a child to make, this dish starts with chopped onion cooked in butter (or margarine), then mixed with a can of beans and franks in tomato sauce. To this mixture, one adds the “Chiquita” portion of the recipe: sliced canned peaches, sliced bananas and a touch of nutmeg.
2. Beef Fizz. Described as “sheer wizardry as a pick-up,” this “refreshing” beverage recipe calls for a can of condensed beef broth mixed with a half cup of club soda and garnished with lemon.
3. Hawaiian Sandwich. In this recipe, which I alluded to in the intro, Velveeta “gets party-fancy” with “a really exotic flavor combination” that is “easy to fix and dramatic to serve.” Slather toasted bun halves with peanut butter. Then add a well-drained slice of pineapple and a slice of Velveeta. Bake or broil until the cheese melts, then top with a maraschino cherry.
4. Marvelous Milk. While many a mom has cajoled a child into drinking her milk by stirring in a long squirt of chocolate syrup, how about beating in a mashed banana and a few drops of lemon juice?
5. Saucy Susans. If you’ve grown bored with basic biscuits, try this recipe, which substitutes tomato juice for the milk, resulting in pink-hued pastries. Bake the biscuit dough stacked in pairs with a slice of cheese sandwiched between to produce a breakfast-y version of grilled cheese and tomato soup.
6. Sunday Morning Sausage Ring. Perk up your weekend breakfast by combining 2 pounds of pork sausage with a couple of beaten eggs, some grated onion, bread crumbs and chopped parsley. Pack this savory concoction into a 9″ ring mold. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 F, taking out halfway through to pour off excess fat. Fill the ring with “Eggs à la King,” a soupy mixture of quartered hard-boiled eggs, cream sauce, canned mushrooms, chopped green pepper and pimiento, and paprika.
7. Wedgies. Don’t worry. Underwear-related social torture is not involved in this appetizer, but it is a “cake” made entirely from processed meat and cheese. Start with softened cream cheese and season it with minced onions or chives and a squirt of mustard. Spread the cream cheese on slices of bologna and then stack slices on top of one another like a layer cake. Then “ice” the tops and sides of your meat cake with a spreadable cheese. Decorate as you like with sliced olives. Chill, cut into wedges and serve.
Main photo: A selection of cookbooks from the 1950s and 1960s. Credit: Emily Contois
It’s hot today. Really hot. That makes me think of two things: the tropics and how much I don’t feel like cooking. That’s why I invented these quasi- or pseudo-tropical items, a sweet corn milkshake, and a pomegranate and peanut pasta.
I understand they have corn milkshakes in the Philippines, but I actually got the idea from another tropical island country: Madagascar, which makes a corn pudding called katsaka sy voaniho flavored with corn kernels, coconut milk and vanilla. Madagascarians use vanilla with a free hand, since they’re the world’s largest producers of the spice.
It turns out that vanilla goes spectacularly well with the flavor of fresh corn. I can imagine adding a drop to the melted butter for corn on the cob, and I’ve actually made corn ice cream by substituting corn kernel juice for some of the milk in a vanilla ice cream recipe and reducing the quantity of vanilla to a tiny drop. It’s not bad, but it’s too much work on a day like this one.
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Today I’m only up for a corn shake, which requires close to zero cooking. All you have to do is zap the kernels in a microwave for 45 seconds or so and they lose the slight (and actually not very objectionable) starchy note of raw kernels. It’s just slice, zap, purée and make your milkshake. Go outside and make some barbecue if you like — the flavor of corn goes great with anything off the grill.
As for the pasta, my first idea was to use the combination of tamarind, garlic and lime that features so prominently in India and Southeast Asia. I was going to combine it with the idea of pasta tossed with oil that was big back during the carbo-loading and olive oil-crazy period of the ’80s because I was going to use angel hair, which carries a sauce more suavely when it’s oiled. Oil and a sour ingredient go well together anyway, as in a salad dressing.
But then it occurred to me that I actually prefer pomegranate to tamarind, and the domestic pomegranate molasses sold in Middle East markets has an attractive sweet-sour flavor. (Some imported brands of dibs rumman or rob-e anar are a lot more sour, though.) This pasta comes out so tasty you might just inhale it all as is, but I like to put in some roasted peanuts for a little more heft and protein.
- 4 to 5 ears sweet corn
- ¼ cup milk
- ½ cup vanilla ice cream
- With a sharp knife, slice the kernels from the corn cobs. You should end up with 2½ to 3 cups.
- Transfer them to a food processor, add the milk and process to a purée, about 30 seconds.
- Strain the corn purée in a sieve; you should have about 1¼ to 1½ cups liquid.
- Transfer to a blender and mix with the ice cream until foamy.
In the final step, an old-fashioned blender is preferable to a food processor if you want the traditional foamy texture. The processed version will just be a liquid, but it will still taste good, of course. If you don’t have a blender and want a foamy shake, you can shake it in a cocktail shaker. In fact, that was the original method and the origin of the name "milk shake." Try adding the ice cream in ¼-cup increments, because some brands of vanilla ice cream are so strongly flavored that they will overwhelm the corn.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 22 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
4 ounces (¼ of a 1-pound box) angel hair pasta
4 quarts lightly salted boiling water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ to 1 clove garlic, pureed
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
½ cup roasted peanuts
3 to 4 sprigs cilantro
1. Put the angel hair in the boiling water. As the pasta softens, make sure it’s all below the water’s surface . Stir to separate the strands. Cook until the pasta is soft and the raw aroma goes away, 10-12 minutes.
2. Drain the pasta and place it in a mixing bowl with the oil. Toss with two forks to coat all the strands with oil. Add the garlic and molasses and toss.
3. To serve, mix the pasta with the peanuts or sprinkle them on top. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot or cold.
Note: The flavor of olive oil would be distracting in this dish. Use a neutral oil.
Main photo: Too hot weather inspired two cool recipes: a corn milkshake and pomegranate pasta. Credit: Charles Perry
During the first O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, I was working at the Los Angeles Times, about three blocks away from the L.A. County Courthouse. Once in a while I would wander up there to gawk at the sidewalk circus that was in progress.
One fellow in the colorful crowd was selling an amazing souvenir of those days: a plastic mold you could use to reproduce the face of Superior Court Judge Lance Ito in gelatin. As I like to say, there’s always a food angle.
Several members of the trial’s cast of characters used it as a springboard to fame: the late attorney Johnny Cochran, police officer Mark Fuhrman, party pal Kato Kaelin (not that much fame, in retrospect) et al., including Robert Kardashian, of course, who bequeathed us a pack of telegenic daughters the world might otherwise never have heard of. Judge Ito took a more dignified route and continued an honorable career on the bench.
The gelatin mold looks kind of like the judge, but not exactly. It’s based on a life mask of the owner of SKS Sibley Co., which mostly makes molds for Halloween purposes such as brains, hands and eyeballs. At any rate, it looked enough like the Honorable Ito that people recognized the resemblance at the time. The mold came with a pair of glasses made from construction paper, which were not really very close to what the judge wore.
Of course I bought a mold. Shortly afterward, the judge expressed a desire that the maker cease and desist, or something to that effect, so it has become something of a rarity.
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That day I took it back to the Times Test Kitchen and we made it following the accompanying instructions. They created gelatin with a color a little like a flesh tone, more orange than one might like for the purpose, except perhaps on the Jersey Shore. The hair? More of a problem. The idea was to use food coloring (gelatin is food, people), but black food coloring is hard to find. Blue with a few drops of red gave a very deep purple hue that read close enough to black for the gag to work.
It takes a long time for the gelatin to set, but the next day we had it ready, and we proudly carried it all around the Times building to show it off. Everybody found it highly entertaining … everybody, that is, except the City Desk people who were covering the trial. They didn’t get it at all.
Today with O.J. nostalgia in full bloom, I dug that mold out, a little surprised to find that I’d hung onto it through the years and that I still had the recipe for the quasi-flesh tone gelatin. I had to make new fake glasses, of course – construction paper is less durable than plastic. So here it is, one for the “Remember Those Fabulous Nineties?” book.
By the way, here’s the gelatin recipe that came with the mold. You can use it whenever you need a flesh-colored dessert. In the absence of a suitable mold, you might chill it in custard cups and then paint eyeballs or something when you unmold them.
- 3 (6-ounce) packets of peach-flavored gelatin
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 (12-ounce) can nonfat evaporated milk
- 3-4 drops of green food coloring
- 6 or 7 drops blue food coloring
- 3 or 4 drops red food coloring
- Dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water.
- When dissolved, stir in the cold water and the evaporated milk.
- Add three drops of food coloring – if the color is still too peachy try another drop.
- Refrigerate until quite firm, seven hours or more.
- After the gelatin is firm, squeeze the blue and red food coloring in a small bowl and stir. If it doesn’t look black enough for you, doctor it with more drops.
- Apply the blackish coloring carefully to the appropriate areas of the gelatin with a small brush.
Main photo: Twenty years after the O.J. Simpson trial, Charles Perry digs out his Jell-O mold of Superior Court Judge Lance Ito to revive an unlikely recipe. Credit: Charles Perry
After tasting 2,734 entries, it was easy to spot food trends. I was one of the dozen judges for the coveted sofi Awards given to this year’s outstanding artisanal food products. One of the unexpected benefits of being a judge was the opportunity to taste everything in neatly organized categories. Usually, when attending a food show, you sample food in a random order, tasting the 2,000-plus exhibitor’s products in the haphazard order of booth geography, meandering from a taste of vinegar to jam, salsa and beer. But not this year.
In April and May the Specialty Food Association, which gives the awards, grouped the entries into categories. Finally, instead of a random mix of flavors, submissions were organized into 32 groupings, such as appetizers, beverages, condiments, desserts, salad dressings, snack foods, and USDA-certified organic products. The items in each group were set out on long tables in a half dozen rooms in the association’s New York City offices. We tasted more than 2,000 entries! We taste-tested 111 cheeses, 167 cooking sauces, 154 diet lifestyle foods, and 144 snacks in 1½- to 3-hour sessions. Palate fatigue was kept at bay by slices of green apples, crackers, pitchers of water and seltzer.
This year’s sofi Awards finalists reveals five fascinating trends, where new tastes meet classic traditions:
1. Molecular gastronomy
Also called modernistic cuisine, molecular gastronomy combines chemistry with cooking to alter the texture, look and taste of foods. This kitchen-based rocket science, popular with many top chefs in recent years, is moving into specialty foods. Several companies are introducing faux caviar, little gelled spheres that burst in your mouth. They can be filled with just about anything, from pesto to balsamic vinegar to espresso to truffle juice.
Get ready for floral-flavored waters, teas and even cocktail mixers, the next wave cresting in the beverage category. Blossom Water combines fruits and flowers in tandem, such as Lemon Rose, Plum Jasmine and Grapefruit Lilac. Rishi Tea is blending blueberries with hibiscus, and bergamot with sage. Owl’s Brew Pink & Black is a tea-infused cocktail mix blended with hibiscus. As unusual as these combinations may sound, they’re nothing new. Rosewater and orange flower water, familiar to Moroccan food enthusiasts, date to the Renaissance.
3. Savory sweets
Pushing the envelope on savory sweets has been a growing trend since the realization that chocolate and caramel only get better with a sprinkle of sea salt. At this year’s Fancy Food Show we’ll be introduced to cauliflower kale muffins, savory ice creams, and Blue Hill’s vegetable yogurts, which derive their vegetal sweetness from beets, sweet potatoes or winter squash. Bacon marmalade, anyone?
Smoke as a flavor component began as an important food preservation technique for our early ancestors, but now it’s showing up in items you wouldn’t expect. Smoke goes beyond barbecue and moves into chocolate chips (Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery Co.), smoked pizza flour, shortbread with smoked hickory sea salt (The Sticky Toffee Pudding Co.) and even smoked cocktail mixes. The aromatic allure triggers a primitive taste memory that we seem hardwired to love.
5. Compression and dehydration
Compressing or dehydrating foods not only changes their textures, but it also concentrates their flavors. Manicaretti’s dehydrated capers add a crisp, briny crunch to pasta, salads and seafood. The compressed cube of concentrated maple sugar made by Tonewood is so hard it can only be grated, but the delicate wisps that gently fall from a microplane taste more intensely of maple than maple syrup or maple candy. Grace & I’s tightly pressed Fruit + Nuts Press not only looks like a pretty pound cake, but slices like cake too. Coach Farms has transformed some of their goat cheese into grating sticks that allow you to easily add a subtle, cheesy tang to pastas, salads, and vegetables. It won’t be long before these trends and most likely many of these products will appear in the aisles of your favorite supermarket and specialty food shop. When you do see them, it’s fine to feel a little smug — you read about them here first! This year’s award ceremony will be hosted by Cronut creator Dominique Ansel on June 30 at the Javits Center in New York City.
Main photo: Among the food trends is molecular gastronomy; in this case, faux caviar that tastes like basil. Credit: Specialty Food Association