Articles in Novelty

Fried eggs in olive oil. Credit: iStockphoto / Aleksandar Georgiev

Once in a great while I stumble across a new way of doing things in the kitchen, sometimes as the result of carelessness. For instance, I was boiling some small unpeeled potatoes recently, having salted the water as usual, then wandered off, only to return to the kitchen where I caught a slight whiff of food on the verge of burning.

When I checked my pot I saw that all of the water had boiled off. What remained were potatoes that had crunchy skins and, as it turned out, tender and delicious interiors. When I tasted them I realized that the salt in the water had penetrated so that every bite of the potato was perfectly flavored and the crusty skins delectable. They reminded me of potatoes that had been cooked on the grill, but without the fuss of lighting fires and dealing with charcoal and its accompanying gray dust.

I am thinking about cooking this dish again, but have no idea how long it will take for the water to boil away. So I have devised a plan: I will situate myself in the kitchen along with a good novel — “War and Peace,” perhaps — and be sure to stay put while the potatoes cook, and I will pay attention to how much time goes by before the potatoes turn into the delicious dish on which I stumbled. I want to avoid ruining the potatoes and wrecking my pot.

Hot dogs, beyond the long bun

Another time, when preparing lunch for my husband, I found in my freezer one lone hot dog bun that was scheduled to hold two hot dogs. (He prefers that combination while I would be happier with one hot dog and two buns, being the bread-lover that I am.)

Hot dogs on a round bun. Credit: Barbara Haber

Hot dogs on a round bun. Credit: Barbara Haber

While I usually avoid putting any sort of bread into the microwave, I popped in the frozen bun thinking I would retrieve it in seconds and then toast it before squeezing in the hot dogs. I must have been distracted and set the microwave time in minutes rather than seconds because when I finally retrieved the roll, it had the look and texture of a block of wood, and I instantly dispatched it to the garbage can.

I still needed something for the hot dogs and could only find a plump-but-frozen hamburger bun. This time I was careful to let it thaw on its own before toasting. Then I was delighted to find that, with a bit of surgery, two hot dogs fit perfectly into one round bun. On the surface, you wouldn’t think that such a discovery would require a couple of advanced degrees, but this story does have a moral. Sometimes we are so conditioned to go along with conventional thinking when preparing a dish that we can miss a tasty or useful variation. Just because hot dogs are traditionally served in a long bun, why can’t they be served in a round one? And must we always fry our eggs in butter? How about olive oil? Speaking of which, the best boiled lobster I ever tasted was provided by a friend in Maine who served it with a fabulous warmed olive oil instead of the conventional melted butter.

Meatloaf, with whole allspice

I experienced another kitchen error years ago when preparing a meatloaf for a weekday family meal. My recipe involves a pound of ground beef, a grated raw potato, a grated raw onion, an egg, salt and pepper, and I was in the habit of studding the top of the dish with whole black peppercorns before it went into the oven. But one time I mistakenly reached for a jar of whole allspice instead of the peppercorns, and, unaware of this error, lightly tapped in six or seven over the top of the loaf before starting the cooking process. When a delicate fragrance soon filled my kitchen, I became mystified, for it was a subtle aroma not usually associated with meatloaf, which, after all, is hardly an exotic dish. When we sat down to dinner, everyone loved the new taste that had transformed my old standby recipe into something a little unusual, and ever since I have been using allspice whenever I make meatloaf.

Young chefs cross the invisible line in the kitchen

While I find such innovations delightful, in part because of their accidental origin, I am dubious about the deliberate attempt, especially by young chefs these days, to create new dishes by throwing all sorts of ingredients together.

Bacon, kale and salted caramel are the latest trendy foods to pop up with alarming regularity. In thumbing through new cookbooks, I spotted recipes for bacon in caramel corn, in s’mores, and sneaked into the streusel for an apple pie, all of which struck me as unappetizing. I found a kale recipe for what was dubbed a “green bloody Mary” because instead of tomato juice, it contained pulverized kale. A better name would have been “vampire bloody Mary,” since I like to think that vampire blood is green. All of these treatments are novelties that do not necessarily add to the taste of an altered dish. I must say, though, that I am more forgiving about the liberal use of salted caramel as long as it’s being added to a dessert and not to mashed potatoes.

To be sure, many deliberate innovations are delectable. Delicate pizzas made with bits of tender chicken and a touch of pesto, instead of gloppy red sauce and greasy melted cheese, come to mind. So does the combination of chocolate and hazelnuts, discovered by an ingenious Italian whose country makes the delectable gianduja, one of my all-time favorite confections.

Still, I like best my happy accidents, and do hope there will be more to come.

Main photo: Fried eggs in olive oil. Credit: iStockphoto / Aleksandar Georgiev

Read More
Kangaroo meat is sold at an Australian deli. Credit: Emily Contois

Eating more kangaroo meat likely ranks low on the list of food resolutions eaters have considered taking up in 2015. But should it?

“I, at first, didn’t tell them it was kangaroo.” So said the cheery Foodies’ Dream Tour guide at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia, about cooking “roo” for her sons. She assured our small group that the trick is in the cooking. Pop it on the barbecue for two to three minutes on one side, she instructed, with a quick sizzle on the other, and you are sure to enjoy a tender, juicy and flavorful bite of roo. “Truly superb,” she crooned.

Although cooking instructions vary from chef to chef, the key advice for preparing kangaroo is to avoid overcooking it, which can lead to a dry and all-too-chewy result. The risk is higher with kangaroo, which is a remarkably lean red meat that is low in saturated and trans fat, while offering up robust servings of iron and B vitamins. From animals that roam freely in the wild, kangaroo meat is free-range and not farmed — though the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia refers to kangaroo meat production as “harvesting,” which conjures a strange image in one’s agrarian imagination. To top off the list of its health benefits, kangaroo is considered ecologically friendly, especially compared with beef and lamb, since kangaroos require less water and produce less methane. Plus, their paws are kinder to the rangeland’s topsoil than cattle hooves.

Increasing sales

As our tour guide shared her cooking tips, she gestured to a nearby stall that has been selling kangaroo meat at the market for decades. Although the distinctly Aussie protein has not been popular in its homeland, the market has seen increased sales in recent years. Woods Aussie Deli in the market is well known for its kangaroo “jerkey,” lesser versions of which can be found at convenience stores and souvenir shops. Butchers in the meat hall and specialty shops in the Dairy Produce Hall (also known as the Deli Hall) at the Queen Victoria Market sell fresh and frozen kangaroo in vacuum-sealed pouches. Packaged kangaroo meat is also widely sold throughout Australia in the refrigerated meat sections of large chain grocery stores, such as Coles and Woolworths.

Restaurants in Australia, often though not always those that cater to tourists with “bush tucker” menus, also serve up kangaroo. Renowned chefs have even supported the Australian government and the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia to promote consumption of the hoppy marsupial. In 2008, six of Sydney’s top chefs — Tony Bilson, Jean-Paul Bruneteau, Sean Connolly, Darren Ho, John Leong and Ray Kersh — conducted a master class at a “Taste of Kangaroo” event attended by 150 members from the food and hospitality industry and food media. These chefs’ creations are now freely available in the pamphlet cookbook “Roocipes,” which features 80 kangaroo recipes.

Among the roocipes is Connolly’s kangaroo tartare, which serves kangaroo loin minced and raw at its best and juiciest, flavored with a concoction of Dijon mustard, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of Tabasco. A French chef devoted to Australian cuisine and native ingredients, Bruneteau has developed 16 recipes using kangaroo, including braised kangaroo shank, which calls for roasting several shanks, cut short, with root vegetables for 10 hours. At Little Truffle dining room and bar at Mermaid Beach, chef Daniel Ridgeway serves up multiple kangaroo dishes, including Flower Kangaroo, in which he folds a rich blend of kangaroo loin and egg whites through cream and braised kangaroo leg, piping the final seasoned mixture into picturesque zucchini flowers.

Eating roo, or not …

Despite its nutritional benefits, ecological profile, chef endorsement and increasingly haute allure, kangaroo meat consumption has been slow to take off among most Australians. Kangaroos have hopped across the Australian landscape for more than 100 million years and, as part of a traditional diet, Aboriginal people have consumed them for close to 60,000 years. Regardless of its ancient origins and heritage consumption, however, kangaroo meat is often negatively associated with pet food and roadkill, as cars pose the greatest threat to the animals in the wild. Indeed, much of the barrier for kangaroo meat in Australia is cultural, as the animal serves as a national emblem, appearing on the country’s coat of arms and as a symbol throughout popular culture.

The kangaroo meat industry also refers to low consumption as the “Skippy Syndrome,” referencing the television show “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” an animal program similar to “Lassie” and “Flipper,” which contributed to the national perception of kangaroos as cute, cuddly, friendly and wholly inedible. The kangaroo industry tackled the syndrome head on in 2005 with a culinary naming competition, seeking a title that would help kangaroo meat eaters forget Skippy the way venison assists deer meat lovers to shun thoughts of “Bambi” while enjoying their meal. Top submissions included kangarly, maroo, krou, maleen, kuja, roujoe, rooviande, jurru, ozru, marsu, kangasaurus, marsupan, jumpmeat and MOM (meat of marsupials). Australus was declared the palatable new moniker, though it has yet to make it into circulation.

As kangaroo consumption remains relatively low in Australia, the majority of the meat is exported, mostly to Europe and Russia, where it is an affordable meat option. Kangaroo meat has even bounded its way onto U.S. menus. In 2013, kangaroo steak (described as “tender like a sweet filet mignon”) became a surprise top seller at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis. At The Thirsty Koala, an Australian-themed restaurant in Astoria, N.Y., chef and co-owner Katherine Fuchs reports that kangaroo burgers, sliders and steaks outsell their beef counterparts. You can also bite into a juicy kangaroo burger at Crazee Burger in San Diego.

Will 2015 be the year you try roo?

Kangaroo Tartare

Sean Connolly’s Kangaroo Tartare recipe appeared in the kangaroo cookbook “Roocipes.” Connolly is a chef at both Sean’s Kitchen and Astral Restaurant in Sydney. Recipe courtesy of the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 French baguette

Salted butter

400 grams kangaroo loin minced

50 grams shallots finely chopped

50 grams gherkins finely chopped

10 grams parsley chopped

4 egg yolks

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Dash of Tabasco

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Thinly slice French baguette.

2. Spread each slice with salted butter, and bake in the oven until golden brown.

3. Place all the other ingredients in a stainless steel bowl.

4. Gently fold together with a metal spoon.

5. Serve with the crisp ficelle (baguette) croutons.

Main photo: Woods Aussie Deli in the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia, sells kangaroo “jerkey.” Credit: Emily Contois

Read More
Lemon and crab risotto is made with champagne.

There’s nothing sadder than dumping even part of a bottle of Champagne that’s lost its fizz the day after New Year’s. So don’t do it.

If you didn’t remember to stop up your leftover Champagne and put it in the fridge, plan to incorporate the rest of your sparkling into a couple of easy dishes and start 2015 with a burst of creativity in the kitchen. You can rest easy knowing one of the highlights of your holiday revelry did not go to waste.

Champagnes and sparkling wines lose their bubbles at different rates and based on several factors. The warmer the environment, the more quickly the Champagne will release the carbon dioxide bubbles and go flat. Sparkling wines nearly always differ in how much carbonation is in the bottle. But once you’ve determined your Champagne is flat, there’s a bevy of options to save its flavor.

Champagne adds body to marinades, contrast to fruit syrups, subtle nuance to your favorite risotto dish, sweetness to soup. Without its fizz, it has lost that effervescence that made it so attractive in the first place and likely tastes too off to drink by itself, but it is just as versatile and a lovely addition to some of your favorite dishes. Actually, any recipe incorporating white wine would do well with a dose of flattened Champagne, but there can be some lingering sweetness, so be sure to take that into account when choosing how to use it.

Even if you have a bottle that’s been sitting corked in your fridge for a week, you can use what’s left over to give some of your everyday dishes a big, ambitious kick (as in the case of the crab and lemon risotto recipe, below), or just a small dose of surprise (like in Champagne French toast). All it takes to impart the lasting flavor of most flattened Champagnes into your favorite dishes is about a quarter to half a cup of leftover sparkling.

Here are some great dishes to try once your Champagne has gone flat.

1. Lemon Crab Risotto With Mint and Hot Pepper Flakes

Set a saucepan with four cups chicken stock to medium on one burner. On another burner, in a large-mouthed pan, sauté 1/4 cup shallots in 2 tablespoons of butter until they are translucent but not brown. Add 2 cups Arborio rice and 1/4 cup leftover Champagne, stirring constantly. Stir until liquid has evaporated. Keep adding hot stock and stirring until the rice has plumped. When all the stock has been incorporated, stir in 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and the juice and rind from 1 lemon. Add 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese if desired. Just before serving, stir in 8 ounces of fresh crab meat. Garnish with hot pepper flakes and fresh torn mint leaves.

2. Champagne Syrup

In a saucepan, mix 1 cup leftover Champagne with 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Mix in the zest from one lemon plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. Add one cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for half an hour. Pour over your favorite pound cake, seasonal fruit or raspberries.

3. Sole Poached in Champagne

In a large, non-stick pan, sauté one chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until soft. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of  lemon rind and one finely chopped garlic cove. Lay fish on top of onions. Pour chopped tomatoes and parsley over fish, then pour 1/4 cup leftover Champagne around fish. Cover loosely with foil and cook over medium heat 8-10 minutes, or until fish flakes away.

4. Champagne Salad Dressing

Mix 1/2 cup mild-flavored extra virgin olive oil with 1/4 cup leftover Champagne, ¼ cup white wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

5. Champagne French Toast

Use your favorite French toasting bread (we recommend day-old Challah) cut into slices 1-inch thick. Mix four large eggs at room temperature with 1/2 cup half and half, 1/4 cup Champagne and a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of sea salt. Soak the bread in the egg and cream mixture for one minute and then fry in foamy hot butter on each side until golden.

6. Champagne Marinade for Salmon

Add 1/4 cup leftover Champagne to 1/3 cup olive oil. Mix 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard with 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves and 1/4 teaspoon thyme and a dash of salt and pepper. Marinate your favorite grilling fish in the marinade for at least two hours and brush with the marinade while grilling.

7. Champagne Soup

In a medium-sized saucepan, boil four cups vegetable stock with five de-skinned and chopped Anjou pears. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and 1 cup Champagne. Cook until pears are tender, about 10 minutes. Carefully puree the soup and stock until smooth in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Add the Champagne, lemon zest and juice and stir until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Main photo: Lemon and Crab Risotto With Mint and Red Pepper Flakes is an inspired way to use some of your leftover Champagne or sparkling wine. Credit: Emily Grosvenor

Read More
Pizza with spinach, eggplant, burrata cheese, and tongue headcheese or “pizza with bile and pus.” Credit: Clifford A. Wright

The popularity of zombie movies exploded in the past several years.

Since no one watches zombie movies alone, a New Year’s Eve party is perfect. From old zombie movies going all the way back to”White Zombie” from 1932 with Bela Lugosi to the long list of recent zombie hits, there’s not shortage of flicks to pick from. For food in front of the TV, popcorn is easiest, but here’s a fun idea: zombie pizza.

It’s a clever way to introduce offal, that is, zombies eat guts. Here are three pizzas that can be partially prepared ahead of time. An enclosed pizza is a “pizza with guts” made with lamb tripe, lamb kidney, veal sweetbread in a spicy-hot chile and tomato sauce. The second is “pizza with blood and thyroid,” made with tomato sauce to represent blood, comte cheese and fried veal sweetbread, which actually is thyroid gland. Finally, the “pizza with liver bile, gonads, and pus” is made with chopped cooked spinach to represent liver bile, roasted whole garlic (gonads), diced fried eggplant, burrata cheese and ricotta cheese to represent pus, and thin slices of tongue headcheese.

Pizza with sweetbreads and comte cheese or “pizza with blood and thyroid.” Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Pizza with sweetbreads and comte cheese or”pizza with blood and thyroid.” Credit: Clifford A. Wright

When I made this for my enthusiastic friends Erin and Deanna,  they thought that everything was representative and there were no real innards in the pizza. Erin later said “despite my insistence that no real’‘innards’ be included, my naïveté in believing that Cliff would honor that request got the better of me. I gobbled down all three slices of pizza with complete disregard to manners or napkins (do as the zombies do).” Both Erin and Deanna agreed the first pizza below was their favorite. I stayed away from liver because its taste is too strong, while sweetbreads are mild and flavorful.

When making this menu, prepare as much as you can ahead of time — a day ahead — so that they can be assembled quickly. Follow the instructions for making pizza using the following amounts, 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, 1 1/3 cup water, 4 1/2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt or to your taste. Once the dough is made, divide in half. Divide one half in half again for the two small balls called for in the first 2 pizzas below. The remaining large ball is used for the stuffed pizza.The prep and cooking times below assume the pizza dough is already made (see link instructions for dough prep time). I advise prepping almost everything the day before so that on New Year’s Eve you only have to roll the dough and bake the pizza with its topping or filling.

Pizza With Sweetbreads and Comte Cheese: ‘Pizza With Blood and Thyroid’

Yield: 8 slices

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 7 to 9 minutes

Total time: about 1 hour, 9 minutes

Ingredients

1/4 pound veal sweetbread

Water

3 tablespoons distilled vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil as needed

1 small pizza dough ball (see link above)

1/2 cup tomato purée

1/4 pound comte or Gruyère cheese, diced

Directions

1. Soak the sweetbread in water to cover with some vinegar for 20 minutes. Remove and place in a saucepan and cover with water. Turn the heat to medium and once the water is barely bubbling continue to poach the sweetbread until white and firm, 20 minutes. Remove and slice.

2. In a frying pan, cook the veal sweetbreads with a little olive oil over medium-high heat until golden, about 4 minutes. Remove and set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 550 F with two baking stones (preferably), one on top rack and one on the bottom rack.

4. Roll the pizza dough out on a floured work surface until about 14 inches in diameter. If you do not have a pizza peel, place the dough on a lightly oiled pizza pan.

5. Spread a tablespoon of olive oil over the dough. Spread some tomato purée over the pizza leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle the comte cheese over the pizza and arrange the sweetbread on top.

6. Slide the pizza peel under the pizza and place the pizza, using a quick jerk forward and then back onto the baking stone or place the pizza pan in the oven. Bake until blackened on the edges, 9 minutes (7 minutes in a convection oven).

Pizza With Spinach, Eggplant, Burrata Cheese, and Tongue Headcheese: ‘Pizza With Bile and Pus’

Yield: 8 slices

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 7 to 9 minutes

Total time: 47 to 49 minutes

Ingredients

1 head garlic, cloves separated with shin on

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound eggplant, peeled and diced

One 15-ounce can cooked spinach (with no preservatives), drained and rinsed, with excess liquid squeezed out, chopped

1 smaller pizza dough ball

5 ounces burrata or mozzarella cheese

2 ounces ricotta cheese

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 550 F with two baking stones (preferably), one on top rack and one on the bottom rack.

2. Place the garlic cloves in their skin on a piece of aluminum foil and roast until soft, about 12 minutes. Remove and remove their skin and set aside.

3. In a cast iron skillet heat the olive oil over high heat and when it is smoking add the eggplant and cook, stirring and turning, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4. Roll the pizza dough out on a floured work surface until about 14 inches in diameter. If you do not have a pizza peel, place the dough on a lightly oiled pizza pan.

5. Spread a tablespoon of olive oil over the dough. Spread the spinach to cover the surface leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle the eggplant and roasted whole garlic cloves on top and then lay the sliced tongue headcheese on top. Place the burrata and ricotta cheese on top.

6. Slide the pizza peel under the pizza and place the pizza, using a quick jerk forward and then back onto the baking stone or place the pizza pan in the oven. Bake until blackened on the edges, 9 minutes (7 minutes in a convection oven).

Stuffed pizza with mixed offal in spicy tomato sauce or “pizza with guts.” Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Stuffed pizza with mixed offal in spicy tomato sauce or pizza with guts.” Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Stuffed Pizza With Mixed Offal in Spicy Tomato Sauce

The filling for this enclosed pizza must be made the day before and refrigerated. The preparation of honeycomb tripe takes at least a day before you even begin the sauce, so buy smooth-skinned paunch tripe (usually available in Middle Eastern markets), which cooks faster. We called it “pizza with guts for zombie-watchers.”

Yield: 8 slices

Prep time: 12 hours

Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds lamb tripe (mixed tripe if possible and smooth paunch tripe if possible)

3 lamb kidneys, arteries removed

One 6-ounce can tomato paste

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cups dry red wine

1 ounce fresh red chiles, blended until smooth with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a food processor

1/4 pound veal sweetbread (optional, for its preparation for cooking see below)

1 1/2 teaspoons red chile flakes

1 bunch fresh oregano, tied together

3 bay leaves

Salt to taste

1 large ball of dough

Directions

1. Prepare the tripe by boiling it for about 6 hours, replenishing the water as it evaporates. Remove and cut into small pieces. Let it cool and congeal in its fat.

2. In a flameproof casserole, cook, stirring, the tripe and its fat, the kidneys, the tomato paste, garlic, red wine, and chile paste, over medium heat until bubbling, about 5 minutes. Cover with water, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours.

3. Add the sweetbread slices (if using), chile flakes, oregano, and bay leaves and continue to cook, partially covered, for 4 hours. Season with salt. Remove the kidneys and slice then return to the sauce.

4. Divide the dough in two and roll one out to about 14-inches in diameter and place in an oiled 14- to 16-inch round baking pan or pizza pan.

5. Heat the oven to 400 F.

6. Spread the filling over the dough and roll out the other half and place on top, sealing the edges by folding over slightly and pinching together. Bake until the pizza is golden, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

Main image: Pizza With Spinach, Eggplant, Burrata Cheese and Tongue Headcheese or”pizza with bile and pus.” Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Read More
Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Perugia is the more important of the two provinces of Umbria and in culinary terms is most famous for its chocolates. Perugina, the chocolate firm founded in 1907, makes chocolate kisses (baci) famous throughout Italy and even in the United States. It’s also the historic home of a novel Christmas cake.

A variety of sweets are made around Christmas such as pinoccate, little diamond-shaped sweets made of sugar and pine nuts, hence their name. They usually are made “black” with chocolate or “white” with vanilla. Locals say that the small cakes were made by Benedictine monks as early as the 14th century and are served to end lavish Christmas feasts.

A simple syrup is made until rather dense and then the same weight of pine nuts as the sugar is added and poured onto a marble slab to be shaped as one makes peanut brittle. The diamonds are cut and cooled, with half of each piece being chocolate and half vanilla. They are then wrapped in black and white pairs in festive and colorful Christmas paper.

Another Christmas delight from Perugia that is a bit easier to make is the symbolic eel or snake-shaped torciglione (twisted spiral) Christmas cake. The Perugina say it is shaped like an eel to represent the eels of nearby Lake Trasimeno, while others attribute a more symbolic meaning rooted in pagan times. The Greeks saw snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals; the snake’s skin shedding was a symbol of rebirth and renewal, an appropriate symbol at the time of the birth of Christ.

Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake)

In most of Umbria, but in particular around Lake Trasimeno in the province of Perugia, torciglione is a Christmas and New Year’s Eve sweet. It is also sometimes called a serpentone or biscione and it’s made as a symbol of luck. It is claimed that this sweet was developed in the 19th century by a master pastry cook, Romualdo Nazzani, who opened a cake shop in Reggio Emilia and created some magnificent sweets, such as biscione, which means “snake.”

This Christmas cake is made with an almond base and meringue topping decorated with candied peel to represent the eyes of the snake. In Christian iconography, the snake can represent temptation as it was in the Garden of Eden. Eating the snake is thought to bring luck.

Torciglione

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Baking time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound whole blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

3/4 pound (about 1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 tablespoons rum

Zest from 1 lemon

3 large egg whites, beaten until stiff

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 coffee beans

1 candied cherry

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a bowl, mix the almonds, sugar, rum, lemon zest and egg whites until a dense consistency.

3. On a buttered parchment paper-lined baking tray form the mixture into the shape of a snake. Place the pine nuts over its surface. Put the coffee beans in as eyes and the cherry as a tongue. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

 Main photo: Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Read More
Fresh Herb Meatballs are among the recipes featured in Michele Anna Jordan's book. Credit: Liza Gershman

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.

"More Than Meatballs" by Michele Anna Jordan

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.”

Michele Anna Jordan. Credit: Courtesy of Michele Anna Jordan

Michele Anna Jordan. Credit: Courtesy of Michele Anna Jordan

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.

Michele Anna Jordan uses caul fat to wrap meatballs. Credit: Liza Gershman

Michele Anna Jordan uses caul fat to wrap meatballs. Credit: Liza Gershman

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”).

The Global Meatball. Illustration credit: L. John Harris, 1990

The Global Meatball. Illustration credit: L. John Harris, 1990

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.”

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!”

The Meatball

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

Ingredients

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
Kosher salt
Black pepper in a mill
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
Whole nutmeg
2 large pastured eggs, beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, or 6 ounces caul fat
Olive oil

Directions

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

Read More
A slice of fried spaghetti makes the perfect finger food. Credit: Giovanni Castiello, Maistri Pastai

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.

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.”

Penne pasta filled with a purée makes for a finger food. Credit: Andrea Mattei

Penne pasta is filled with a purée of dried sea cod and other Tuscan ingredients. Credit: Andrea Mattei

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 can easily be baked in mini-muffin tins. Credit: "Pasta Modern"

Pasta Cups can easily be baked in mini-muffin tins. Credit: “Pasta Modern”

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.

Ingredients

Olive oil

2 eggs

3 tablespoons grated grana padano, Parmesan or other aged cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 pound angel hair or other long thin pasta

Salt

Optional ingredients: salami, pesto, anchovy, prosciutto, cheese etc.

Directions

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)

Macaroni fritters are crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

Macaroni fritters are crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Read More
Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque, N.M., makes a golden turkey -- out of bread. Credit: Golden Crown Panaderia

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.

“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.

GoldenCrown1

GoldenCrown1
Picture 1 of 5

Golden Crown Panaderia's storefront sells traditional New Mexican bakery items such as its biscochito wedding cookies. Credit: Emily Grosvenor

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

Read More