Saturday, September 24, 2011

A week of wheatavoring

One can eat well as a wheatavore. We just spent a week in Seattle and Victoria, B.C. and we ate great wheat every day. From veggie arrabiata at Fiamo in Victoria and carta di musica atTutta Bella in Wallingford (Italian), to croissants and palmiers at LePanier (French) in Pike Street Market, to udon at Boom Noodles (Japanese) at University Village to naan and samosas at Pabla (Indian) in Renton, the wheat dishes came from around the world.

                                             Pappardelle's at Pike Street Market

We found wheat to take home as well, from Pappardelle's Pasta in Pike Street Market across from Sosio's produce stand. The company has a website, and sells online as well. We took Extreme Habanero back to Anchorage to try ourselves, and Calypso, a mix of lime, mango-peach, and red Southwestern chile lumache shells for a friend. We didn't have room in our carrry-ons for the dark chocolate linguini, so will have to order that.

Pappardelle's gives out recipes, both on the website, and with each package of pasta purchased. But it's easy to think of interesting twists. The recipes offered for the chocolate pastas focus on desserts, with ice cream and chocolate sauce and fresh raspberries. Hard to beat that, but how about trying the chocolate gemelli instead of a plain pasta in this cacao and zucchini absorbtion recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini blog? Or use the Extreme Habanero radiatore with that chocolate sauce and rich vanilla ice cream -- a livelier dessert than most.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gilding the lily – pasta with bread crumbs

We walked to Barnes and Noble this evening, delighting in the long sunset brightening the sky. There are unnerving new open spaces even since our visit a couple of weeks ago – bookstores are meant to be lined with books, not minimalist in their displays of them. On many of the remaining shelves, bright-colored puzzles and board games replaced the books, not offering knowledge or new worlds but entertainment. I felt it critical to buy something papered and wordy as a small statement of my view of the real worth of bookstores, so picked up a “Lonely Planet” travel magazine and the October 2011 issue of “La Cucina Italiana.”

“La Cucina Italiana” features pasta this month, with many of the recipes relying on the eternal marriage of pasta and tomatoes using different shapes and methods of preparation:

tagliolini all’uovo con passata fresca casalinga (fresh egg tagliolini with homemade tomato sauce)
elich con salsa di san marzano e ortaggi aromatici (pasta with fresh plum tomato sauce)
spaghetti con pomodori al forno (spaghetti with oven roasted tomatoes)
mezzi paccheri con pomodorini ciliegia all marinara (mezzi paccheri with cherry tomoato marinara sauce)
tortiglioni con salsa di pelati (tortiglioni with tomato sauce)
linguine con polpa fresca in dadolata (lingune with fresh chopped tomatoes)
linguine con san marzano e erbe (linguine with plum tomatoes and herbs)

 The pappa al pomodoro, Tuscan tomato and bread soup, sounded very much like the linguine con polpa fresca in dadolata and the linguine con san marzano e erbe except that it used bread instead of pasta. 

      But my favorite was spaghettoni con mollica e pomodoro – spaghetti with breadcrumbs and tomatoes – that managed to gild the lily by topping pasta and tomato sauce with bread crumbs roasted in olive oil. Besides the La Cucina Italiana recipe (in the magazine, but not on the website), dozens of recipes for pasta featuring breadcrumbs with other ingredients are available on the Internet, including  with sardines, from the New York Times (, or from the Food Network (; with mixed chopped olives (; or with fried peppers and anchovies and tomatoes ( That last is the one I will try next time I get a chance to cook. The idea of toasted bread crumbs on top of pasta is irresistible and the fried peppers must be the perfect finish.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Wonder bread vs. the artisan loaf -- moral choice or economic?

In 2011, the person eating the peasant loaf at $4.50 from the artisan organic bakery is likely to be not the peasant, but someone who is looking for more subtle values embodied in the bread than simply a sandwich that the kids will eat. Is it elitism, or love for food? Is it deadly, or just good food that’s affordable and quick to fix? Is the bread you eat a moral choice, or a function of your income and class?

Throughout history bread has marked social status, with white and wheaten bread reserved for the better-off, and barley and brown bread for the lower classes. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, in Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food, says: “White bread has enjoyed, for most of history, universal esteem because it seems to embody refinement: compared with its brown and black cousins, it is the product of a longer process, a more intense use of labor . . . [and] often involves superior – that is, costlier – grains.” (p. 126)

Bread isn’t the only food used to symbolize choices that can be as easily characterized as moral as they can be described as related to income and class. Recently, Anthony Bourdain was quoted in a TV Guide article as saying that Paula Deen was “The worst, most dangerous person to America . . .” because the food she recommends is “ killing us.” Paula Deen responded by arguing that the issue was one of social class and resources rather than morals. In a New York Post interview responding to Bourdain, Deen said, “You know, not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills . . . It wasn’t that long ago that I was struggling to feed my family, too.” 

A New York Times food writer, Frank Bruni, summed up the dispute by saying:  “. . . To give [Bourdain] his due: we are too fat and must address that. But getting Deen to unplug the waffle iron doesn’t strike to the core of the problem any more than posting fast-food calorie counts or taxing soft drinks do. A great deal of American obesity is attributable to the dearth of healthy food that’s affordable and convenient in low- and even middle-income neighborhoods, and changing that requires a magnitude of public intervention and private munificence that are unlikely in such pinched times.”

Another observer of the freight that food carries besides its nutritional values is artist Judith Klausner, whose toast slices embroidered with patterns that mimic mold and cameo-carved Oreo cookies are meant to carry a message about class and society. In an interview with Here and Now, she said, “Ideally we should work towards having a future where fresh and local food isn’t more expensive and everyone can afford it,” she said.  “But I think right now having it cast entirely as a moral question really glosses over the issue of class that’s involved.” By using familiar food as the basis for works of art she “hopes to challenge the mindset that things were ‘better back when,’ for instance, before corn syrup and 15-letter preservatives.” The Oreos and toast are part of a recent series of works, “From Scratch,” in which “Klausner tries to draw attention to the little-discussed benefits of the rise of processed food. She argues that processed foods let women spend less time cooking from scratch and freed them up to a world of new choices.”

“‘When you have someone in every household whose dedicated full-time job whether they liked it or not was to cook everything from scratch– yes, you’re going to have everything made at home,’ she told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. ‘But that means that women didn’t have choices, and I think we’re in a much better position now.’” 

Her point emphasizes the social class again – in households where the food was made “from scratch” by servants, presumably the women supervising the servants were free to make other choices. The fact that those choices often were limited to embroidery of the sort that Klausner now applies to toast suggests the complexity that underlies societies, and the fact that the symbolism can only take the discussion so far and no further.