October 17


Days Until. . .


Today's Flavor

Someone has proclaimed this National Pasta Day. The National Pasta Association makes no note of this, but they have a pretty good web site, describing most of the common shapes of pasta, telling you (with a cartoon logo) that you should eat pasta three times a week, and explaining why American pasta is the best there is (a falsehood). One thing we know for sure about pasta is that almost everybody likes it, and that it or some variation is now eaten almost everywhere in the world. Many stories purport to explain the origins of pasta. The story that Marco Polo brought it from China to Italy seems to be untrue (there are references to maccheroni before his time). But it does seem to have first been eaten in the Far East. It's such a simple food that it seems likely that anyone who turned grain into flour figured it out. Pasta is flour and water blended together to make a thick paste (the Italian word for which is "pasta") which is then dried. In that form it can be stored for long periods of time without deterioration. Which is the explanation behind many dishes we eat. In this case, the preservation method created something inherently good to eat, and its popularity spread. Many books have been written about pasta. We will limit ourselves here to a few favorite facts and tips: Use thin pasta for thin sauces, thick pasta for thick sauces, shaped pasta for chunky sauces. Cook pasta in an oversized pot with enough water that when it's at a rolling boil, the pasta also rolls around. The best way to serve most pasta is to drain it, put it into the pan with the sauce, toss it around, then put it on the plate. Our American style of dumping the sauce over a mound of pasta on a plate is backwards, and prevents the sauce from properly coating the pasta. Fresh pasta is best when you're making a dish requiring sheets of pasta: lasagna, ravioli, cannelloni, and that sort of thing. Otherwise, use good quality dried pasta. It has a better texture.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Beans is a town that really came out of its shell when a dam on the Holston River backed up water into a reservoir called Cherokee Lake. Beans is right on the western edge of the reservoir, and what was formerly a poor farming town in the hills of extreme eastern Tennessee is now a place of docks and boathouses and recreation. It's on US 11W, highway that runs from New Orleans to Canada. Beans even has a restaurant: the Valley Bar and Grill/ I hope they have red beans.

Edible Dictionary

stracciatella (soup), [strah-chya-TELL-ah], Italian, n.--A soup made with chicken broth, spinach, Parmigiana cheese, and egg whites. The name means "torn up," an apt description of the most distinctive aspect of this Roman soup. When the egg whites are stirred into the hot broth, they set instantly into thin scraps that do look like rags. Although the flavor is completely different, this trick with the eggs is identical to that found in Chinese egg-drop soup. Good soup to eat when you have a cold, especially if it's made a little spicy with red pepper flakes.

Cocktails In The Sky

Today in 1949, Northwest Orient Airlines served cocktails, wine, and beer on one of its flights--the first time alcoholic beverages had ever been served to passengers on a plane in flight. It's so obviously a good idea it's a wonder they waited so long. Cocktail service went down with all other kinds of food and drink service in the 1980s, but a few bright spots remain. The Mile-High Mojitos on Delta are good enough that I look forward to them.

Annals Of Food Entrepreneurship

Too many kids are introduced to pasta through the agency of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Charles Kraft, who with his brother James founded the Kraft Cheese Company, was born today in 1880. It broadened in the 1940s enough to rename itself Kraft Foods. Nobody could ever accuse Kraft of shooting too high. They brought us Velveeta, American cheese food, aerosol spray cheese, spreadable cheese in little jars, Parkay margarine, and lots of other uninteresting products. And that miserable macaroni and cheese on a box.

Famous Names In Cognac

Louis XIII was crowned king of France today in 1610. He was eight years old, and his father, Henri IV, had just been assassinated. With Cardinal Richelieu as his protector and advisor, he reigned for thirty-three years. Remy Martin named its most expensive, oldest Cognac for him. Louis XIII Cognac has a substantial amount of century-old brandy in its blend, and is currently selling for upwards of $1600 a bottle. The bottle itself is a collector's item, made of Baccarat crystal in a Belle Epoque design.

Deft Dining Rules #300

Unless money doesn't matter at all to you, under no circumstances should you ever say these words in a bar: "Bring me the best Cognac in the house!" Louis XIII Cognac, which a surprising number of restaurant bars have in stock, sells for well over $100 a shot. And there are others in that category.

Annals Of Beer

In London today in 1814, a wooden tank containing some 135,000 gallons of beer failed, and the wave of beer that emerged blew out several other tanks. Nearly 400,000 gallons of beer flooded the town. The beer wave peaked at around fifteen feet, destroying two houses and killing nine people.

Food Namesakes

Gundaris Pone, composer and conductor, took the podium of life today in 1932. . . William "Candy" Cummings, a pitcher from the earliest years of baseball, inventor of the curve ball, and Hall of Fame member, stepped onto the Big Mound today in 1848. . . Rapper Eminem was born today in 1972. . . Mark Peel, Australian writer and historian, was born today in 1959. . . American hockey pro Francis Bouillon hit the Big Ice today in 1975.

Words To Cook By

"Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it."--Unknown, born today in 1903.

Words To Drink By

"There is no danger of my getting scurvy [while in England], as I have to consume at least two gin-and-limes every evening to keep the cold out."--S. J. Perelman, American comic screenwriter, who died today in 1979.