Foodstuff Fun For Today

Tom Fitzmorris January 28, 2020 11:19 Almanac

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

No Burmese Pepsi. Charlemagne. Lasagna. Prient-Strangler. Colette. Fra Diavolo.

Annals Of Royalty

Today is the feast day of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. He died on this day in 814, of natural causes, after a great life. He united much of western Europe for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, and set a new standard of civilization and government. His dining style was revolutionary, too. Charlemagne had banquets at which roses were scattered over the tables and food was eaten with implements, not fingers. (The implements were mostly knives, the fork having not yet been invented.) One of the world's greatest white wines is named for him: Corton Charlemagne, all Chardonnay, big and rich. He never became a saint, but he was beatified.

Food Calendar

Many Web sources are reporting that today is National Blueberry Pancake Day. It's amazing that one can find fresh blueberries with which to make these right now; blueberries are completely out of season in America. They are, however, growing nicely and ready to fly or float in from Chile. They're not even all that expensive. Still, this doesn't seem like the right day for this, what with pancakes being one of the traditions of Shrove Tuesday--which this year is nearly a month off.

More pulse-pounding is the knowledge that this is Lasagna Day. The cold weather likely on this date makes a big casserole dish full of meaty, saucy, cheesy, heartwarming lasagna seem perfect. Lasagna is a long time in the oven--what could be better than a winter day for that?

Like many dishes, lasagna is named for the container in which it is made. In this case, it's a little disquieting. The Greek word from which lasagna descends meant "chamber pot." This tells us the first versions were baked in large, deep dishes. The ingredients and their assembly probably evolved from the many-layered, baked casseroles (Greek moussaka is the most familiar) that are still found in the Balkans. Lasagna as we know it--with its layers of cheese, meat, and sauce--is probably not much more than a hundred years old.

However, recently a story broke in England claiming that the dish originated there. This is not entirely incredible, because layered dishes (shepherd's pie) are also of long-standing in the Isles. 

The current controversy among cooks of lasagna in America is whether the dry noodles (flat, broad sheets, sometimes wavy at the edges) should be layered into the dish cooked or uncooked. Both seem to work, but we have a better idea: the best lasagna is made with fresh (undried) pasta sheets, uncooked.

Edible Dictionary

strozzapreti, n.--Another pasta shape whose name seems to have been chosen to call attention to it. This name means "priest strangler." There are several explanations. The one that rings most true is that the pasta is made by rolling wide ribbons of pasta dough into what looks like a wrung-out towel. The motion needed to do this might well be the same used to choke a person. Why the victim should be a priest is hard to figure. Because this is essentially a tube with an open side, it picks up more sauce than, say, penne. The only restaurant in New Orleans where I've seen it is the sadly defunct Kenner Ristorante Da Piero.

Deft Dining Rule #834: You should never be able to finish a restaurant serving of lasagna comfortably.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: The perfect lasagna has exactly twice as much cheese--both in kind and in quantity--as it has meat.

Annals Of Food Writing  

This is the birthday, in 1873, of Sidonie Gabrielle Colette, a French novelist who wrote under her last name alone. She was highly quotable on the subject of eating and drinking. Here are a few of her memorable lines:

"The three great stumbling blocks in a girl's education are homard a l'Americaine, a boiled egg, and asparagus."

"As he chops, cut, slices, trims, shapes, or threads through the string, a butcher is as good a sight to watch as a dancer or a mime."

"If you aren't up to a little magic occasionally, you shouldn't waste time trying to cook."

"If I can't have too many truffles, I'll do without truffles."

Beverages Around The World  

Today in 1997, Pepsico pulled out of Myanmar (Burma), because of human rights concerns. So added to the onus of living under communism, the Burmese people were forced to live their lives without lime Pepsi, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.

Music To Dine By

Today in 1830, Daniel-François-Esprit Auber's opera Fra Diavolo opened in Paris. It was about a reprobate from Naples bearing the same name as the opera. Fra Diavolo means "brother devil." It appears on Italian menus as a spicy dish of shellfish (shrimp and lobster, most commonly) and a peppery red sauce.

Food Namesakes

Today in 1945, General "Vinegar" Joe Stilwell reopened the Burma Road from that country to China, a victory in World War II. . . Jackson Pollock, the painter famous for dripping paint on canvases, was born today in 1912. (Pollock is the northern Pacific fish used to make fake crabmeat.). . . Marty Fried, drummer for the 1960s rock band the Cyrkle (who opened for the Beatles when they toured America) was born today in 1944. . . Jan Lamb--Hong Kong stand-up comedian, radio personality, and voice-over artist--bleated his first today in 967.

Words To Eat By

"Voluptuaries, consumed by their senses, always begin by flinging themselves with a great display of frenzy into an abyss. But they survive, they come to the surface again. And they develop a routine of the abyss: 'It's four o clock. At five I have my abyss.'"--Colette, French playwright and author, born today in 1873.