The Food Almanac: Thursday, July 25, 2013

It's International Antipasto Day!
Andrew McMillan

Today's Flavor
This is International Antipasto Day. The word translates from the Italian as "before the repast," and that's just where you find it. Restaurants in Italy place it so far ahead of the main part of dinner that the antipasto is typically on a table just inside the front door. Here in New Orleans, most of us know antipasto as a plate of prosciutto, salami, cheeses, and olives, served ice-cold. 

While all of those items are commonly found on an antipasto spread, the good ones go far beyond to include a wealth of marinated and fresh vegetables: eggplant several ways, mushrooms, asparagus, escarole, carrots, green beans, and whatever else is fresh. Seafood is also common, particularly cephalopods like squid and octopus. The common thread running through most of this is olive oil, along with garlic and herbs. All of this is served at cool room temperature, releasing maximum flavor and aroma.

When chefs with more recent ties to Italy began opening restaurants here, antipasto began diversifying. The two restaurants that offer the best versions are Andrea's and Cafe Giovanni. Other Italian restaurants are expanding their selections. And you can buy a fine assortment of antipasto at stores with good gourmet-to-go sections. It's a great first course, especially in these hot months.

The Web says that today is National Hot Fudge Sundae Day. The most famous hot fudge sundae routinely served around New Orleans is what the waiters call a Walgreen (but not officially) at Antoine's. It's a ring of meringue baked stiff, topped with vanilla ice cream, chopped nuts, and chocolate sauce.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Olive is a rural crossroads (of the Old Olive Road and Olive Hamlet Road) in western Kentucky, thirty-five miles southeast of Paducah and the Ohio River. It's ten miles west of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a long, narrow park between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, both of which are impounded and have formed lakes. The nearest place to eat is the Crossroads, three and a half miles south.

Edible Dictionary
caponata, Italian, n.--An antipasto dish made with eggplant, tomatoes, olives, capers, celery, onions, vinegar and olive oil, in decreasing amounts. It's Sicilian in origin. The name is a Sicilian dialect word whose origin is unknown. In any place that was blessed with a significant Sicilian immigration (New Orleans among them), caponata is likely to be found, served at room temperature by itself or as part of an antipasto platter. From family to family, recipes differ in the amounts of tomato and sugar. It's usually at least a little sweet.

Deft Dining Rule #229
An Italian restaurant must have at least ten varieties of antipasto if it is to be taken seriously as cooking faithfully to the cuisine.

Culinary Influences Through History
Today in 1805, former Vice-President Aaron Burr--killer of Alexander Hamilton and paragon of amorality--visited New Orleans with the idea of forming a new country out of the Louisiana Purchase territory. He would have made New Orleans its capital. I wonder what that would have been like. Founded by a complete rogue like Burr, such a thing held the promise of astounding intrigue. What a novel that would make! Hmm.

Food Inventions
The Japanese food company Ajinomoto, which makes about a third of the world's monosodium glutamate (MSG), was organized today in 1908. One of its founders, Kikunae Ikeda, discovered that soup stocks made with the sea kelp konbu taste good because they contain MSG. He isolated the compound and patented it, thereby creating the basis for the company. MSG has a terrible reputation among consumers, even though no scientific tests have revealed that it causes any ill effects. Cooks have know of its flavor-enhancing properties for a long time. It is more widely used in Creole cooking than most people know.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. His name translates as "Christ-bearer," and he's depicted as carrying the baby Jesus across the water. He likely was mythological. A restaurant in Slidell was once named for him: St. Christopher's Curve Inn, on US 11 at the point where it swerved away from the railroad tracks, was where everybody stopped for a (bad) bite to eat through the 1970s. Famous local restaurateurs named for the saint include Chris Kerageorgiou, the founder of La Provence; and Chris Matulich, who opened Chris Steak House (and later sold it to Ruth). Both have left us. Chris Vodonovich, who ran Bozo's for over fifty years, is still with us, but retired. Chris Ycaza manages the dining room and wine cellar at Galatoire's.

People I'd Like To Dine With Again
This would be the ninety-ninth birthday of Joseph Fitzmorris, my father. He was not a gourmet and never went to restaurants, but he did have some strong ideas about food. He pointed out how much better a poor boy sandwich becomes when the bread is warmed. He had a passion for pasta with brown sauces, which my mother never would make for him for some reason. He died after eating a plate of crawfish etouffee my mother made for them. It's the way I'd like to go. . . Also having a birthday today is Clark Marter, The Gourmet Truck Driver. He found my radio show about fifteen years ago when the station was left on by the previous driver of his eighteen-wheeler. He's listened ever since, frequently calls in, has come to a few Eat Club dinners, and will be joining us on the Caribbean cruise next February. Clark is the great-nephew of trumpet great Harry James.

Music To Dine Noisily By
Bob Dylan was booed off the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival today in 1965. He dared to appear with an electric, amplified guitar rather than his customary acoustic equipment. It doesn't seem like a big deal now, but I wish it were. Why do musicians feel the need to play so loudly? This is true in virtually every place where live music is played, but especially in restaurants. It's always too loud.

Food Namesakes
The movie about the racehorse Seabiscuit premiered today in 2003. . . Harold Peary, who portrayed The Great Gildersleeve on classic radio and in movies, was born today in 1908. He was a serious gourmet and quite a good singer, but he was best known for his mischievous laugh. . . Bob Lemon became the manager of the Yankees today in 1978. (Second consecutive day that Lemon turned up here.) . . .Relief pitcher Larry Sherry, the MVP of the 1959 World Series, relieved his mother today in 1959.

Words To Eat By
"Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt."--Judith Olney, American food writer.

Related Stories
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Words To Drink By
"I rather like bad wine. One gets so bored with good wine."--Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister of England in the late 1800s.