The Food Almanac: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Pasta Day!
Stu Spivak

Use thin pasta for thin sauces, thick pasta for thick sauces, shaped pasta for chunky sauces.

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.

Lots of stories are told as to where pasta originated. 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. Without question, the best way to serve pasta is to drain it, then 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
Noodles Lake is in the northern part of Michigan's southern peninsula, a rolling, mostly forested expanse with a few farms here and there. It's an actual fresh water lake, created by glacial scraping, about a half-mile long, 150 feet wide, and shallow. If you drop your line in it you may well catch a fish or two. Noodles Lake is along a system of recreational trails, and you can camp nearby. The nearest restaurant is the well-named Rustic Inn, four miles west near Lewiston.

Edible Dictionary
orecchiette, n., Italian--It translates as "little ears," and that's exactly what this pasta resembles. More exactly, they resemble human ears as drawn by a cartoonist. The best made kind go beyond a basic shell shape to include a natural-looking ridge inside the concave part of the pasta. Kids like orrecchiete, but gourmet pasta eaters will find that this shape works exceptionally well with chunkier sauces. The ears scoop up the tomato pulp as well as the liquid part of the sauce.

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 in 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. Over 300,000 gallons of beer flooded the town, 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.

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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.