The Food Almanac: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Gourmets Through History

Enrico Caruso was born today in 1873. just in time to become one of the first stars of recorded music. In Italian restaurants across America, dishes are named after the famous operatic tenor, but they differ from place to place. No one classic dish bears his name. Caruso was such a hearty eater that there really ought to be such a dish. Searches through cookbooks turn up a wide range of namesake Caruso dishes with sauces including everything from cream to prosciutto to spinach.

Deft Dining Rule #120:

If a restaurant names a dish after you and you haven't done anything of note, you can claim to be either a gastronome or a high roller.

Annals Of Bad Cooking

Today in 1859, the temporary insanity defense was first used to establish the innocence of a defendant. Little did the lawyer involved guess that the innovation would appear in a dining venue. Some years ago, I complained about a dish in a little French Quarter restaurant, now long gone. It paired flounder and pralines. When the waiter returned to the table after passing my comment along to the chef, he said, "We'll take it off the check. The chef pleads insanity." I never ran into that chef again.

Today's Flavor

Today is National Celery Day. For most people, celery is strictly a background performer in cooking. Not even chefs who note every ingredient of every dish on their menus often mention celery. It's one third of the holy trinity of Creole cooking. But it doesn't step out into the foreground nearly as onions and bell peppers. It's hard to think of a dish in which celery is the main ingredient, but I will advance two. Braised celery, served as a vegetable side dish, is better than you might imagine. And celery cream soup is delicious.

In its usual role as a part of the flavor team, however, celery is indispensable. Imagine a bloody mary, tuna salad, stocks, or vegetable soup without it. Its flavor is subtle but distinctive, containing a slight acidity and an aromatic flavor reminiscent of anise. In some uses, celery's flavor improves a dish dramatically. Triple the amount of celery in your recipe for red beans, and it becomes much more delicious than you might imagine.

Celery has been used for food and cooking in Europe since ancient times. It developed from wild plants that still grown around the Mediterranean. We almost don't have to say that celery's good for you. Its natural diuretic properties can actually bring blood pressure down. Eating it fills you up while adding very few calories to your intake.

I also see that it's National Chocolate Covered Peanuts Day. I believe we are mainly talking about Goobers here.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Garlic Island, Michigan is just off the north coast of the Upper Peninsula, in Lake Superior. It's about the size of a football field. It's across a small channel from Granot Loma Estate, a grand mansion built in 1919, now on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been called the Biltmore Estate of Michigan. Garlic Island appears to be completely private, so don't go there. Instead, head back to Marquette and have lunch at Villa Capri, twelve miles away.

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.

Annals Of Food Research

Donald McLean, a Scottish botanist, was born today in 1922. He had a passion for potatoes, and through his lifetime he collected three hundred sixty-seven different kinds of spuds.

Food In Show Biz

Today is the birthday (1913) of actor Jim Backus. He is most famous as Thurston Howell III, the rich guy who was always portrayed with a martini in his hand on Gilligan's Island. His voice was so distinctive that he had a busy voice-over career, too. His most famous voice was that of the visually-impaired cartoon character Mr. Magoo.

Zeppo Marx was born today in 1901. He was in the Marx Brother's early movies, but later he became the business manager for Groucho, Chico, and Harpo for their many food-named movies: Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, and the rest of them.

Food Namesakes

Actress Diane Baker was born today in 1938. . . The well-named comedian Carrot Topsprouted today in 1965. . . Big league first baseman Danny Cater hit the Big Basepath today in 1940.

Words To Eat By

"The thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified me." — George Bernard Shaw, about a vegetarian dinner. He was a vegetarian himself.

Words To Drink By

"The soft extractive note of an aged cork being withdrawn has the true sound of a man opening his heart." — William Samuel Benwell.