The Food Almanac: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's National Tortellini Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ scott feldstein



In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Days Until. . . 
Valentine's Day--1

It is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the day after Mardi Gras. Today is the day that very devout Catholics give up meat for the duration of Lent (although the letter of the law says one only has to abstain on Fridays and today). Whether or not you're religious, I think it's probably a good idea to take a month and a half off from lavish, fatty, meaty eating. Enough people do so that restaurants take a business hit for the first week or two of Lent. Steakhouses tough it out for about a week, then start freaking out and running seafood specials.

Looking at the other side of this, it must be noted that eating only seafood for any prescribed period of time is no penance in New Orleans. Lent comes at one of the best times of year for eating seafood. Oysters are at their peak. Crawfish are here and improving week by week. In a few weeks, we'll start seeing soft shell crabs. Lots of fish are available right now. If Lent did not exist, we'd probably want to invent a Seafood-Eating Festival to highlight all these riches.

Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
Char-Broiled Oysters @ Drago's, CBD: 2 Poydras. 504-584-3911. ||Metairie: 3232 N Arnoult Rd. 504-888-9254. It's a simple dish, a fact that kept fancy restaurants from offering it until the dish became such a phenomenon that almost any restaurant with a local theme had to add it to the menu. Shucking oysters is the first step, and most chefs don't want any part of that. So it fell to the city's great oyster specialist to create and serve them, by the hundreds of sacks per week, to people willing to wait quite some time for them. Are they really as good as all that? Yes. Why? Because the oysters are so good. Which also explains why other restaurants never quite get it up to Drago's standard.

In the unlikely case that you never had them before, Drago's char-broiled oysters are shucked fresh, blasted by fire and steam on an open grill, basted with a lot of garlic-herb butter, dusted with Parmigiano cheese, and left on the grill till the juices bubble. Simple, yes. But so good that you can eat dozens of them and still want more. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans Restaurants. The entire list is here.

Food Calendar
The buzz on the Web is that today is National Tortellini Day. Tortellini come from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. They're small ravioli--little pillows of pasta usually rolled up around the stuffing instead lying flat. The filling is most often cheese, but spinach, tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, or other fillings--more often vegetable than meat--can be enclosed in tortellini. A slightly large variation is called tortelloni, which no doubt has its own special day. My favorite tortellini (or tortelloni) dish is a salad Chef Ron Wilemon of Allegro Bistro made at a party once. I badgered him for the recipe, and I have it below, in the Recipes department.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Fish Creek runs through a rugged desert canyon named for it in the Superstition Mountains, sixty-two miles east of the center of Phoenix, Arizona. Fish Creek is a tributary of the Salt River, and feeds a reservoir upstream from springs at about 1500 feet. A picnic area near the reservoir looks interesting. If you didn't make up a basket, you can dine at Apache Lake Restaurant, four miles west in Tortilla Flats.

Edible Dictionary 
Bluefin Tuna, Gulf bluefin tuna is the species that you may have heard of selling for thousands of dollars per fish, with the buyers often as not being Japanese. Bluefin tunas weigh hundreds of pounds, with the record being 1496 pounds. Its size puts it at the top of the ocean food chain. It also explains its desirability to man as a food fish. It's a little too desirable, frankly, resulting in its being overfished. It's hard to eat bluefin tuna with a clear conscience. 

Bluefin tuna flesh is amazing to behold. In its best parts, it shows no flake structure at all. It's solid meat, with an amazing silky texture. It's deep maroon in color, with a beautiful bright highlight. The flavor is vivid and wonderful. If you're going to eat bluefin, the only way to go is sashimi. No rice, no searing, none of that. Raw, all by itself. It's is better and much more expensive than standard yellowfin ("ahi") tuna.

Annals Of Food Research
G. Brown Goode was born today in 1851. His contribution to our tables was a new two-volume atlas of the fisheries of the United States, published in the 1880s. It was the first resource with its scope, and included over 500 etchings of the many species of fish and shellfish that were caught and sold at the time.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: 
If you have to light a stove burner with a strike-anywhere match, it will never ignite properly on its own ever again. Unless that happened to be your last match.

Food In Sho-Biz 
In 1972, the musical Grease opened on Broadway. A year later exactly, another musical, El Grande de Coca-Cola opened in New York City. A movie called Kitchen Stories premiered on this date in 2004. It was a comedy about making one's kitchen work by the assembly-line method. I hear it wasn't very funny. What was funny was a 1932 Our Gang episode called Free Eats. It featured the debut of George "Spanky" McFarland in the series.

Music To Chew Bubble Gum By
On the musical side of sho-biz, today in 1967 the Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever was released. . . The Osmond Family had a Number One hit on this day in 1971, with their song One Bad Apple.

Food Namesakes
Eddie Pye, infielder for the Dodgers, was born today in 1967. . . German artist George Schrimpf was born today in 1889. . . Canadian musician Jeff Waters of Annihilator was born today in 1966.

Words To Eat By 
"All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow."--Grant Wood, artist, who was born today in 1892.

Related Stories
Most Expensive Bluefin Tuna Goes for $736,000Pacific Bluefin Tuna Population Down 96 Percent, Study Finds

"Fish should smell like the tide. Once they smell like fish, it's too late."--Oscar Gizelt, former manager of Delmonico's in New York.