Eat This Word: Madeleines

 

WHAT? Sweet seashells. These delicate, scallop-shaped cookies have a history that long predates Proust's memory stimulant. Culinaria France recounts what sounds like a legend to us, that the cookies first became popular back in the 18th-century, when the Duke of Lorraine, a consummate party host, found himself short a pastry chef while entertaining one night. With no time to spare, the Duke was forced to turn to his chambermaid Madeleine to create sweets for his guests. She whipped up her grandmother's airy, bite-sized cakes and, thus, the madeleine was born. Chances are her grandmother, if she existed, came from Commercy, the town whose bakers have been known for centuries throughout France for their delicate, hump-back madeleines. The batter is a simple mixture of eggs, sugar, and flour; it is a molded... Read more >

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Eat This Word: Chicharrones

 

WHAT?  Crispy pork chips. Originally from Spain and popular in Latin America, chicharrones are prepared by deep-frying seasoned pieces of meat in their own fat. The dish was intended to eliminate waste by utilizing all parts of the animal, including the skin. Before it's placed in the pan, the meat and skin must be rubbed in baking soda so that they will fry evenly and brown to perfection. The most important ingredient, however, is patience: depending on what part of the animal is being fried, chicharrones can take all day to make. Frying the meat immediately will yield greasy and chewy strips, so a few extra steps are essential to achieve the porcine perfection. First, the meat should be boiled until the skin easily peels off from the fat to limit the amount of grease, and second, the pieces should be completely dry so that they can fry to an even crisp. Also known as pork rinds and cracklins, these addictive crispy bits... Read more >

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Eat This Word: Tortino

 

WHAT?  A miniature cake with a melted heart. Tortino, meaning “little cake,” originally hails from Italy, but its sweet fluff has spread across the globe. When made as a sweet dessert, melted chocolate is folded into a rich batter and divided into individual tins. If baked properly, a thin, crispy crust settles on the outside while the chocolate remains creamy and smooth on the inside. It only takes one bite for the chocolate to slide out like lava. As a savory dish, however, a tortino resembles a layered frittata. Using only the freshest vegetables available, this egg-beaten “cake” is perfect for a hearty breakfast or light lunch. It can be seasoned and flavored with cheese, bread crumbs, or a zesty salsa.

 

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Eat This Word: Amaranth

 

WHAT? A good Host. The Aztecs revered this mighty grain, using it in religious rituals to make what Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt, authors of All-American Waves of Grain, liken to a Holy Communion wafer. The carnivorous sun-worshippers would combine the tiny grain with a liquid mixture that sometimes contained blood, form the concoction into cakes, and use the cakes in religious rituals. People who ate these cakes believed they were eating the flesh of the gods. Not surprisingly, the Spanish didn't approve of this custom, nor of the Aztecs generally. The conquistadors wiped out Aztec civilization and for good measure destroyed many acres of amaranth. For the next four centuries, the grain was practically unknown. Within this decade it was rediscovered and is now highly touted for its healthful... Read more >

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Eat This Word: Lardo

 

WHAT? Chewing the fat. Though Corby Kummer described lardo as "heaven on bread" in a 2005 New York Times article, this porky product is actually made from the layer of fat located directly under a pig's skin, which is then seasoned and cured. For most Americans, a slice of pork fat wasn't always the most appetizing antipasto, but in recent years this delicious Italian delicacy has been winning over fans on this side of the Atlantic, thanks in part to celebrity chefs like Mario Batali, whose lardo pizza at his NYC eatery Otto has become a favorite of critics and diners alike. After all, what self-respecting carnivore can argue with paper-thin slices of seasoned, glistening, translucent fat delicately draped over pizza dough—or any other carbohydrate for that matter? But in Italy, long before it was the ingredient del giorno, lardo was traditionally peasant fare, made from the fat that remained after the pig was butchered... Read more >

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Eat This Word: Speck

 

WHAT? Mrs. Sprat's preferred bacon. Writing in The Food of Italy about the Italian Alps region, Waverly Root called speck "the ultimate in pork preparation." Its preparation, incidentally, can't be hurried. The meat is slowly smoked over several months for a few hours a day. "The theory is that if the smoking were done all at the same time," Root writes, "only the outer layer of meat would be really smoked, whereas the slower process smokes it through and through." Cold temperatures and high altitudes also contribute to the process. Speck yields large quantities of fat when rendered. The fat is occasionally poured over bread or used to fry potatoes, and the speck itself is often used as a garnish. 

 

WHERE? Bay Area Buzz

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Eat This Word: Canederli

 

WHAT? The love-child of gnocchi and leftover bread. Much of World War I took place along the border of Italy and Austria, in an area known as Trentino-Alto Adige. After the war, most Austrians returned to their German homeland, but some decided to remain, combining their heritage with native Italians to form a blend of cultures resulting in new traditions and dishes. One such specialty is canederli, also known as the “Italian Knödel.” These simple dumplings are commonly referred to as “cucina povera,” or “cuisine of the poor,” because of their cheap ingredients: stale bread, milk, flour, and eggs. The most difficult step when preparing this dish is deciding how long to soak the bread. Too much moisture can result in a fragile ball, but too much flour can yield a stiff texture. When the perfect balance is achieved, the dumplings are flavored with fresh cheese or speck to add a bit of variety, and vegetarians can add chopped... Read more >

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Eat This Word: Halvah

 

WHAT? A global confection. Halvah is a broad term used to describe a flour- or nut-based Middle Eastern dessert. Many countries in the region claim it as their own, although today its reach has spread from South Asia to the Balkans. The sweet’s spellings are as numerous as its origins: Egyptians call it “halawa,” while Indians drop the final "h" and name it “halva.” Regardless of what you call it, what is certain is that the word derives from the Arabic word, “halwa,” which means “sweet confection.” This versatile, rich ingredient has spread across the globe, resulting in myriad variations in its preparation. Israelis create halvah by mixing tahini and honey to create a flaky, satisfying fudge; whereas Indian halva is made with semolina, which creates a crumbly, grainy texture. The dessert can be dressed in various ways: topped with almonds or raisins, mixed with shredded carrots, or flavored with vanilla or coconut extracts.... Read more >

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Eat This Word: Pipérade

 

WHAT? The edible Basque flag (also known as Piperrada). This spicy sauce is prepared by sautéing green peppers, tomatoes, and onions and seasoning with red Espelette pepper, leading to a final dish that coincidentally reflects the colors of the Basque flag. Originating during the 19th century in the French Basque region, the dish’s name arose from the Latin word “piper,” meaning black pepper. Summer in the Pyrénées typically brings plentiful, fresh tomatoes and green peppers, making it the perfect time to cook pipérade. With its rich, vibrant flavor, this colorful condiment was traditionally consumed as a communal or individual appetizer. Over time, however, it became customary to pair it with eggs or meat, turning the dish into a heartier meal. Vegetarians can fold the sauce into a fluffy omelet and carnivores can pour it over a whole braised chicken. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.... Read more >

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Eat This Word: Périgord Truffle

 

WHAT? Black diamonds. “Nobody dares admit that he has been present at a meal where there was not at least one dish with truffles,” wrote France’s favorite foodie, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who also coined the diamond metaphor in his Physiology of Taste (1825). Truffles are mysterious, underground fungi that grow in some areas, on some trees (mostly oak), in some years. They have been known throughout history, though their popularity peaked during the nineteenth and late twentieth centuries (right up to our time). Truffles are hunted by dogs and pigs (although some people swear by... Read more >

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