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Savory, With A Side Of Sunshine

22 Mar

Thank god for Latin.

Without this sad dead language, the only class in my entire life I gave up entirely, I’d be lost.

Wine Garden

I tried very hard to read Winnie the Pooh like an ancient Roman, but the look of perplexed amusement on my Professor’s face every morning when it was my turn to read to the class was too much. One morning he actually laughed out loud and asked, “Tell me again which language you spoke before this class?” I sheepishly replied, “German.” At which he nearly fell off his desk laughing and between gasps got out, “You have possibly the worst accent in Latin I’ve ever heard.”

I never went back to class after that. I decided that sleeping until 10am was far more important than being ridiculed by a tiny Englishman speaking a dead language every day for the rest of my freshman year. Sadly I hadn’t learned enough to become truly pretentious, but luckily I had learned enough to be good at parsing the etymology of taxonomic names.

Ah, The Majestic Gowanus

Why should anyone who cares about food care about etymology and taxonomy? Because it can free you to shop in stores where not only do you not know the language, but sometimes you don’t even know the alphabet!

Case in point? Those amazing dried porcini mushrooms.

All the packaging is in Polish, except for their scientific name Boletus edulis and the word borowik, which rang a bell as the mushroom used as the stuffing for uzska. Now, if I hadn’t had at least a little Latin in my life (well, that and wikipedia) I might have written both these recipes telling you to use borowik mushrooms, when I could have told you to use ceps, porcini,king boletes, steinpilz or even crow’s bread mushrooms. Confused yet?

So rather than bowing to one language over another, I can just tell you to look for the little italic script on the dried mushroom packaging that says B. edulis.

Want another example of useful culinary Latin? Fish. There are so many names for fish, and they can sometimes be confusing.

Case in point? Escolar, aka Snake Mackerel , aka Lepidocybium flavobrunneum, which is sometimes passed off as Chilean Sea Bass (another misnomer as they aren’t even bass), aka Patagonian Tooth Fish, aka Dissostichus eleginoides and I believe also Butterfish of which there are three kinds, Alaskan (Anoplopoma fimbria), American (Peprilus triacanthus) and Pacific (Peprilus simillimus), but may actually be a kind of Oil Fish (Ruvettus pretiosus).

See, just a little Latin and a friendly fishmonger can save you too from a night of unbearable, gut twisting intestinal pain.

Anyway, back to the mushrooms.

Opening the package of dried B. edulis is like walking through a thick, ancient, verdant forest after a day of rain. Musky, earthy, vegetal aromas waft through the air as they soak in the hot water. If umami has a smell, it is this.

The scent memory was locked in my brain the whole next day after making the porcini spätzle. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was a woman obsessed. And so somehow I convinced The Boy we needed to eat more mushrooms that very next night, and with pasta (not his favorite thing in the world), but I think the words farro (aka emer wheat, aka Triticum dicoccon) and risotto won him over.

What happened to the risotto, or absorption method of cooking pasta that had the foodblogosphere so in it’s thrall last year? Has everyone forgotten it? I certainly hope not because it’s a lovely and amazing way to impart flavor and a gorgeous texture to a simple pasta dinner.

Arugula, Raddichio, Blood Orange & Dill Salad

For this dish I soaked the mushrooms and then used the liquid as the cooking liquid for the farro curlicues to absorb. The result was intensely mushroomy in a seriously sensual way. The pasta was silky, yet firm and highly perfumed, enveloped in the shadowy, musky, almost feral, aromas of porcini and fresh sage.

I knew the dish was going to be intense so we planned a light, fresh sunny salad to go alongside it. Sharp and bitter greens with blood oranges, dill and a slightly sweet lingonberry/Scandinavian mustard vinaigrette with chopped hazelnuts (aka filberts aka Corylus avellana) on the side. The salad was a breath of sunshine in these depths of winter.

Lingonberry/Mustard Vinagrette

The filberts were also excellent on top of the pasta, lending a distinctive crunch to the dish.

Sometimes all it takes is a nut to tie it all together.

And yes, that is a Jack Daniels glass I use to mix my salad dressings. You mean, you don’t use one too?

Head below the jump for the recipes for Posh Porcini Pasta and Sunshine Salad.

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