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.

Posh Porcini Pasta

prep time: 15 minutes + at least 1 hour soaking time ~ cooking time: 20 minutes

  • a few cloves Garlic, finely minced
  • Olive Oil
  • about a half dozen Button Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 1 package soaked dried Porcini, roughly chopped, soaking liquid strained and set to the side
  • Farro Pasta
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Fresh Sage, cut in a chiffonade
  • chopped Hazelnuts
  • grated Romano Cheese

Place a glug of olive oil in a heavy dutch oven over a medium flame. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes until fragrant. Add the button mushrooms and cook until they are beginning to soften. Add the porcini and a little of the soaking liquid. Cover and allow to cook about 5 minutes until the button mushrooms have become very soft and silky.

Add enough of the pasta to make a healthy serving for each person. Stir to coat in the oil and allow to cook about two minutes. Add the soaking liquid. If it is not enough to cover the pasta add some hot water. Season with salt & pepper and add the sliced sage to taste. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook 7-10 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Taste. If the pasta isn’t done add a little more water, stir and allow to cook until al dente.

Serve with grated cheese and hazelnuts if you want. It’s also delicious without these things.

Sunshine Salad

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: none

  • Arugula
  • Radicchio
  • Dill
  • Blood Oranges
  • Scandinavian Mustard
  • Lingonberry Sauce or Jelly
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Hazelnuts

Clean and wash your greens. Dry well. Cut into bite sized pieces and toss into a bowl. Add dill to taste and the sections of one blood orange per person and toss.

In a cup add a teaspoon or less of mustard and about twice as much lingonberry sauce. Season liberally with salt & pepper. Add a healthy glug of olive oil and about twice as much vinegar. Whisk (I like to use one of these). Taste. How does it taste? Too sweet? Add more vinegar. Not thick enough? Add more oil. Flat? Add a wee bit more salt.

To serve, portion into bowls, garnish with hazelnuts and pass the dressing.



13 Responses to “Savory, With A Side Of Sunshine”

  1. Lydia March 22, 2007 at 11:11 am #

    Ha ha ha! I took Latin all through college, too, and today I tell people that the best use for it is the ability to do crossword puzzles and read menus in French (a language I do not speak). I’m laughing out loud.

  2. sher March 22, 2007 at 11:36 am #

    Oh my!! What amazing pictures!! I think that having certain items in the pantry, like great dried mushrooms are like having gold stashed away. You can pull them out and create woinderful dishes. I love porcini mushrooms, they have a lucious flavor.

  3. Terry B March 22, 2007 at 5:14 pm #

    First, what a hysterical coincidence. Last night we were in a wonderful Polish bakery and sausage shop near our apartment-to-be in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. The shop also sells groceries and produce. On much of the packaging, there was no English. None. We’re looking forward to exploring this shop, probably with occasional disastrous or at least amusing results.

    Second, the pasta sounds insanely good. Wow. And by adding a little cut up chicken breast with the mushrooms, this could become a complete meal by itself–with the delicious salad, of course.

  4. Susan in Italy March 22, 2007 at 5:44 pm #

    You’re so right about the usefulness of Latin for grocery shopping. In Italy where names for cuts of meat, vegatables and fish vary from region to region, my English-Italian dictionary does me no good. What do you think is the Latin for “brisket”?

  5. ann March 23, 2007 at 6:50 am #

    Lydia — Gotta love a good, snooty liberal arts education. So much money… so little actually gained ;-)

    Sher — A well stocked pantry is a thing of beauty!

    Terry B — How wonderful! I love living in a Polish ‘hood. I hope they sell the same juices at yours that the sell in ours. They come in a sort of tetrapak in all sorts of exotic flavors. My favorite is the mint & apple. I can’t wait for summer so I can mix it with some sun tea!

    Susan — I tried to find a term, but yeah, there is no Latin word for brisket ;-) Thanks for stopping by! I love your blog, it’s wonderful!

  6. Anne March 23, 2007 at 9:59 am #

    This looks amazing. I love citrus with bitter greens and vinegrette! So good.
    I’ve never heard of farro pasta before. Where can you find it?

  7. ann March 23, 2007 at 10:22 am #

    Heya Anne! I got mine at the Garden Of Eden on 14th st & 5th Ave near Union Sq. They have a few different shapes, and they also have other cool pastas there, including a radicchio linguine that keeps giving me puppy eyes from the pantry… I really need to cook it soon before it dies of sadness

  8. s'kat March 23, 2007 at 12:39 pm #

    I took Latin in high school. I was okay at reading and writing, but speaking it? Forget about it!!

    The pasta & mushrooms look so comforting. Thanks for reminding me about the absorption method, something I’ve yet to try!

  9. Luisa March 24, 2007 at 1:26 pm #

    This post made me laugh – funny girl!

  10. ann March 25, 2007 at 7:38 pm #

    s’kat — try it! the texture is amazing.

    Luisa — thanks :-)

  11. Ulla March 26, 2007 at 8:03 am #

    I love that pic of the salad! it looks like a bouquet!

  12. Julie March 26, 2007 at 8:52 pm #

    Lingonberry/Scandinavian mustard vinaigrette sounds so exoctic. Farro pasta also sounds exoctic– yet another thing that’s new to me. I’m still trying to become acquainted with farro which I can’t seem to find anywhere by me.

  13. Pille April 12, 2007 at 3:14 am #

    I’ve never done Latin, but I’ve found it’s a best way to find the Estonian equivalent to the English names of various edible plants and fish etc. I look up the Latin name, and then search the Estonian plant name etc catalogues for the Estonian name. And voila!

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