February 25, 2012

Blog the Sixth: Mushrooms Garlicy

A Supererogatory Side,
or else a Pasta Garlicy, a Risotto, or even a Frittata

Because I could not resist the Baby Bella mushrooms on sale the night I broiled my pork chop some blogs ago, I decided to have a third vegetable side that night.  This inability to resist a sale testifies to the very wellspring of my cookery, namely poverty.  I learned to cook as a graduate student when, in the face of indefinitely protracted doctoral dissertation composition, I tired of cafeteria food and decided that, whatever the case might be with the dissertation, adulthood could not be put off indefinitely, and it was time to cook real food for myself on a daily basis.  There were however limitations, to wit, a graduate student budget.  So, I would go to the supermarket, buy what was on sale, go home, call my mother, and say, “So how do I cook veal breast—it looks like it’s all bones.”  Thus did I learn how to cook veal breast, and whatever else was on sale that week.

To this day, I go to the supermarket, not with a shopping list, but with a budget, even if not as constricted as in yesteryear.  I look for what looks good and is at a good price, which usually means what’s in season and hence in abundance, if not locally, then somewhere on the globe.  I shop global, not local, because that’s what I can afford.  My senses are the final arbiter:  what looks good, what smells good, what feels good—of what’s on sale—that’s what I buy, whatever its provenance, and I figure out what to do with it when I get it home.

The Baby Bella's looked good and were cheap, so I grabbed them.  I love mushrooms.  I do not understand people who do not.  They perplex me.  If the truth may be spoken, they seem to me to be missing a part of soul.  I know that a soul, being immaterial, cannot have separable parts, as does a brain.  It can, nevertheless, have parts of a sort, namely powers.  But what power can be lacking in these poor souls?  They do not lack the power of taste, for the mushrooms taste bad to them, however unaccountably.  Are we to think there is a power of soul more specific than taste that is necessary for the appreciation of mushrooms?   It seems pretty well established for some time now that the formal objects of sensation are five, corresponding to our five senses.  And so these poor souls perplex me.

February 18, 2012

Blog the Fifth: Carrots Lemony

Left Flank to a Pork Chop Breaded & Broiled
(and a RED ready-to-hand)

Well, we’re still working on that weekday dinner from two blogs ago, of a pork chop breaded & broiled, flanked by broccoli all'aglio e olio, a.k.a., broccoli garlicy, and marinated carrots, to be here dubbed carrots lemony

Now in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that not only are carrots lemony not a dish of my people, but I have introduced them into the family over the objections of my father.  Whenever anyone says how delicious the carrots are, my father may be relied upon to explain why they’re not.  He thinks they don’t taste like anything, just boiled.  Well, don’t you mind him, Gentle Reader, just let him talk.  I suspect that he would like the boiled carrots better if instead of a litte white wine vinegar with lemon I put a lot of Balsamic vinegar on them, but that would just give them the familiar taste satisfaction of his usual vinaigrette, at the expense of suppressing the flavor of carrot. 

What I like about this dish is that the restrained use of vinegar to season the carrots and the final spurt of lemon juice just before bringing them to table bring the carrot flavor unexpectedly into relief, brightened with refreshing lemoniness.  People often exclaim, “They’re so refreshing!”  The dressing of a boiled vegetable with olive oil and lemon juice has a special name in Italian, all’agro, which loosely translates as “sour”.  Well, “sweet and sour” sounds good in English, and “sour cherries” doesn’t sound bad, but “sour carrots” does.   Even “tart carrots” doesn’t quite cut it.  So I go for the fun epithet lemony.

February 11, 2012

Blog the Fourth: Broccoli Garlicky

Side Kick to 
a Pork Chop Breaded & Broiled  
(or else, a Pasta Primo)

My mother says, “Vegetables need help.” And that’s the truth. What she means by “help” is olive oil, salt, and garlic (or else onions, but that’s another blog). One of the most common preparations of vegetables in my people’s cooking is all’aglio e olio. It’s fun to say, once you’re able to. It defies the usual abhorrence for hiatus that Italian shares with English (e.g., “a apple”). Yet the phrase all'aglio e olio sandwiches two such hiatuses between lilting l’s, themselves sandwiched by vowels, and preceded by yet another lilting l and vowel. One’s tongue ends up sliding through it all with the pleasure a child takes in sliding through mud, or perhaps the pleasure an acrobat takes in his own nimbleness. But since the American tongue is not practiced in Italian acrobatics, let’s give it a name fun for us to say: Broccoli Garlicky.

This pair, garlic & oil, has the remarkable power to accentuate the specific deliciousness of many a vegetable. Its action is not like the invisible operation of salt, which educes from a food’s native potency its specific taste. Rather, garlic & oil act more like a harmonic chord, or the contrapuntal melodies of a polyphonic chant, or the jiving of a jazz back-up. Music-making was practiced for generations before the discovery of the mathematical ratios that explain harmonies, but chemistry has yet to achieve this for cookery. But I can testify with the certainty of immediate perception that garlic & oil rightly used makes vegetables taste good, each in its own way. It is a thing I wonder at, a thing I praise, not a thing I can explain. Salt brings out the flavor; garlic and oil accent it. Would you come naked to the dinner table, Gentle Reader? Would you come with only a fig-leaf to cover your humblest member? Is not the beauty of a beautiful body even better displayed well-clothed than unclothed? Then let us so adorn our vegetables as to magnify their beauty for both eye and tongue, with garlic and oil.

February 3, 2012

Blog the Third: Pork Chop Breaded & Broiled

A Staple of the Workday Repetoire
Having a full-time job, I cannot cook as my mother did on weekdays.   I fear that for the rest of my life I will be haunted by Proustian reminiscences of the well-kept house and well-laden dinner table I so much took for granted in my childhood, and the face of someone in dismay at the idea of my going out in it, snatching a shirt from my hand to iron it for me.  A feminist friend in college once told me that everyone deserves a wife; I’d say, an Italian mother.

But this is why you, Gentle Reader, need me, because you don’t have my mother.  I have culled for you from her plethora of dishes a sub-repertoire of workday recipes for delicious food that take less time than she had, even if no less tender loving care.

A staple of this workday cookery is the broiled pork chop.  It cooks in 10 minutes and satisfies in the way that only pork can.  Being a crowd‑pleaser and kid-friendly, it also serves me well at dinner parties when I want to put my greatest effort into a pasta, risotto, or elaborate vegetable side-dish.  It offers all-purpose, serviceable, proletarian satisfaction, on workdays and playdays both.