Pasta and Spinach, with Lemon Sauce

pasta and spinach, with lemon sauce

Sauces have been used to modify and accentuate food throughout history, transcending all cultures.  Here we will examine ancient Rome, for it offers, in the strictest sense of recipes, the earliest cook book De Re Coquinaria, which is perhaps erroneously believed to have been written by the gourmet Apicius, in the first century A.D.  This discrepancy is evident in that Athenaeus, who compiled the anthology The Deipnosophists (circa 230 A.D.), which is regarded as one of the leading sources of information about ancient times, knew all about Apicius as a gourmet, but didn’t attribute a cook book to him.  Regardless of the exact authorship of this work, it supplies the rich basis of a worthy record of early cooking techniques.

With it, glimpses come into the eating habits of the well-to-do, including sumptuous recipes, such as those for feasts.  Note that contrary to established beliefs, the everyday Roman dining was simple: breakfast (jentaculum) was bread with a few olives or raisins; lunch (prandium) mostly consisted of leftovers, cold meat, or eggs; the daily main meal (cena) also reflected less extravagance-this latter was more elaborate only in households with an excess of slaves.

Even more than the fussy dishes concocted for guests, plain foods, like grain-pastes, beans, and bread, required spices and strong sauces to transform them, with their disproportionate quantities of starch.  This same rule is illustrated by the most intense of the world’s repertoire of sauces, such as the soy mixtures of China, the chili pastes of Mexico, and the curries-derived from the South Indian name kari meaning sauce-of India.  Here the common man basically developed sauces as seasonings for bulky carbohydrates, which both absorb and dilute them; on the other hand, the solid masses of fish and meat scarcely incorporate liquid at all.  In Food in History, Reay Tannahill states that all the qualities that give a cuisine its identity change in a society that can afford to eat meat and fish daily, with their staying sauces.  (Such peoples utilize extensive creativity in sauce-making, the primary element of good cooking.)  Thus, Tannahill suggests that the whole essence of cuisine may have thus changed in this rural society that was transfigured into Imperial Rome.

Showy receipts were prepared for company by that ancient culture. The full dinner party in Roman times was considered to be nine people, reclining on three couches, around a U shape table.  These guests leaned on their left elbow, while eating with the fingers of their right hand.  This was a messy activity; they washed themselves from top to toe before a meal, probably needing to do so after as well.  By necessity the dipping sauces for their flesh foods required a sturdy substance for easy eating; such thickening was achieved by adding wheat starch or crumbled pastry.

The use of liquamen (or garum) was predominant in Roman cookery.  This clear, golden, fermented fish sauce was made commercially, by leaving out a mixture of fish and salt in the sun for two to three months (eighteen months for larger fish).  Its presence in most recipes not only added strong flavor, which the Romans loved, but in turn, masked milder rancidity, so prevalent in their foodstuffs.  Imperial Rome grew to be a quarter of the size of modern Paris, unlike the other great, small urban centers of Sumer, Egypt, and Greece, which were small by comparison; this made transport of perishable foods, which were stockpiled in warehouses, very slow.  With no refrigeration, food spoilage presented a large problem; thus, the powerful, fishy/salty flavored liquamen found its way into almost everything.

The recipes of antiquity were sketchy, with little more than a list of ingredients.  Their sauces, as mentioned above, often called for wheat starch and crumbled pastry as thickeners, for there was no roux.  Interestingly enough, roux was NOT the invention of 17th-century classical French cuisine, as is generally accepted; indeed, two printed German recipes remain employing this, which date back to late medieval times, 150 years before roux began revolutionizing cooking.

This paste-a combination of flour and butter cooked to varying degrees for different recipes-is the binder in four out of five of the leading mother sauces: brown sauce (espagnole), white sauce (veloute), milk-based béchamel, and traditional sauce tomat (the fifth is hollandaise).  These five mother sauces were formalized in a code by Auguste Escoffier in Le Guide Culinaire (1903); they act as the basis of most sauce creations, chocolate being an exception.

Our lemon recipe, a béchamel, is time-efficient-I feel a need to respect the modern sense of rush, which makes many afraid of a brown sauce that in a careful kitchen can simmer for up to ten hours.  Enjoy this delightful dish prepared in less than 30 minutes!


Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964) pp. 14, 15, 18, 20.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 82, 83, 89, 90.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), p. 202.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 616-618.

weighing pasta

Swift Pasta and Spinach, with Lemon Sauce  Yields: 2 servings (as a main course),  or 4 (as a side dish).  Total prep time: 25 minutes.

2/3 cup  shallots, chopped small

1/3 cup or 1/3 medium onion, chopped small  (If desired, may use more onions and less shallots; a total of 1 cup, of both together, is needed.)

2 medium garlic cloves  (For easy prep, substitute 1 cube frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s.)

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice-2 small lemons  (May add optional zest of half a lemon.)

5-6 oz of pasta  (Gluten-free pasta may be used.)

5 tsp butter

2 tsp flour  (May substitute potato or rice flour for gluten-free version.)

2 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is important for health, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream  (Must be heavy cream, or it will curdle.)

Salt and white pepper, to taste  (Real Salt, Himalayan, or pink salt, is essential for optimum health; a Himalayan salt is available very cheaply in bulk at our local Winco.)

Fresh spinach

  1. hand-held wooden lemon squeezer

    Boil 2 1/2 quarts of water over medium/high heat, in a covered saucepan-add about a teaspoon each of salt and any kind of oil.

  2. Chop small the shallots and onions; measure and set aside (refrigerating any extra for future use).  Mince garlic, if using fresh.
  3. Roll lemons on counter, pressing down hard with hand to loosen juices in meat; squeeze and measure lemon juice; set aside.  (See above photo of hand-held juicer, ideal for easy juicing.)
  4. When water is boiling, turn heat down to medium, add pasta and cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente.  Drain in a colander when done.
  5. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tsp of butter over medium heat; stir in flour with a wire whisk; cook briefly for about 1 minute-traditionally, roux for a béchamel shouldn’t change in color at all.
  6. finished lemon sauce

    Heat 1 tbsp butter and oil, in a medium-size sauté pan, over medium heat.  Add shallots and onion; cook until translucent, stirring frequently.  Mix in garlic; if garlic is fresh, cook for about 30 seconds more-just until aroma arises-or saute until cube is dissolved, if using frozen.

  7. Add heavy cream, lemon juice, and roux to onions/shallots/garlic; stir constantly until sauce is thickened; see photo.
  8. Toss with prepared pasta, serve on a bed of spinach, enjoy!

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Teaching my balsamic vinaigrette recipe

teaching my balsamic vinaigrette recipe

I acquired my beloved vinaigrette recipe in enchanting Paris.  There I learned the secrets to this simple receipt in the fall of 1985.

At that time I cooked many historical meals at a French friend’s apartment, close to the Louvre. Mornings found me seeking needed ingredients at a profusion of quaint Parisian shops.  There was much mercy for my broken French among the shop owners, who grew to know me.

A flurry of grand entertainment resulted from the hosting of these elaborate meals.  Our varied guests returned warm hospitality in their abodes on alternate nights.  My passion for art galleries quickened during the days when they reciprocated our harmonious feasting.

Indeed, Paris charmed me during that September in the mid-1980s!

My balsamic vinaigrette is extremely simple.  (We used raspberry vinegar for this same recipe in Paris.)  I always dress my famous salads with this balsamic and my father’s blue cheese dressing, which is next week’s tantalizing post.

Peggy’s Balsamic Vinaigrette  Yields: about 22 ounces.  Total prep time: 20 min. Note: may repeat these easy steps to make a double batch; keeps well when refrigerated; any kind of vinegar may be substituted for the balsamic.

5 large cloves of garlic, more to taste if smaller

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar  (Use protected Aceto Balsamico from Modena, Italy, which can be expensive, available reasonably at Trader Joe’s.)

3/4 tsp dried oregano leaves  (A great, organic dried oregano is available at Trader’s for $1.99.)

1 tsp dried basil leaves  (Also a bargain at Trader’s.)

1/4 tsp sugar, or to taste

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt is best, at hand in natural foods section at local supermarket.)

1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste

1 tsp high quality mustard  (Aiola mustard from Trader’s is ideal.)

1 cup Bel’Olio Extra Light Olive Oil  (I prefer this light olive oil, available at Costco; other olive oils are strong in taste.)

  1. Peel and cut garlic cloves in half; place in a dry 11-cup, or larger, food processor; chop garlic, stopping machine twice to scrape down sides.  IF you are making two recipes, chop the garlic for both at once; set half aside. (If you don’t have a food processor, may chop cloves fine with a sharp knife; may also use a Vita Mix or blender to make dressing.)
  2. Add vinegar, herbs, sugar, salt, pepper, and mustard to the garlic.
  3. Turn on processor; leave running.
  4. pouring oil in feeder

    Fill the feeder with oil. (The feeder is the plunger that fits in the top of the food processor; it has a small hole in the bottom of it; this allows the oil to drip into vinegar mixture slowly, thus emulsifying the dressing; see photo.) Use all the oil in this manner.  If you are using a blender, be sure to add oil very slowly, blending as you go to emulsify dressing.

  5. Adjust seasonings to taste.  Note: the garlic should taste really strong, as it mellows dramatically after a couple of days.
  6. Pour into bottles, using a funnel.  Save used glass jars for this purpose; be sure to sterilize.
  7. Keeps in the refrigerator for months, or at room temperature for several weeks.  It’s often necessary to leave dressing out at room temperature, for at least an hour before using, when stored in the refrigerator, as the cold oil sometimes solidifies.  Hot tap water will melt the solid oil, also.

1960s French Dinner

1960’s French Dinner


Cotes de porc braises a la moutarde

Cotes de porc braises a la moutarde

I have a repertoire of what I call my childhood recipes, of which the following is one of my favorites. It stretches my imagination every time I eat it:  I can hardly believe that food tastes this good!


My mother taught me so much about cooking. She was excellent at this endeavor in her day.  My “mentor” exercised her expertise in hospitality in our home, not in the restaurant.  She inspired me to follow in her footsteps with her extensive gourmet preparations.


The passing on of tradition from generation to generation is so important. I’ve never married (Jesus is my husband,) but I have a vast quiver full of spiritual children-more than I can count!  My desire is to give to them what was so freely given to me: wisdom.


I gaze at this precise diamond through the perspective of food, with all its joys and health-providing benefits. I am so grateful to God, my parents, and my entire family for this knowledge that was birthed in me.


We all identify with “comfort foods”, especially those from our youth. I will offer numerous ones with which my mother nurtured my family’s souls.  “Cotes de porc braises a la moutarde” is my first choice in this marvelous journey into the past.


Time-Life Books put out a series of cook books showcasing the cuisines of numerous countries in the 1960s. Mom subscribed to these sequels of superb work.  My family and our guests experienced incredible pleasure as a result.  I grew to appreciate the world through its food, in the confines of my home, at a very young age.  This instilled an appetite in me, in my twenties and thirties, to go to the nations to study their eating habits.


I have greatly simplified this recipe for pork loin chops from its original complex detail. My version is uncomplicated and literally explodes with unforgettable flavor!


Cotes de Porc Braisees a la Moutarde  This recipe is adapted from The Cooking of Provincial France, M.F.K. Fisher and the Editors of Time-Life Books, 1968, Time-Life Books, New York.

It is delicious and extremely easy to make. (Yields: 4 servings.)


4 center cut, boneless pork loin chops (about 1 ¼ inches thick)

salt (Real Salt is best) and fresh ground pepper

flour for dusting meat

2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp oil (coconut or avocado oil is best)

1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)

3 tbsp wine vinegar

¾ cup heavy cream

2 tsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp lemon juice

Serve with brown rice (my favorite is brown basmati rice).


  1. Heat butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet, over medium heat. Wash and lightly pat dry pork chops. Salt and pepper generously. Dredge in flour, shaking off all excess. Sautee in hot oil for 2 minutes on each side. Do not overcook. Remove from pan. Set aside.
  2. Add onions to pan. Stir well. Sweat onions (cook until translucent.) Add vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan. Cook until most of moisture is gone.
  3. Add cream. Stir well and bring to a boil over medium heat. Place pork chops in onion mixture, coating well with onions/sauce. Cook until pork chops are hot. Do not overcook. Adjust seasonings while pork is heating.
  4. Take off heat. Stir in mustard and lemon juice, mixing into the onions by moving around the chops with a spatula or spoon.
  5. Serve immediately with steamed rice.