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 made evident by Athenaeus, who compiled the anthology The Deipnosophists, circa 230 A.D.  This latter book is regarded as one of the leading sources of information about ancient times, and its author knew all about Apicius as a gourmet, but didn’t attribute a cook book to him.  Regardless of the exact authorship of De Coquinaria, it supplies the rich basis of a worthy record of early cooking techniques.

With it come glimpses 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 of India-derived from the South Indian name kari meaning sauce.  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 the 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 roux-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, for 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!

References:

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.

https://www.thekitchn.com/do-you-know-your-french-mother-sauces-211794

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Auguste-Escoffier

weighing pasta

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

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 med/lg 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

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 critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available very cheaply at Costco.)

Fresh spinach

  1. hand-held wooden lemon squeezer

    Boil 2 1/2 quarts of water over med/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.  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. Meanwhile, melt 2 tsp of butter in a small saucepan over med/low 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 shallot/onions just 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!

Wholesome Rosemary Bread

rosemary loaves

Of all the abundant gifts of produce that come my way, the most popular herb is rosemary; thus, I created my simple Rosemary Eggs on 2017/08/21.  Now, as bread-baking weather is upon us, I offer a wholesome loaf featuring this sweet, piney flavor.

In Culinary Artistry, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page describe how certain food combinations best heighten pleasure in our palates.  In their pages, they list meat as the number one compliment to rosemary.  When I think of these two substances together, I immediately go to lamb, with childhood memories from my mother’s kitchen.  According to Dornenburg and Page, this herb also magnifies the savor found in suckling pigs, pork, game, steaks, veal, chicken, salmon, and oily fish (e.g., mackerel, sardines); I also find it strengthens egg dishes.

When considering uniting rosemary with a vegetable, potatoes are paramount, though our authors also couple it with onions, peas, mushrooms, spinach, and beans, among which dried and fava beans are best; those of us that prefer a vegetarian diet can benefit from this knowledge, using it liberally in our bean dishes.

I was a vegetarian for most of my twenties; moving to Tokyo changed this proclivity, for I didn’t want to offend my Japanese hosts by refusing proffered meat dishes; in part, this herbivorous preference in my youth still rests with me today, for my daily caloric intake includes mostly meatless dishes, though I am not afraid in the least to partake of animal flesh.

Rosemary, our evergreen shrub, a native to the Mediterranean, is a member of the mint family; it is a woody perennial herb that grows quickly and without much effort in temperate climates, such as that of the Pacific N.W.  Its Latin name means “dew of the sea”.

The Greeks and Romans cultivated it for both culinary and medicinal purposes; today it is still utilized in these two ways: among a number of medicinal intents, its antioxidant effects are known to reduce inflammation (rosemary was used as a remedy for gout in the 1500’s), and presently some also apply it as a homemade insect repellent (for this recipe, see homeguides.sfgate.com/homemade-rosemary-mosquito-repellent-recipe-73124.html).

The ancients made use of this herb in weddings, funerals, and ceremonies of all sorts.  In days past, brides often entwined it into head-wreaths, as it symbolized for them: fidelity, love, abiding friendship, and remembrance of the life each woman had led prior to her marriage.  Some sources claim that men of antiquity believed it improved memory, though this can only be partially substantiated.

With its sweet, lemony, slightly piney taste, rosemary is traditionally found in Mediterranean cooking-especially with the meats mentioned above-where its potent flavor is liberally applied.  Culinary Artistry states that grains also provide a powerful union with this herb; my present recipe employs this dynamic duo.

I made this rosemary bread for my church friend Charity, who was first in line this summer, supplying me with this garden treat; her strong response was that I should sell these loaves at farmer’s market.  Nevertheless, with my passion for writing, I don’t have time to regularly bake for the public, but oh how I love to cook for my friends!

References:

Andrew Dorenenburg & Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), p. 205.

https://www.thespruce.com/history-of-rosemary-1807655

health.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips/2011/09/rosemary-herb-history

www.ourherbgarden.com/herb-history/rosemary.html

https://www.botonical.com/botanical/mgmh/r/rosema17.html

homeguides.sfgate.com/homemade-rosemary-mosquito-repellent-recipe-73124.html

easy chopping of  rosemary in food processor

Rosemary Bread  Yields: 1 loaf.  Total prep time: 3 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  inactive prep time: 2 hours/  baking time: 30 min.  Note: this method produces quick, easy, mess-free bread, the greatest!

4 c flour  (Blend 3 c whole wheat flour with 1 c unbleached white flour, or better yet, for premium bread, grind 2 2/3 c organic hard red spring wheat berries to make a total 4 c of flour, see photo below.)

2/3 oz, 4 stems, or 3 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

1 3/8-1 5/8 c tepid water  (110-115 degrees in temperature.)

1 individual packet, or 3 tsp yeast  (Red Star Active Dry Yeast comes in a 2 lb package, available inexpensively at Costco; this freezes well in a sealed container for long-term use; if using yeast from freezer, may thaw ahead of time for quicker proofing.)

6 1/4 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for health; available in nutrition section at local supermarket.)

Spray oil  (Coconut spray oil is best; Pam is available in most grocery stores; our local Winco brand, however, is far less expensive.)

  1. grinding flour with attachment to kitchen aid mixer

    If grinding your own flour, begin to do so now (see photo).

  2. Place 1/4 c water, lukewarm to the touch (110-115 degrees), in a small bowl; stir in yeast and 1/4 tsp sugar.  Let sit in a warm place, until double in size, about 10 minutes-this timing depends on temperature of room.  (Note: frozen yeast will take longer to rise.)
  3. Remove rosemary from stems, chop, and set aside.  This may be done in food processor; see photo at top of recipe.
  4. Place ground flour, rosemary, 2 tbsp sugar, and salt in processor.  Blend well with machine; stop and stir once, using hard plastic spatula that comes with processor.
  5. When yeast is doubled, add it and 1 3/8 c tepid water to flour mixture (if grinding fresh flour, use 1 1/8 c of water only).  Turn machine on and knead for 35 seconds; turn off and let dough rest for 4 minutes (see photo

    dough-made with fresh-ground flour-after initial kneading

    of dough, as it appears after this first kneading-dough made with store-bought flour isn’t as wet, however, as that of fresh-ground, because it has a finer grind, which absorbs more water).  The resting period cools dough, which is essential as processing increases heat; too much heat will kill the yeast.

  6. After pausing for 4 minutes, turn on the processor; knead dough for 35 more seconds; let rest for 4 minutes.
  7. Take out and knead by hand for 5-7 minutes, or until satiny smooth, minus the rosemary lumps (see photo below).  As wet dough readily sticks to hands, rinse them as needed, to facilitate easy kneading.

    dough before and after kneading by hand

    (Note: dough may be somewhat wet and sticky at first, but much moisture is absorbed with kneading by hand; this is especially true with fresh-ground flour.  IF your dough needs adjusting for some reason, do the following: if it remains quite wet and sticky, after kneading by hand for several minutes, slowly add more flour to your board as you knead; if it is too stiff to knead by hand easily, place back in processor; knead in 1 tbsp of water.  Repeat if needed, until severe stiffness is gone, it is flexible, and kneading by hand is facile, carefully resting dough so as not to overheat.  Ideally you want firm, supple dough, which is smooth to the touch and not sticky, when finished.)

  8. Place prepared dough in a well-oiled 13 gallon plastic bag; let rise in a warm place for 50-60 minutes, or until double.  (To facilitate proofing in a cold kitchen, may warm oven for 20-30 seconds only; be careful to only warm slightly, just taking edge off cold, as too much heat will kill the yeast.)
  9. Spray a bread pan with oil, preferably coconut spray oil; punch down doubled dough, forming it into a loaf; place in pan; use a piece of plastic wrap, which has also been sprayed, to loosely cover dough-this keeps it moist.
  10. Let rise until double for 50-60 minutes, depending on room temperature.  About 30 minutes into rising process, preheat oven to 400 degrees, to insure oven is ready when it is time to bake.  (IMPORTANT: if proofing loaf in oven, be sure to remove it, before turning oven on.)
  11. When double, bake for around 30 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.  (Ovens vary slightly in temperature; my oven takes 27 minutes to bake a perfect loaf.)  Enjoy this excellent staff of life!

Ahi Tuna with Black Bean & Eggplant Dish

When I require a firm fish for creating recipes, I prefer ahi tuna over halibut, which tends to be drier.  I discovered in Culinary Artistry, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, that the excellence of tuna steaks is enhanced by both eggplant and black beans; lemon and garlic also compliment ahi.1   It took courage for me to experiment with blending all the above together in a dish needed for a special occasion, during which I honored the Lomilos from Uganda.

Cooking takes risks, as life does; nothing comes automatically.  A patient pressing-in is required to foster creative mastery.

I learned an important lesson in my early thirties when I moved to Portland, for then I was struggling to overcome an addiction to alcohol.  In the process of sobering up, I was taught to trust in the history of old-timers in areas that I didn’t yet have enough victory of my own.  As a result, I listened carefully to my elders’ testimonies, holding fast to their professed truths.  The pay-off was great, for I haven’t had a drink since 2/06/86.

In like manner, I have reached out to experts in the culinary field over the years; thus, amplifying my own inherent strengths.  The outcome is an acquired proficiency in successfully combining foods, as exemplified here.

I see parallels between skills gained in cooking and those procured in living.  If we continue with these teachings in my blog, I promise that ability in both these areas will be attained.

I can’t stress enough that patience and trust are essential elements.  Let us walk in the light each of us has, taking baby steps of courage to rise to our next level.

True to form, I sought help from experts in writing this recipe and its history.  For instance, I needed to know more about not overcooking tuna.  Harold McGee teaches about the meat-red color of certain tunas in On Food and Cooking; it is caused by the oxygen-storing pigment myoglobin, which is needed for this fish’s nonstop, high-velocity life.  This deep red color is lost, if this fish is not frozen well below -22 degrees F, which helps explain the brownish color of some frozen tunas.  When cooked, it looses this blood red color at about the same temperature that beef does, between 140-160 degrees F; it is best to undercook this food, or dryness will result.  If you like your meat rare, you will probably also like rare tuna; thus, be careful to check for color during its preparation.2

This ahi may be made with onions that are quickly sautéed, but it is better to carmelize them, a somewhat painstaking process if done correctly.  Next week’s entry will be for nutty, carmelized onions and carrots.  I encourage you to make a double batch of these onions ahead of time; they store for up to 3 days.  The proven result: both the carrots and this tuna will be fast and easy to execute.

Let’s humbly learn from the masters, purposing to keep all seeds of knowledge in fertile soil.

Eat hearty, this is a delicious fish!

  1. Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), pp. 187, 273.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 194.

black bean and eggplant dish

Ahi Tuna with Black Beans and Eggplant Dish  Yields: 4 servings.  Total active prep time: 50 min.

Note: if desired the onions may be carmelized several days ahead, using next week’s carmelized onion and carrots’ recipe; the eggplant & bean dish may be made several hours in advance and reheated 15 minutes before serving, as you cook the tuna.

6 1/2 tbsp oil  (Avocado oil is best, coconut oil will do; olive oil produces carcinogens when heated to high temperatures.)

1 medium/large yellow onion, halved at the root and stem and cut in 1/8 inch slices

1 pound eggplant

1/4 cup water

3 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed  (2 small lemons needed.)

5 tsp salt, or to taste  (The coarser kosher salt is best here for rubbing in tuna steaks.)

3 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste

5 large cloves of garlic, minced  (3 frozen cubes of garlic from Trader Joe’s makes preparation easier.)

1-15 ounce can of black beans  (Organic is best; Simple Truth brand at our local Fred Meyer’s is very economical.)

2 tsp crushed dried red pepper

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp dried ginger

2 tsp dried oregano  (Organic is available for $1.99 at Trader’s!)

4 ahi tuna steaks, or about 1 1/3 pound

1 tsp sesame oil

  1. fond on bottom of pan of eggplant

    For quickly sautéing onions, heat 1 tbsp oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; place a small piece of onion in oil; when it sizzles, add rest of onion and cook until well browned, stirring occasionally.  (Better yet, use carmelized onions by utilizing next week’s recipe to make a double batch of this time-consuming treat; they store up to 3 days.)  Meanwhile go to next step.

  2. Cut eggplant in small 1 inch cubes, set aside.
  3. Roll lemons on counter, pressing down hard with your hand to loosen juices.  Juice lemon and set aside 3 tbsp.
  4. If using fresh garlic, mince now.
  5. When onions are cooked, place in a bowl; next, heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil in pan; place piece of eggplant in oil; when it sizzles, add rest of eggplant.  Cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  After 5 minutes, add 1/4 cup of water and deglaze pan (scrape bottom with a wooden or heat resistance plastic spatula to loosen cooked on fond, see photo).  Cook until water is evaporated; this vegetable will be somewhat mushy.
  6. Stir in onions, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic; if garlic is fresh, cook only until you can smell it; see Tomato/Feta Chicken (2016/07/25) for tips on cooking with garlic.  If using the frozen cubes, cook just until melted and blended in well.
  7. Gently stir in the can of black beans, which has been drained; do not over-stir, as this breaks down beans.  Adjust seasonings.  May set aside to finish just before serving, or immediately proceed to step 9, in which case turn down heat to medium/low under eggplant/beans.  (See  above photo for finished product.)
  8. If finishing later, began the next step 15 minutes before serving time.
  9. Just prior to serving, blend together 4 tsp salt (preferably kosher salt), 2 tsp fresh ground pepper, dried red pepper, garlic powder, ginger, and oregano; rub seasoning into tuna steaks.  (If bean mixture is cold, begin reheating it for 8-10 minutes over medium heat before sautéing tuna, stirring occasionally.)
  10. Melt 4 tbsp oil and 1 tsp sesame oil in a large sauté pan over medium/high heat; just as it begins smoking, sear steaks in hot oil-2 minutes per side for medium rare, give or take 1/2 minute for rare or medium.  The time may need adjusting as thickness of steaks varies; you can check the color of tuna by piercing thickest part of fish with a sharp knife to check for doneness at the very end; it should be somewhat red for medium-rare.  Do not overcook tuna.
  11. Serve with carmelized onions and carrots (next week’s post).  Enjoy!