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!

Zucchini Chicken with Leeks and Shallots

zucchini chicken with leeks and shallots

I am still developing recipes for zucchini.  My new creation is enhanced with the rich flavors of leeks and shallots, this week’s offerings at church from a faithful member’s garden; these are of the onion family, but very different from each other in appearance, flavor, origin…

Shallots are mainly of two varieties, which are usually reddish-brown, though sometimes purple; these roots are similar in looks to, but larger than, garlic cloves.  This plant’s flowers primarily bloom in white or violet.

Leeks are big in comparison, looking like huge green onions, with wide flat leaves.  They are best when their stalk formations-long, relatively hard, bundled sheaths-have grown to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Ideally these should be fresh-not more than a week old-and stored in loose plastic bags in the refrigerator.

Shallots taste like a mixture of onions and garlic, though they are milder in flavor and more pungent; they bless exceedingly!  Our worthy leeks are even milder yet, with a mild pungency as well.

Shallots, which are European in origin, are especially associated with French cuisine.  Their roots/cloves can be eaten fresh, or cooked in butter; boiling is also possible.  They are usually sautéed whole; though, halving them is best when large.  Their sweetness is exceptionally delightful!

In the U.S., leeks grow primarily in the northern sections, due to the cooler climates, a requirement wherever they grow worldwide.  They, being so mild, should be simmered slowly, making them ideal for soups and stews; nevertheless, they may be sliced with a chiffonade-cut, as I describe in this recipe, and gently fried in butter, to augment the savor of special food combinations.  This Allium is low in calories and high in nutrients (such as vitamin K, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, iron, vitamin A, fiber, magnesium, calcium, vitamin E, and omega-3 fats), making it a power-packed food.  For additional leek recipes and history go to Kale, Leeks, and Chicken and Leek Soup .

Arrowroot is my choice for thickening the unequaled juices, resulting from simmering these leeks and shallots.  It is a starch from certain plants of the genera Manihot, Curcuma, and Tacca, as well as the tropical American plant Maranta arundinacea.  Its name consequently materialized from our Native Americans use of this root to absorb poison from arrow wounds.  I decided upon it, because I was serving this meal to a diabetic friend: it adds only seven grams of carbohydrates to the entire six servings, which is about two percent of the daily requirement of this chemical compound for the whole recipe.  For these same health reasons, I also selected the diabetic friendly Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Pasta.  Our repast was a grand success!

Arrowroot is gluten-free, with twice the thickening power of flour.  It makes smooth sauces, which have remarkable clarity.  Great importance lies in not boiling the liquids you add it to, as this will stop its action.  Unlike a roux made from flour, this thickens very quickly; it is comparable to cornstarch, but lighter and healthier.

The following entrée uses tantalizing rosemary and moist zucchini, of which we have abundance from our gardens right now.  Its accompanying sauce, with the prized leeks and shallots, causes this chicken dish to explode with exciting tastes.  Enjoy!

References:

http://www.differencebetween.net/objects/comparisons-of-food-items/difference-between-leeks-and-shallots/

www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?name=foodspice&dbid=26

https://www.gurneys.com/Differences_between_Onions_Leeks_and_Shallots

chopping leeks with chiffonade-cut

Zucchini Chicken with Leeks and Shallots  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 1/4 lb chicken tenderloins, approximately 7 large pieces, thawed  (Natural is best; available reasonably in Trader Joe’s freezer.)

4 leeks, 1 1/2″ in diameter, white and light green part only-about 3/4 lb

1/4 lb shallots

1 1/2 lb zucchini

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped fine

1/4 c butter, preferably unsalted

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is recommended, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

Salt and fresh ground pepper  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available for $4..99 for 5 lbs at Costco.)

1 tbsp arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 c cold tap water  (May substitute cornstarch; arrowroot, however, is available inexpensively in bulk, at such upscale grocers as New Seasons; also accessible in spice section at local supermarkets.)

Fettuccine pasta  (Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Pasta is health-promoting and diabetic friendly.)

  1. rinsing cut leeks

    Start thawing chicken in a bowl of water, set aside.

  2. Clean zucchini with a vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide for an inexpensive effective produce spray).  Let sit 3 minutes and rinse well.  Meanwhile go to next step.
  3. Prepare leeks by discarding outer leaves, cut off green tops and roots, and rinse well.  For chiffonade-cut, slice leeks lengthwise; rinse again; then, divide each half in 2″ portions.  Next cut each 2″ length in thin strips (see photo at top of recipe).  Place in a large container, rinse well with water, drain in colander, and set aside (see photo).
  4. Meanwhile cut zucchini in 2″-long spears, place in a bowl.
  5. Heat butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, until a small piece of leek in pan sizzles; add half the leeks, stirring in butter.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook down enough to fit other half into pan, distributing oils well; cover and cook, stirring occasionally.
  6. Peel shallots, slice large shallots in half (see photo); add to simmering leeks.  Let cook slowly over low heat,

    peeling shallots

    stirring occasionally.

  7. Chop rosemary, measure 2 tbsp, and place in a small container (may use less).
  8. Fill a stock pot 2/3’s full of water; add about 2 tbsp of oil-any kind will do-but no salt; bring to a boil over med/high heat.
  9. Meanwhile place tenderloins on paper towel; GENEROUSLY salt and pepper them.  Heat 1 tbsp of oil-preferably coconut oil-in a large frying pan, over medium heat, until small piece of chicken sizzles; add and cook chicken, until slightly pink in center (do not overcook, as it will cook more later on).  Cut each tenderloin in thirds with a spatula, removing pieces to a bowl; carefully save juices in pan.
  10. Add last tbsp of oil to pan of juices; mix in zucchini, distributing oils evenly.  Cook only until tender, stirring occasionally; watch so it doesn’t get mushy.  While cooking, go to next step.  (Note: may have to add more water to stock pot, so it is 2/3’s full, and boiling.)
  11. Dissolve arrowroot in 1/4 cup cold tap water, set aside.
  12. Place pasta in pan of boiling water; turn down heat to medium.  Cook for 6-7 minutes, until al dente; do not overcook.  Drain and set aside.
  13. Meantime stir chicken, rosemary, and 1/2 tsp salt into leeks/shallots; cook over medium heat until hot.  Add this mixture to pan of tender zucchini, stir together.
  14. finished product

    Turn down heat under zucchini/leek/chicken to insure the juices are not boiling, but hot; this is important for thickening to occur.  Using a wire whisk, blend in small amounts of dissolved arrowroot to the liquids around edges of pan, tilting pan to bring forth juices; in this way, use all the arrowroot.  Adjust seasonings.

  15. Serve over pasta; this is an exceptional treat!