You might not know it, but I have long been harboring the fantasy of inventing an entirely new food. Every time I think I've come up with something, someone says, oh it's been done. I don't think this one has. The past few days I've been playing with the dehydrator. I love kale. Really. So I tried beet leaves. Lovely. But someone suggested sorrel. I don't have any but do have grape leaves. Why not? Sour, olive oil, salt. Then a crunchy delicate snack or garnish. I WISH I could edit this but blogspot is REALLY MISBEHAVING and after three tries this is coming out uncooked. But you get the idea. Dehydrated grape leaves with a flavor like in cooked dolmas, but dry and crunchy. If someone steals this idea, I will come and get you. Unless it's already patented. Just my luck.
I'm pretty sure this is not the traditional way to make trahanas. Though they probably taste much the same. If you have patience, I would exhort you to try this. Take good Greek yoghurt. about a cup. Mix in bread flour and a few pinches of salt to make a stiff dough. Then go outside and roll out little nubbins, exactly as you would boogers, onto a dish towel. It takes a long time, but look how beautiful they are! Leave in the sun for at least a day or two. Boil up and just sprinkle on olive oil and salt. They have a light pleasant sourness, and are chewy. The traditional way is to make flat disks, dried in the sun, break them up and dry again, and then boil them, but these are so much prettier. Like little pine nuts I think.
The theme of this year's Oxford Symposium, held a few weeks ago, was Material Culture. It has gotten me thinking deeply about the tools in my kitchen, particularly those on which I absolutely depend. There are a few without which no kitchen could function: knives, spoons, spatulas, I'd add tongs. My grater too. None of these are trophy items. I don't own a single big very expensive knife, though I do have a lot of them. I think of them as tools, nothing more. But then I realized that my most prominent kitchen drawer, above the cutlery, holds these right up front. Why? One corkscrew would do perfectly fine. I actively use all 15 of these, and that's not counting the rabbit, and 6 or 7 other kinds of corskscrew I own but almost never use. So the question is why I fetishize these objects. I think it's because I can tell you exactly where each one came from. I have explicit memories associated with them. And of course my favorites have the most interesting stories. I emphatically don't collect them - especially since corkscrews haven't been allowed in carry on luggage for the past decade. But I'm still wondering why this particular object, apart from the fact that I use them every day? Are there objects any of you hold as dear, and if so, why?
It is difficult to fathom the vast gulf separating home cooking from large scale food preparation. Every now and then I offer a lecture/demo/tasting that requires cooking on an extraordinary scale and I am always astonished and exhausted afterwards. The gig is downtown Stockfish, at the Cesar Chavez Library, tomorrow (Monday) at 6:30. DO come, it's free. I'm talking about Antonio Latini's Lo Scalco alla Moderna (1692-4) and cooking three recipes. One of which is among the first three recipes ever printed for tomatoes. It's a minestra alla molignane - or a kind of eggplant stew with squash, onions, tomatoes, spices and oil. That's about it. Oh and verjus. Normally I would sautee the eggplant and onions, add the tomatoes and parsley, etc. And let it cook for half an hour or so. It's sort of an intriguingly spiced ratatouille or version of caponata. But this version is 11 big eggplants, sauteed in 11 separate batches, then a pile of onions browned, then then a big bag of tomatoes and then zucchine cut up and it is now in oven for a few hours. It will be great at room temperature tomorrow, for a crowd estimated at about 50. But this took like 2 1/2 hours just in prep work. HOW do people cook in a restaurant?? I think everyone should try something on this scale just to appreciate the labor involved.
Food Historian at the University of the Pacific.
Author of Eating Right in the Renaissance, Food in Early Modern Europe, Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, The Banquet, Beans (2008 IACP Jane Grigson Award) and Pancake.THE LOST ART OF REAL COOKING with Rosanna Nafziger.
Coeditor of Food and Faith; Editor of A Cultural History of Food: The Renaissance.
Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia (4 vols.) Three World Cuisines: Italian, Mexican and Chinese won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards Best Foreign Cuisine book in the World. The Routledge International Handbook to Food Studies.
THE LOST ARTS OF HEARTH AND HOME with Rosanna Nafziger.
Grow Food, Cook Food, Share Food, a little book on Nuts and The Food History Reader. The Most Excellent Book of Cookery (translation of a 16th c. French Cookbook with Tim Tomasik). The Sage Encyclopedia of Food Issues Encyclopedia. At the Table.
Most recently: Noodle Soup. Forthcoming: Gelatin Past and Future.