Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chinese Epiphany or Blunder?


A Sunday comic has Garfield waking from a nap suddenly overcome by the thought of "Canary Pizza". Many a culinary epiphany can be combing two of your favorite ingredients that make a new or surprising dish.

I was at Apple China a new ma and pa Chinese restaurant. I love these people but they both struggle with English. The husband, who is the chef, is very accommodating. He will cook anyway I ask. This week I ask him to repeat the preparation for Beef Chow Fun he made for me on my first visit, calling out spicy, fermented black beans, garlic, green pepper and plenty of ginger. When the dish arrived, immediately I noticed there were no green peppers. Upon tasting, I notice a pronounced taste of cumin but no ginger. I asked him "What is this?" After some discussion, we connected. He thought I had ordered "curry". I laughed and marveled at the distinctive flavor. Actually, I think as curries go, this was one on the most novel recipes for curry I ever tasted. The super wide rice noodle went really well with this spicy cumin laden curry.

Was cumin a part of historic Chinese? Researching, it was revealed that cumin appears in Chinese cuisine maybe a far back as 2000 years. Cumin (of the parsley family) was a silk-route traded spice indigenous to many areas including Iran, China, India, Northern Egypt, Turkestan, several other places in the Middle East. Some of the more popular Chinese dishes with cumin include Spicy Sichuan-Style Lamb and Hunan Beef. Cumin is one of those spices with a lot of bang for the buck. It is highly aromatic and a little goes a long way. Cumin combines well with red peppers; in fact, cumin is a major flavor in chili powder that "tex-Mex flavor."


Grace Young, a stir fry guru, in her cookbook "Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge" writes ancestral stories of how Chinese cooking in her family evolved. Regional influences and the availabilty of ingredients played major roles in the recipes of regional dishes. Cumin is part of several of her recipes.

dry-style beef chow fun- Photo by Mai Pham

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fettuccine Alfredo


Alfredo's Rome, Italy, 1962
The original owner of Rome’s Alfredo's Restaurant, Alfredo Di Lelio, is the originator of this 1914 delicious dish formulated for his pregnant wife who had to be enticed to eat.  

In 1950, with his son Armando, Alfredo Di Lelio reopened his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 "Il Vero Alfredo" (“Alfredo di Roma”), which is now managed by his nephew Ines Di Lelio, along with the famous “gold cutlery” donated in 1927 by the grateful American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Fettuccine Alfredo is immensely popular all over the world and this is despite the fact that many recipes being used are not exact!  The original pasta contained neither cream nor eggs. My brother Michael (center) was a big fan of fettuccine as shown in this early photo.

This is my version of the famous plate. The inclusion of the beaten eggs yolks give the fettuccine the authentic mouth feel and fabulous sense of richness found in the original dish.  Because the pasta is so very hot (200+F), the eggs temperature quickly exceeds 145 degrees hence there is no risk of salmonella.  

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

1 Stick unsalted sweet butter (1/4 pound) (This was originally made with European butter)
1 Cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 Cup fresh finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese)
1/4 Teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 Pound egg Fettuccini
3 Organic natural raised farm-fresh egg yolks (These should be a very bright yellow)

Fresh egg pasta is required, and when rolled out, it should be processed on the thinnest setting of your pasta machine. Making your own pasta, has, in this case, three advantages, first it is fresh, has the prescribe number of eggs, and thirdly, it is thin enough to make this a delicate dish.

Bring to high boil 6 quarts of lightly salted water. Sample the water with a cold spoon. The water should be only mildly salty. As the pasta cooks, it absorbs water so using salted water, one insures the salt goes where it is needed. As you see from the ingredients, even the butter, up to this point, is unsalted. The cheese has quite a bit of salt so we will wait until the last moment to correct for seasoning,

Cut the butter into 10 pieces on a small plate. This will ensure when the butter is added it melts and is incorporated quickly. Beat the yellow egg yolks in a separate bowl until very creamy. Now drop pasta in the boiling water and cook approximately three minutes, stirring to prevent sticking and sampling until the pasta is al dente (just cooked but still has a bite, not soft.) Drain pasta in a colander but not bone dry. Allow a little of the starchy water to remain with the pasta. Pour the pasta into the hot pot. While the pasta is still steaming hot, immediately add butter, cream and the beaten eggs. Toss immediately. Add the cheese, white pepper and toss well (2 minutes is not too long). Correct for seasoning.  Serve immediately. (Note: When prepared at the “ristorante”, a hot platter and the “Golden ware” would be used to toss the noodle as patrons salivated.)

Note:
1.      Cooking the Roman Way : Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome by David Downie , the author claims that he has the real recipe straight from the "horse's mouth".
2.        See the web site: http://www.alfredo-roma.it/ on how Alfredo originally made this recipe. If you use European butter and rich fresh homemade egg noodles, you may make this without cream or beaten eggs.