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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Comfort Food/Italian Food Names

pasta puttanesca

Lee's got a cold. That means comfort food from all around the world. We started the week with a big pot of home made chicken matzo ball soup. The matzo ball recipe I use is on the back of the Streit's brand matzo meal box. It calls for 1 cup of matzo meal, 4 eggs, 1/2 cup oil (I use chicken "schmaltz") and 1/4 cup water. This recipe has more eggs than some but I believe the real secret is letting the dough rest in the fridge for almost an hour. The matzo balls come out big, plump and light, not dense sinkers.

For some reason your taste buds seem to get numb when you have a cold. You can barely taste anything. And so nothing tastes like it should. The other day I picked up some spicy Chinese food which is oddly comforting and then tonight I made Pasta Puttanesca.

Like so many Italian dishes, there are multiple stories associated with this one. The name puttanesca is derived from puttana meaning "whore" in Italian. The sauce combines fresh chopped tomatoes, red chile flakes, capers, black olives, anchovies, garlic and olive oil and sometimes oregano or fresh basil. It is spicy like the "ladies of the night" or it is named after them because it cooks up quickly, in the time they might have between tricks. Yet a third story has it that the smell of the dish was used to lure men, kind of like a culinary red light. Colorful, no? Any which way it tastes great.

Another wonderful story based on an Italian dish is Tiramisu. Tira mi su in Italian means pick me up. It's named after little old Italian ladies, either because they are stooped over or more likely because they like a sweet dessert with some booze in it as a "pick me up" in the afternoon.

Italian names really make me smile. The names for Italian dishes are often as tasty as the food itself. To fully appreciate the food, learn the stories behind the names and believe me, the food will take on a whole new flavor.