Slow food can be quick
I love fast food. Not the kind we order
in our cars at cartoonish squawk boxes, but the kind we make this time
of year, when it’s too nice outside and too hot in the kitchen. The
difference is in the quality of the ingredients and the philosophy
behind the food. I’m talking about fast food steeped in the traditions
of Slow Food.
Food movement started in Italy in the 1980s under the leadership of
Carlo Petrini, and today boasts hundreds of chapters, or convivia as the
individual chapters are named to reflect the conviviality of the
gatherings where people love to explore food and its traditions. Slow
Food was founded in response to fast food, which over the past three
decades has drastically changed our way of eating. Problems with fast
food arise not only from the widely reported issues of health and
obesity, but as Eric Schlosser writes in “Fast Food Nation,” “The basic
thinking behind fast food has become the operating system of today’s
retail economy, wiping out small business, obliterating regional
differences, and spreading identical stores throughout the country like
a self-replicating code.”
Food, on the other hand, advocates food that is fresh and seasonal,
grown by sustainable farming methods and savored with family and
friends. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I was a member of the local
Slow Food convivium, and over the years we visited farms and restaurants
celebrating the season and the region. We took field trips—literally—to
meet farmers who were working to get more farms in government programs
designed to keep farmers on their land, another tenet of the Slow Food
movement. We watched cooks magically twist and turn dough into delicate
dumplings or extrude tender spaetzle from a colander-like contraption,
both recreating regional specialties of their homeland.
many of the chefs embraced cooking heirloom vegetables, seasonal produce
and local meats, many mistakenly thought that for our group they had to
prepare long-simmering stews and soups. They didn’t understand that slow
food can mean a smorgasbord of delicious foods ready with only a few
minutes prep time.
the most classic examples of fast slow food make a perfect picnic. Pack
a regional cheese, such as the creamy varieties made from grass-fed cows
at Marshall Farm in Orange County, or try an artisanal cheese from
California or France. Artisanal simply means that it is made by hand in
small quantities or in a time-honored fashion, not industrialized and
churned out boringly uniform and too often tasteless. Throw in some
seasonal fresh fruit and a baguette or some crusty rolls made by any
number of artisanal bakers in our area, and you’ve got the fastest meal
in the East. You can add leftover chicken or buy an old-world salami
for added heartiness.
fast slow idea comes by way of Barefoot Greens on Sophia Street in
downtown Fredericksburg. Call the crew at this local fish store/cafe
and order steamed shrimp, little neck clams, crabs or black mussels to
go. They’ll customize the seasoning to your taste and have it ready in
90 seconds. The difference here is this is a local small business
selling regional seafood, hand selected and fresh.
I like to
pick up some steamed shrimp on my way home. While I cook a baked potato
in the toaster oven, or the microwave when it’s really hot, I let the
shrimp cool a bit and make a green salad and some cocktail sauce. Add a
cold Fred Red Ale from Blue & Gray Brewing Company, Fredericksburg’s own
artisanal brewery, and dinner on the deck is done.
the best fast foods I know is the applewood smoked chicken breast from
the Farm at Mt. Walden in Front Royal, Virginia. This is a good example
of slow food—a small company that makes a few products well with
hands-on attention to quality and results. The chicken breasts are
large and juicy and better than any rotisserie chicken I’ve bought in
supermarkets. I like to make easy sandwiches with thin slices of the
breast, spreading different condiments such as herbed mayonnaise or
cranberry chutney for variety. Or you can chop the meat and add it to
sautéed mushrooms and artichoke hearts for a fast pasta sauce.
recipe that gets most raves, though, is another 10-minute special. It’s
something I made up when some friends were joining me for a picnic on
the grounds of Montpelier, and I needed to make something quick and
refreshing. I combined the chopped chicken breast with roasted
tomatoes, fresh basil and lemon zest and juice, because it was what I
had on hand and it sounded good to me. It was a hit. A similar recipe
is ready in no time with Mt. Walden smoked rainbow trout: flake the
fish, then add minced celery and parsley and seeded chopped fresh
tomatoes; dress with vinaigrette, and serve over a bed of greens.
celebrity chefs are producing their own line of products, though not all
are what I would call artisanal. For that, I turn to Chef Mike Lampros,
owner of Gunther’s Gourmet Groceries based in Richmond. His products
use fresh ingredients that he has personally tasted and tweaked to get
the balance of heat and piquancy, creaminess or chunkiness he’s looking
for. As a result, his salsas and dressings/marinades make cooking easy
while keeping the homemade taste in each dish. He offers many quick
meals on his Web site:
www.gunthersgourmet.com. My favorite is his Black & White Bean
Quesadillas. They’re ready in no time and taste way better than the
to cooking fast in the Slow Food style is like all good cooking: start
with the best ingredients and you can’t go wrong. To find them, slow
down a bit and visit farms in our region. Pick your own vegetables at
Snead’s Farm or visit their booth and those of other farmers at regional
markets. Check out the artisanal products in our area and support the
entrepreneurial spirit that made America great. There are dozens to
choose from, including baked goods and chocolates, jams and honey, meats
and seafood, pickles and condiments. While supporting our local
economy, you’ll be generously rewarded with outstanding flavors and
article appeared in the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star on June 9,
Black and White Bean Quesadillas
Shred some Mozzarella and cheddar
cheese; dice some red onions. Grill off some chicken breast and slice
into strips. On one half of the flour tortilla layer the cheese, onions
and chicken strips – not so much that it will spill out – and top with
some Gunther's Black and White Bean Salsa. Cover with a bit more
cheese; fold in half to make a half moon shape. Either grill or cook in
a sauté pan with a little bit of oil until golden brown, flip and
repeat. Cut into four pie shaped wedges and top with sour cream,
guacamole, and some Gunther’s Smoked Corn and Spicy Chipotle Salsa.
Serves 4 appetizers, 2 entrees.
Lampros, Gunther’s Gourmet Groceries,
Chicken Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
Rough chop a Mt. Walden smoked
chicken breast and ½ cup roasted tomatoes in olive oil. Tear one bunch
of basil into small pieces. Zest one lemon—then juice it. Toss all
ingredients together. Serves 4
Smoked Rainbow Trout Salad
Remove the skin from one Mt. Walden
Farm smoked rainbow trout. Flake the fish into a bowl. Finely chop one
or two stalks of celery, strings removed. Chop one medium tomato, seeds
removed. Mince enough parsley for about 2 tablespoons. Combine with
fish and toss with homemade or bottles vinaigrette. Serve on a bed of
fresh lettuce or salad greens. Serves 4.
What's in a Name? Fascinating
When Monty moved in next door, I
was set not to like him. His family’s new house sprawled over the vacant
lot that for most of my 12 years had hosted dozens of leaf forts,
headquartered at least six secret clubs, and harbored an Indian burial
ground (that big rock with carving on it was some kind of gravestone, I
just knew it!). On the other hand, Monty’s father had the wisdom to
carve out a flat driveway, the only one on our steep street, and put up
a basketball net. Hard to resist, especially during a summer when old
playmates were away at camp or family reunions.
Monty and I shot hoops together a few times, and I did eventually get
over the loss of my childhood playground. But we never became friends.
How could we when time after time Monty would suddenly go inside,
leaving me dribbling on his driveway, only to return 10 minutes later
with powdered sugar on his upper lip! He was such a cad that he never
guessed that I knew he had gobbled a quick doughnut or cookie without
offering me a crumb. Simply too rude, even by kids’ standards.
Decades later I learned that the Italians were onto the likes of Monty
with a confection called Bugia or Liar’s Cookies. A thin, fried cookie,
they have a powdered-sugar coating that helps Italian mothers keep a lid
on the cookie jar. Even if the kids swear they hadn’t sneaked an extra
cookie, mama can always tell.
There are a lot of foods with interesting names and stories, and the
Italians have two others I particularly like. Puttanesca Sauce is a
famous dish from Naples that literally means “prostitute sauce.” I’ve
heard a couple of stories explaining how this mixture of tomatoes,
anchovies, capers, and olives came by its colorful name. One version
claims that prostitutes, at the end of a long night, would come round
the restaurants asking for leftovers. Known for not throwing anything
away, the chefs would add whatever was at hand to the marinara sauce
simmering on the stove and serve it with pasta, usually linguine or
spaghetti. Another take on the story comes from Clifford A. Wright,
author of “A Mediterranean Feast” (William Morrow and Company, New York,
1999), who writes “that Neapolitan harlots would entice customers with
plates of their favorite pasta.” All things considered, I’m going with
the first one.
Strozzapreti pasta also enjoys a colorful back story. Literally, it
means “priest strangler” or “priest choker,” though the true meaning is
not near as violent as the translation implies. According to legend,
Italian priests had a reputation for watching over their flock more
closely around suppertime than the rest of the day. Strozzapreti, which
measures anywhere from three to six inches long and is rolled lengthwise
and lightly twisted, is thick and filling, making a little go a long way
toward satisfying a priest’s more secular cravings.
The British have a number of funny names for food. Bubble and Squeak
echoes the sounds the potatoes and cabbage make while cooking. This
economical dish had its heyday during the Depression, but even today
it’s a tasty way of using up vegetables; you can also add bits of
leftover Brussels sprouts and meat to the basic recipe. As if Bubble and
Squeak isn’t enough, Jane Garmey, author of “Great British Cooking: A
Well Kept Secret” (Random House, New York, 1981) recommends serving it
with Wow-Wow Sauce, a mixture of meat stock, Worcestershire sauce,
mustard, and herbs. “Judging from its name,” she writes, “this sauce
must have caused something of a sensation when it first made its
appearance in the London chophouses of the early 19th century.”
Toad in the Hole is better known in America, especially in Colonial
states like Virginia. It’s a yummy concoction of Yorkshire pudding and
small breakfast sausages, though traditionally it was also made with any
leftover meat such as lamb chops and kidneys. There are still several
variations throughout Britain, and in Norfolk, England, the toad (as the
recipe is affectionately nicknamed) is known as Pudding-pye-doll.
Whatever it’s called, little is known about how it came by its name.
There are definitely no toads in it, and there are no holes—just lots of
moist and eggy pudding puffed around savory sausages that combine into
the perfect comfort food for a winter’s evening.
Eton Mess pays homage to Britain’s love of strawberries and cream with a
new direction provided by the addition of kirsch and crushed meringues.
Jane Garmey explains that this dessert was traditionally served on June
4th when Eton College, one of England’s best-known private high schools,
held its annual awards day. As the name implies, it’s a mish-mash of
ingredients, but it’s especially delicious when strawberries are at the
height of their season, something the British take quite seriously.
I can think of another English recipe with a fascinating name, but the
translation on this side of the pond ends up a bit too rude for print.
Too bad, as it’s a tasty dessert, but, as Monty hopefully has come to
understand, rudeness is simply not to be entertained.
Liar’s Cookies or Bugia
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled briefly
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground anise seeds
4 to 6 cups peanut or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
About 2 cups powdered sugar
Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt, and sugar and set aside. In
the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together
the eggs, butter, orange juice, brandy, vanilla, and anise seeds until
well blended. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix on low speed
until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and adheres to the paddle.
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured board. Knead by hand until
smooth. Form the dough into a ball, flatten slightly, and place in a
bowl. Cover with a tea towel and chill at least 2 hours or up to
overnight to allow the dough to relax.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer or deep pot to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, cut the dough into 4 or 6 equal pieces. Keeping the dough and
work surface well floured, pass the dough through the widest setting of
a pasta machine 3 or 4 times. Then pass through successively narrower
settings until the dough is almost thin enough to see through; depending
on your pasta machine, this will probably be the next to thinnest
Cut the dough into long strips 3 inches wide, then cut the strips on the
diagonal into pieces about 3 inches long. If the dough tears, cut it off
and work it back into the dough. The cookies curl when they fry, so
fancier shapes are not important. As the cookies are cut, transfer them
to baking sheets lined with flour-dusted tea towels, and cover with tea
towels so they won't dry out before frying. Fry in batches, turning
once, until puffed and golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer with a
slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
While the cookies are still hot, dust them well with powdered sugar.
Wait for a few minutes while the oil and heat absorb and melt most of
this first coating. Dust well a second time until the cookies are quite
white. The cookies will keep for a week or so in an airtight container.
You may need to re-dust them with sugar before serving.
Only a few cookies at a time will fit, even in a big pot, so frying
takes time. It is best to have company in the kitchen, ready with lots
of good talk to keep you amused. And there are always the warm cookies
to eat along the way as a reward.
An Armchair Journey to the New
York Fancy Food Show
NEW YORK--Unlike a lot of conventions today, the New York Fancy Food
Show doesn’t have flashing videos or scantily clad young women to
attract attention to its booths. It doesn’t need to. Its exhibitors have
laid before us the world’s best chocolate and coffee, condiments and
cheeses, wines and pates, and we flock like faithful pilgrims to this
annual shrine. All 24,000 of us who attended this 50th anniversary trade
show of the NAFST, the National Association for the Specialty Food
Before my first show, I had imagined the hall would be big, but I hadn’t
pictured the 294,000 square feet on both floors of the Jacob Javits
Convention Center on the edge of Manhattan’s Garment District. That’s
147,000 times the size of Feast-O-Rama or seven football fields filled
with 2,300 exhibiting companies from 44 countries luring us to their
This is our fourth show, and the most successful one to date. We spend
three days every year in late June combing the aisles for the best
products we can find to bring home to Fredericksburg. Of course, we skip
a fair number of the booths—either we already have plenty of good
suppliers for that category or their products don’t pass muster. Like
Good Wife Hors D'Oeuvres (what decade are they living in?) or strange
concoctions of apples coated in chocolate and peanuts (too reminiscent
of something I’ve seen in the elephant yard).
When it comes to sampling, even the good booths require some restraint.
The peculiar mix of pickles and chocolate, cheeses and salsas starting
at 9:00am every morning and running until 5:00 or 6:00pm each evening
sends the digestive system into confusion, at best. Too many tidbits,
and too soon nothing tastes good. Some people recommend spitting out
after rolling the sample around in the mouth, the way they do at wine
tastings, but it’s not that easy. Sure, if I bite into something
unpleasant, I am quick with the paper napkin. But swallowing seems to
play a role in whether or not we enjoy a food, otherwise obesity would
be an obscure word in a crossword puzzle. I need to swallow something to
judge the mouthfeel and the aftertaste. But I’m careful.
We also like to visit the Focused Tastings, a cluster of tables
featuring selections from various exhibitors for side-by-side
comparisons. This year’s themes are Non-chocolate Candy, Specialty Oils
and Low & Reduced-carb Foods. In a similar vein, the Focused Exhibits
showcase 1200 items in lighted cases in categories such as What’s New,
Gift Avenue, Natural Foods and Fair Trade, a new category this year.
Every year we discover a variety of new products in these displays that
we might have missed otherwise.
In addition to all the booths, the people-watching is outstanding.
Famous chefs like Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Oliver, Emeril Lagasse, Charlie
Trotter and Todd English have booths for their products, though this
year we only spot Paul. Men and women elegantly clad in native dress
walk the aisles, where English is almost a foreign language. Cell phones
have added to the drama as these people make seemingly important deals
on the show floor. One Italian businessman is carrying on in such a
central-casting way that at first we think it’s a staged promotion. His
flamboyant pacing with arms flailing and harsh words flying draws a
crowd, but he doesn’t stop until, we assume, the deal is done.
After a couple of days, our feet are complaining, so we take advantage
of the brain food the show organizers are serving up. We try to attend
at least one of the educational seminars—industry know-how shared
through slides, lectures and networking. Gina has chosen “Exploring
European Authentic Tastes: A Guided Tasting of Protected and Traditional
European Foods” to add to her knowledge of the European Union’s
protected foods, such as Belgian Trappist ale, Spanish Serrano ham, and
Italian Parmegiano Reggiano cheese. I opt for “Gift Basket Marketing &
We spend less time in the Wine Pavillion and the International
Pavillions, because most of these exhibitors are trying to attract
large-scale importers who can bring their products to America. But it’s
fascinating to stroll past huge displays of Spanish olives, Turkish
dates and spices, and Brazilian coffee. In the English Pavillion, we are
delighted to meet Lloyd Green, who makes the English farmstead cheddar
we’re so fond of. He seems equally glad to meet us once he learns that
we stock his cheese, shaking our hands and inviting us to visit his farm
in Somerset. The stuff dreams are made of.
By day three, everyone is talking
about the winners of the annual Product Awards, the NASFT’s equivalent
to the Oscars. In fact, the trophy is similar—a gold chef standing about
a foot tall on a pedestal, something the winners proudly display in
their booths year after year. The 20 winners this year were selected
from 70,000 products by more than 100 specialty food retailers,
supermarket buyers, catalogers and other resellers. We don’t always
agree with the judges—some of the products are just too precious. We’re
looking for more down-to-earth excellence, and found it in their choice
of chocolate sorbet from Ciao Bella Gelato Company, hot chocolate from
Schokinag Chocolate North America, and mint pesto from Sauces N’Love
Just before the show closes, we squeeze in one more stop: the Olive Oil
Talk. This event allows us to taste premium olive oils while learning
about their characteristics by using a hand-held audio device. We’re
amazed at the differences we can taste, with notes of bitter and fruity,
butter and pepper clearly evident. Olive oil is good for the digestion,
and that’s lucky after three days hard at it. But as they say, it’s a
tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
The Afterlife of Bread
When the staff of life goes stale, don’t toss it out. There’s plenty of
life left in that loaf!
In addition to the more familiar uses—croutons, French toast, stuffing
(more on that later)—cooks have being using day-old bread for centuries
in inventive and practical ways. Like gazpacho. Long before explorers
introduced tomatoes to Spain from the New World, pre-Columbian cooks
made this traditional soup with bread. The name itself is derived from
root words that mean “remainders, worthless things,” but this creamy
white version chilled and garnished with peeled green grapes and
slivered almonds is worth its weight in cold.
But with autumnal temperatures upon us, hot soups are more in order,
like the Spanish Garlic Soup Executive Chef Salvador Del Rosario serves
at his restaurant six-twenty-three in downtown Fredericksburg. “From
what I’ve read, this is a Moorish dish and the Romans and Spaniards took
it from there,” he explains. “Most European cultures have a similar
soup. Some use cream, some do not.”
As the name implies, garlic is a key ingredient in this chicken or
vegetable-stock based soup. Eggs, almonds, marjoram and sherry vinegar
enrich the soup; just before serving, stale sourdough bread or baguette
is torn into pieces, coated with olive oil, salt and pepper and dropped
into each bowl.
“I should add that, as always, everything should be salt and peppered to
taste while you are cooking,” Chef Sal says. “At the restaurant, we only
use kosher salt and high quality olive oil. I believe you will find it
well worth the extra cost to purchase the best quality olive oil you can
Across the Mediterranean, the Italians also use their “pane raffermo”
(literally bread that has firmed up) for soup. “Pancotto,” meaning
cooked bread, is a hot soup flavored with seasonal vegetables and wild
herbs from the Italian countryside such as borage, wild fennel, wild
chicory and arugula. If you have trouble finding them here, chop
together a mixture of rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, parsley and arugula.
The bread, once softened with water, adds a creaminess to the soup that
makes it even more soothing and satisfying on a cold night.
April M. White, chef at the Kenmore Inn in Fredericksburg, uses leftover
breads to make crostini for soups. “I cut crusts off white sliced bread;
brush with olive oil, fresh garlic and grated Parmesan; and bake at 350
degrees until brown,” she explains. “I cut the squares in half crossways
to make triangles that I put on top of each bowl of soup. They make a
beautiful presentation and add flavor to your soups.”
Chef White also shares a bread pudding recipe with a rich, custardy
texture punctuated by the tart-sweet play on the tongue of fresh
pineapple. She garnishes the creamy confection with a dark rum sauce
made with heavy cream, sugar, vanilla extract and rum.
Bruschetta, another Italian favorite, has become popular in America,
thanks in part to celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali and Emeril
Legasse. They have entire television shows dedicated to these glorified
toasts, and a search on www.foodnetwork.com delivers at least 70 recipes
ranging from pumpkin to tuna to Portabella steak bruschetta with
Gorgonzola butter and red pepper vinaigrette.
Most recipes start with one-inch slices of day-old bread, which you
grill or toast and rub with garlic cloves. Next come the toppings. In a
recent show, Mario used cannelloni beans in one version and chopped
fresh tomatoes in another. Both recipes call for basil cut in a
chiffonade, which is French for narrow ribbons of the herb. It’s easy to
do—simply stack as many as six basil leaves, roll like a cigar, and
slice crossways in fine strips.
This time of year, stuffing is arguably the most popular use for
leftover bread. White, wheat, sourdough, pumpernickel, corn—all kinds of
breads can be used in favorite recipes ranging from Cornbread Sausage
and Apple to Grand Marnier Apricot and Sage Lemon and Chestnut stuffing.
“I take our leftover cornbread and add traditional ingredients such as
celery, onion, chicken stock,” Chef White adds. “I sometimes add a
little cheddar cheese—that’s really good with the cornbread.”
Chef Bryn Purser, long-time chef at Claiborne’s Restaurant in
Fredericksburg’s former train depot, shares one of his recipes for a
cornbread-based stuffing. QUOTE, SYNOPSIS OF RECIPE TO FOLLOW.
For something different with poultry, Chef Salvador Del Rosario
recommends a savory bread pudding. “Omit the sweeteners [from a bread
pudding recipe] and play with it,” he says. “Add herbs and garlic. Add
Manchego cheese or blue cheese. It’s great with chicken and moister than
When you start with good quality bread, it’s hard to go wrong with these
recipes. And don’t wait for a supply of leftover bread to make them. Why
not leave a loaf out overnight so you can enjoy these pleasures the next
There are a lot of additional uses for leftover bread—and they’re not
all culinary. Executive Chef Salvador Del Rosario of six-twenty-three in
downtown Fredericksburg shares some surprising tricks of his trade—and
the plumbing trade.
- Make finely grated breadcrumbs from day-old bread (fresh bread just
doesn’t work as well). They make a great crust when combined with melted
butter as an alternative to graham cracker crusts. For sweet crusts, add
a little sugar and cinnamon.
- Toss some of those finely grated breadcrumbs with herbs and seasonings
as toppings for casseroles and macaroni and cheese or to make meatballs.
- Use finely grated breadcrumbs instead of cornmeal when dusting the
bottom of a baking pan or pizza pan. “Nothing sticks to them,” Chef Sal
- When making pastas such as ravioli, place them on a pan dusted with
bread crumbs so they won’t stick together. As the raviolis cook, the
crumbs dissipate in the boiling water.
- Slice the bread as thin as possible, toss in a bowl with extra virgin
olive oil and dried or fresh herbs and bake at 300 degrees until golden.
Use with olive spreads and cheese.
- Wrap leftover loaves tightly and store in the freezer. Chef Sal says
it will keep just fine for use later.
- When using a meat grinder, clean it with stale bread before washing.
- Mending a broken water pipe? Chef Sal says an old plumbers trick is to
jam stale bread in the pipe, which absorbs the water so there is no
sputtering when soldering. Turn on the water and it blows the bread on
through the system.