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What the heck is that? Part 7

Sometimes when writing menus or discussing food, Chefs use terms that are not always familiar. Other times things are perfectly familiar but they have interesting stories or backgrounds. Anyway, here is a continuation of common and uncommon ingredients that we see on the Vi menus, and an explanation behind them.

Prosciutto; Thinly sliced ham that is cured but not smoked produced in Italy. It is pressed to give a firm texture, may be cooked or not, and is sliced with the grain paper thin to be eaten by itself or to accompany fruit such as figs or melon. Similar cured hams are produced in other countries such as Spain's Serrano , and Germany's Speck which is smoked. America produces it's own versions of these but it is usually cooked, and best used for cooked dishes such as Saltimbocca.

Pumpernickel; a dark unleavened bread made in Germany from rye flour. The best Pumpernickel comes from Westphalia, where molasses is sometimes used to sweeten the rye flavor. The name dates back to at least the fifteenth century, and most likely comes from a German word for fart -pumpern, and the word for demon, which is nickel. This of course means that for at least five hundred years people have been eating Fart Demon with smoked salmon and chives. I swear I am not making this up.

Puttanesca; A dish of pasta served alla puttanesca refers to a sauce of tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, anchovies, chili peppers and herbs. In Italian, the name refers to a not very nice term for a prostitute- the word is puttana, and arises from the Latin word putida which means strong or pungent smell. It isn't clear how much refers to the pungency of the sauce or the people in question.... Now I’ll bet you're wondering how this tasty dish became associated with such sordid content. As is often the case when sifting through culinary history, there are multiple explanations. The first interpretation is that the intense aroma would lure men from the street into the local house of ill repute. This is my favorite one, it reminds me of the Sirens of the ancient world, whose beautiful irresistible singing lured unwary sailors to a watery but happy doom. Like all food legends that's not the only origin story, another theory is that the prostitutes made it for themselves to keep the interruption of their business to a minimum-all these ingredients were easily at hand and could be thrown together quickly. Yet another story says that they made it for the men awaiting their turn at the brothel-- an easy way to get more cash as an empty belly is often the second or third thing on a man's mind. The truth is that this name didn't arrive until well into the twentieth century, and no one seems able to substantiate any of these claims. Like always, the truth should never get in the way of a good story however and you may apply whichever suits your own needs, just be careful to whom you tell it.

Quiche; a pastry filled with a savory custard, containing vegetables, meats and cheese. It is a specialty of the Alsace-Lorraine region which has at times been French, German and is still somewhat both. The true Quiche Lorraine contains only smoked bacon, but alternative versions have cheese and onions. The name is a French derivative of kuche in the German dialect of Lorraine, which is in turn derived from the German word kuchen for cake, which is of course also the origin of the English word for cake. Americans became familiar with quiche after the second world war, and it peaked in popularity in the 1970's. The primarily vegetarian ingredients earned it a reputation as a feminine food-thus the term "Real men don't eat quiche".

Ragout; a thick sauce or stew. The word is from the French term ragoutier, which means to revive the taste. Modern chefs use the term to refer to a sauce or side that is chunky, or even a combination of vegetables.

Ratatouille; a dish of vegetables simmered in olive oil, characteristic of Provence. Typical ingredients include eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and squash. The vegetables are cooked separately, and then combined to produce the final dish.

Ravioli; a small amount of filling, encased in pasta, and served in tomato sauce is the most common interpretation of this centuries-old dish, which is mostly claimed by Italy, but with strong evidence that Southern France and Corsica may be the original creators. This dish has seen a huge decline in perceived quality and respect in the last seventy years or so with the introduction of canned ravioli in a sickly sweet tomato sauce. Seriously, there are not many foods that I hate but canned ravioli is certainly one of them. A good quality ravioli is a thing of beauty and simplicity, and should be treated as such, please don't overlook a ravioli dish on our menu based on Chef Boyardee.

Remoulade; a piquant mayonnaise-based sauce used on meats and salads. Authorities differ on what actually constitutes a remoulade, the French add garlic, gherkins and capers, which may have been the basis for the very non- French tomato-based salad dressing called.... French dressing. The English use boiled eggs and a ittle mustard, while in New Orleans, horseradish, pickles, lemon juice, parsley, capers, and cayenne pepper make a great accompaniment to anything fried.

Rosemary; a bushy herb, closely related to lavender with a bright pine-like flavor. Grown year round in temperate regions, annually in cold. The name comes from the Old French rosmarin, which is in turn derived from Latin ros marinius or Sea Dew referring no doubt to the fact that it grew near the sea. Rosemary has been used regularly since ancient times, as much for its medicinal properties as culinary. Its symbolic significance is referred to by Ophelia in the play Hamlet for remembrance. Great with Lamb, nice with chicken when used sparingly, terrible with most seafood dishes as the robust flavor can easily overpower.

Rouille; a sauce from Provencal made from red chilis, garlic, olive oil and breadcrumbs or occasionally potatoes. This dish is traditionally served with Bouillabaisse, and the chilis give it a reddish brown color whence it name comes from-in French rouille means rust.

Rum; The first recorded Reference to Rum is from 1654 Barbados Rum, also known as " Kill Devil" . Distilled from Sugar Cane, Rum was traditionally made from the leftovers of sugar production, also known as molasses. The flavor and color can range from clear and white to dark and sweet, with everything in between. Rum is as much a part of American history as the Boston Tea party or Bunker Hill, and the story of rum production in the American and Caribbean Colonies is a fascinating one-- best reserved for a future post perhaps.

Saffron; the dried stigma of a species of crocus, used since ancient times and still probably the worlds most expensive spice by weight. The word comes from Arabic, and was first introduced by the Romans to Europe, and again by the Moors in Spain. Each flower produces just three threads of saffron, and these must be harvested by hand, during the brief harvesting period. saffron adds a rich but hard to define bitterness to dishes as well as the bright and beautiful color.

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