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.
Orange; of course we all know what an orange is, but do you know where they come from? Oranges are Native to China, but our name for this now common fruit comes a bit further along in it's journey west- India. The Sanskrit term for the fruit was Naranga, which described it's fragrance not it's color, and which passed via Persia into Arabic to Naranj. The Arabs introduced it to Europe by Moorish Spain where it became known as Naranja, and sometime in the thirteenth century it passed into France and England as Orange. All these early fruits were sour regarded in the same light as we now see lemons. The original version is still available and is known as a Seville Orange-used mainly in marmalade, Mojo sauce and quality cocktail bars. Sweet Oranges did not become common until the seventeenth century, where for a while they were known as China Oranges to differentiate from the common sour orange. We use oranges so much they seem hardly worth mentioning, but they were once a delicacy in the West and available only to the wealthy.
Osso Bucco; an Italian dish consisting of cross cut veal shanks, braised in wine with tomatoes, onions and leeks. The name literally means "Bone with a Hole" and refers to the rich marrow at the center of the shank bone. In years past these were served with a special spoon specifically to remove the marrow and the dish was seasoned with Gremoulata, a sprinkling of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic-although I have seen Gremoulata recipes that also include horseradish, bread crumbs and vinegar. The point of Gremoulata is to cut the fatty richness of the veal, although a good Barolo or Barbaresco wine really finishes the dish in my opinion.
Ouzo; a Greek spirit distilled from wine and flavored with aniseed and other herbs. It is colorless, but turns milky white when added to water. Often served as an aperitif, with small portions of food called Mezes-similar to Spanish Tapas. Ouzo can colloquially be referred to as a strong drink, the cause of this being its sugar content. Sugar delays ethanol absorption in the stomach, and may thus mislead drinkers into thinking that they can drink more as they do not feel tipsy early on. Then the cumulative effect of ethanol appears and the drinker becomes inebriated rather quickly. This is why it is generally considered poor form to drink Ouzo without food in Greece. The presence of food, especially fats or oils, in the upper digestive system, prolongs the absorption of ethanol further and helps prevent sudden drunkenness. I can state for the record however that the presence of food does not actually prevent drunkenness much to my own surprise. I really must apologize to that bartender someday...
Paella; a beautiful Spanish dish composed of meats and seafood cooked with rice and saffron in a large flat pan called a paellera, preferably over an open charcoal fire. Difficult to cook in advance, this is one of my favorite dishes that we almost never serve. When we did a batch for Sip and Savor a few months ago, it was very well received, however.
Pancetta; an Italian cured bacon that is seasoned with herbs and rolled into the shape of a sausage. Really good with pasta, on salads, and especially good with salmon
Parmesan; a hard Italian cheese made in the provinces of Parma, Reggio, Modena and Bologna. when aged it is shredded and sprinkled with abandon over pasta, soup, salad, but when young it is quite good on it's own.
Pasta; Literally "dough" or "paste" in Italian, pasta has a long history. Pasta’s history can be traced through many cultures and continents, from Asia to Africa to the Middle East, reaching back at least 3500 years. As early as the fourth century BC, pasta is found in Italy- a sad blow to the legend of Marco Polo who was credited with introducing it from China in the thirteenth century. In Europe outside of Italy pasta was well known as early as the sixteenth century, although it was usually called by it's shape such as Macaroni or Spaghetti. The term "Pasta" as a general concept or food does not enter common English until after the Second World War. Like many simple foods, pasta is basically carbohydrates and is very bland, leading to the addition of flavorful sauces and seasonings such as garlic, onions, cheese, and much later tomatoes and peppers. We mostly use dried Durham pasta here at Vi, but sometimes we make egg pasta fresh-my favorite.
Pilaf; Any dish in which grain is cooked in stock with various ingredients such as onions, vegetables or meat. Originally meant solely for Rice dishes, Also called pilau , the term seems to have entered English from Turkey around 1600. Chefs like to use this term a lot, as it sounds much fancier than just "rice", and it has created more confusion than I think is necessary. If you make rice at home, and you add a bit of garlic or onions, Congratulations, you have made Rice Pilaf.
Pilsner; A pale lager made originally in Pilsen, in what is now the Czech Republic. Pilsen was facing an uproar over it's less than stellar beer, and this brew was made in the Lager style at lower temperatures, taking advantage of the city's soft water. It gained popularity in the mid nineteenth century, and has taken on a more European style flavor since then with more pronounced earthy tones than the original, which is still brewed and is known as Pilsner Urquell. Commonly known European style Pilsners are Amstel, Grolsch, Heineken, and St Pauli Girl. The style fell out of favor in America after Prohibition, although there are some amazing versions making a comeback.
Pinot Noir; Literally translated this grape variety means Little Black Pinecone-referring to the tight conical shaped bunches that this variety produces. Originally produced only in the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France, this difficult wine grape is now produced in cool growing regions around the world, most notably and skillfully in Oregon and Washington. Interestingly, a mutation of this grape produces a much lighter color and is known as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio for it's gray color and is produced quite successfully worldwide as well as a still white wine.
Polenta; a thick porridge made from corn flour that is a staple dish in Northern Italy. The dish is much older than the introduction of corn, and was probably made from ground barley or possibly chestnut flour before the discovery of the New World and the grain we know as corn. In modern times, this somewhat bland dish is seasoned with intensely flavored cheeses, herbs or garlic to make it more interesting. My favorite way to serve it is to pour cooked polenta into a pan, let it cool and solidify then grill it with olive oil and topped with Talleggio cheese.
Port; a somewhat sweet,fortified wine made in Portugal. Made from grapes grown in the Douro River valley, the juice is shipped to the port of Oporto, where it is fermented, thus the name Port is a simplification of Oporto Wine. Fermentation is halted at some point by the addition of brandy, which preserves the wine as well as it's sweetness. Aging further softens and colors the wine, and it ranges from a light brown or tawny, to a rich purple-black.