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Spaghetti Code


hathor
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Anyone else catch this article in the NY Times: Cracking the Spaghetti Code?

Did it bug anyone besides me?

My problem with this article is that it shows no awareness of Italian cooking. Its a lovely article about a roaming family that is grounded by spaghetti sauce, but it has nothing to do with Italy. It only perpetuates the stereotype of Italian cooking.

Chicken thighs? Dried basil? boh!

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Anyone else catch this article in the NY Times: Cracking the Spaghetti Code?

Did it bug anyone besides me?

My problem with this article is that it shows no awareness of Italian cooking. Its a lovely article about  a roaming family that is grounded by spaghetti sauce, but it has nothing to do with Italy. It only perpetuates the stereotype of Italian cooking.

Chicken thighs? Dried basil? boh!

Although I'm not of Italian descent, it didn't bother me, having read and written stories in a similar vein concerning my own British and Serbian ancestories.

Ms Severson's article might be considered a "Rachael-Rayized" version of a serious topic, but I don't think it was intended to be much more than that?

SB :rolleyes:

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I think the idea of tracing the evolution of a recipe from its Italian roots to its eventual Italian-American incarnation, and documenting the various influences that may have guided its transformation is an interesting one. But in many cases, it seems like an impossible one.

--

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My problem with this article is that it shows no awareness of Italian cooking. Its a lovely article about  a roaming family that is grounded by spaghetti sauce, but it has nothing to do with Italy. It only perpetuates the stereotype of Italian cooking.

Chicken thighs? Dried basil? boh!

I don't think the point of the article was supposed to be about Italian cooking at all. She says pretty clearly right at the beginning that it's about the changes in a family recipe:

I had driven through the Italian mountains with an interpreter to find Ateleta, the village where my grandmother Floriana Ranallo Zappa grew up. I had come in search of a recipe. Or more precisely, the evolution of a recipe.

For reasons I couldn’t put together until recently, I had been obsessed with tracking a path that began in my grandmother’s village and ended with the pot of red sauce that simmers on my stove on Sunday afternoons.

She very quickly realizes that it's not about the Italian version of the sauce (whatever that may have been):

To understand why I made my sauce the way I did, I needed to start closer to home, with my mother. She has been making spaghetti sauce for almost 60 years, from a recipe she learned from her mother, who had been making it with American ingredients since the early 1900s.

Nowhere in the article does she claim that her sauce, or even her mother's sauce, is authentically Italian, so I guess I don't see that it perpetuates any stereotypes.

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Judith, you're not alone, though the content of the article does not bother me very much. It's the manner of presentation I find irritating; were a few revisions made, the article might have even done a very good deed in furthering general knowledge about the complex relationship between Italian and Italian-American food.

Kim Severson's premise: I have to go back to my Italian family's homeland to discover how to make the great tomato sauce of my childhood.

It must have been authentic since family tradition within my living memory stems from an illiterate matriarch (knowledge corrupts; the uneducated peasant is the salt of the earth, too hard-working and poor to go to school, but put her in front of a stove and you civilized, cultivated fool standing beside her shall find True Wisdom) who spoke Italian, but little English. My mother's sauce is one step removed, mine two, so they are neither similar nor as good as Grandma Zappa's.

The journalist's discovery: Even the first generation of immigrants did not make authentic Italian food because they lacked the same local ingredients. Everything our family has been thinking of as truly Italian is actually not even a pale reflection of the original since it bears no resemblance to the foods my relatives in Abruzzi prepare when I visit.

The lesson is not stressed. If it were, Severson should have offered recipes for the ragu made with lamb and the things residents of Ateleta do with vegetables or tomatoes next to the recipes of her family. The journalist would speak to Fabio Trabocchi or other young Italian chefs who have recently opened restaurants in the US. Ask them what it is like to introduce guests to unfamiliar regional dishes--or how they responded to their first tastes of Italian-American food.

To her credit, though, she did speak to Lidia Bastianich who has a true appreciation for Italian-American food, not just the cuisine of her own family's heritage. What Ms. Bastianich said should have received greater emphasis, especially when it comes to resourcefulness and making do with what one has, locally.* While the journalist may have been eating American red sauce all these years, making do and improvising based on what's around is Italian in spirit.

Talk about canned goods vs. fresh, dried herbs vs. fresh and how canned and dried are not just American phenomena.

Someone should have mentioned you don't put meatballs cooked in red sauce on top of spaghetti back in the homeland. Called polpette, meatballs are indeed prepared throughout Italy where local traditions determine ingredients and ways they are served.

Also, LB is the right source for this lesson: what's with Americans and the concept of following an authoritative recipe precisely? The idea of a master recipe is faulty.

What undermines the lesson in terms of presentation:

1) The title. Grandchild of Italy sets up the article as a kind of Roots experience which it isn't. It's the opposite, but I don't mind that so much as the reference to the Davinci Code which ticks me off more than any other travesty of Italian culture since I don't know when. It's pandering to the worse possible taste.

2) The glorious romatic band of pictures on the web site. Look at that lined face in the middle, will you? I'd love to hear Filomena Sciullo Ranallo really likes to watch reruns of "Dallas" on cable and wear lipstick whenever she leaves the house. It really is the great-aunt of the journalist, though. However, what's the word "tagliatelle" doing under a picture of a dried local pasta I am too ignorant to identify myself? And is that really zia's tomato sauce on the right?

3) The recipes. Those are NOT Italian meatballs. Call them Severson's family meatballs.

*Think you had it bad cooking tubes of ground meat in Utah recently?

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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hmmm, i thought it was a pretty wonderful story. i thought the premise was trying to find the roots of her mother's spaghetti sauce and realizing that it had changed almost beyond recognition from what it had started out as. i thought lydia's comments were right on point, and brought up an aspect i hadn't previously considered: that "turning up" an ingredient could be an aspect of nostalgia.

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Anyone else catch this article in the NY Times: Cracking the Spaghetti Code?

Did it bug anyone besides me?

My problem with this article is that it shows no awareness of Italian cooking. Its a lovely article about   a roaming family that is grounded by spaghetti sauce, but it has nothing to do with Italy. It only perpetuates the stereotype of Italian cooking.

Chicken thighs? Dried basil? boh!

Judith, I really think you are turning into a true Italian :laugh::laugh::laugh:

Now I am getting "a little bit" over it, but I can never foget my first time in the US, in 92, I was 18 years old. I've been served some horrifying bread with sprinkles on top which was called Italian bread. I tried to answer back that it was not an Italian bread, I was thinking of my crunky michetta with prosciutto.

Now I am a little more flexible, but I have to admit that this kind of articles bothers me a little bit, my first thought is "basta", still the nonno and nonna around. Maybe because I am comfortable with who I am and I don't need to go to search my roots. I think it is a very interesting subject and now I can also compare US vs UK

Edited by Franci (log)
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Thanks for the different points of view. I was afraid I was just getting cranky up here in the mountains...maybe its the lack of fresh vegetables?

Pontormo, I think you summed up my irritation precisely. It was the presentation. The basic premise is fine and good, but the relying on that Italian nonna crutch, with the DaVinci code thrown in...blech.

This is a nice piece of generic fluff. You don't learn anything, and the uninformed reader is still thinking that those meatballs are genuine Italian.

This summer, in Tuscany, we were with some guests, and one of the women, wealthy, well traveled, was complaining that she just wanted some 'real' Italian food. She was hungry for chicken parmigiana.

Sorry, I must still be cranky..... :wacko:

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A common problem in America is confusing real Italian (or Chinese, Mexican, etc.) food with Italian-American (or American Chinese or Tex-Mex, etc.) food. When one goes to an "Italian" restaurant in America, the chances are around 99.9% that it is actually an Italian-American restaurant. Since so many Americans have come to associate "red sauce Italian-American" cooking with "Italian food," it's understandable how they wouldn't appreciate Tuscan cooking as "Italian food."

Italian-American food is no more Italian cooking than Cajun food is French country cooking. They have evolved into something else. Something good, but something different.

--

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Someone should have mentioned you don't put meatballs cooked in red sauce on top of spaghetti back in the homeland.
the uninformed reader is still thinking that those meatballs are genuine Italian.

No, actually, she wrote about this, and very specifically said there is no spaghetti and red sauce/meatballs in Italy. Then she wrote about where you might find some kind of meatballs-in broth, etc.

You read the article very differently than I did. To me, she emphatically made the point that the Italian-American cooking she grew up with is not the same thing as the Italian cooking of her relatives-that is what the article was about. I was excited to read this article because I loathe the kind of red sauce Italian-American cooking that so many Americans call "real Italian cooking." This is a great article for educating people like the woman who wanted chicken parm on your tour-it will help people understand Italian and Italian-American arent't the same thing.

Pontormo, you want her to write a book on the subject, but this is a newspaper article limited to X number of words.

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people do tend to get very possessive about their favorite cuisines and pretty rankled when things don't conform to their expectations. i remember when i was working in new mexico, people would come back from vacation in old mexico and say of the food: it was good, but it wasn't mexican.

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No, actually, she wrote about this, and very specifically said there is no spaghetti and red sauce/meatballs in Italy. Then she wrote about where you might find some kind of meatballs-in broth, etc.

I said there are no meatballs on top of spaghetti ("all covered with cheese....").

You read the article very differently than I did. To me, she emphatically made the point that the Italian-American cooking she grew up with is not the same thing as the Italian cooking of her relatives-that is what the article was about. I was excited to read this article because I loathe the kind of red sauce Italian-American cooking that so many Americans call "real Italian cooking." This is a great article for educating people like the woman who wanted chicken parm on your tour-it will help people understand Italian and Italian-American arent't the same thing.

Pontormo, you want her to write a book on the subject, but this is a newspaper article limited to X number of words.

Reread my first post, especially the lines about premise & discovery. I did not read the article all that differently, just more critically which is my wont. However, I also happen to appreciate Hathor's passionate rants and was expressing gratitude for bringing the article to my attention. Linguists note that women tend to use discourse as a means of identifying with other participants in exchanges, and men, to compete and promote themselves. I guess I was being myself while displaying characteristics of the other gender.

I thought the lesson a good one, and yes, even found the bit about tomato paste interesting, though when we were cooking our way through Sicily, I also saw signs of Italian-American tomato paste in practices Lanza & Simetti report.

As I said, the mode of presentation undermines the journalist's purpose and I didn't have too many problems with the content of the article. I thought that the lesson itself should have been stressed and that her great-aunt's lamb ragu should have been offered by way of a recipe in tandem with Kim Severson's red sauce.

If that lesson is to have an impact on readers who don't know from red sauce (how many NYTs readers, don't , really?), you don't say: "Here: a recipe for Italian meatballs...I like using dried basil....") Show how to make fresh breadcrumbs without the Progresso Italian seasonings at least.

I'm not saying everything Italians cook is great and everything Americans do bastardizes real Italian cooking. I love chicken parm, myself, and I find the reliance on dadi of Star (chicken boullion cubes) in Italian kitchens less than satisfying.

There truly are nonne, wizened, dressed in black plucking rucola from the meridian along the superstrada. Still. But a lot of those women have traded in the clunky, hand-cobbled black shoes for Nike-knockoffs they bought from a bin at the streetmarket or even Footlocker. Plenty dress smartly, have careers as well as jobs and go to church only when there's a newly restored fresco to see... How many Americans saw Caterina in the City a couple of years ago (an Italian movie set in contemporary Rome)? Watch television long enough and you'll find what we are exposed to too, too much instead: a sappy song sung by a popular tenor as a gorgeous, gorgeous young man leaves a box of Barilla for a gorgeous blond to serve her friends, or gondola rides in Venice to sell pizza.

When Severson writes about the Romantic notions of her family's recipes and how her nostalgia was based on mythic notions of the past, why perpetuate that myth?

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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It's only February, but I think this may very well turn out to be the best piece of food writing to appear in the New York Times in 2007. I can't for the life of me understand the objections to anything about this piece, be it content, presentation or anything else. It's as close to perfect as a personal essay gets.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, FG, can we agree to disagree? :wink:

I'm still standing with all that Pontormo has said. She is far more eloquent than I.

I found the article meandering and unfocused.

For me, the key element is that a family was tied together by a spaghetti dinner and a particular dinner table. That is a beautiful thing. To try and represent it as 'cracking a spaghetti code', or trying to decipher an authentic link with her Italian heritage, it simply didn't work for me.

As I'm sure you know, there is a group of us that have been studying, enjoying, celebrating and debating regional Italian cooking on the Italian forum. This article flies in the face of everything we've seen, and it perpetuates American stereotypical expectations.

But, there is room and respect for all opinions here, don't you think?

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The writer isn't responsible for the headline, and it's surely meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It's also clearly limited by context. The author makes no claims of historical fealty on behalf of her family's recipe -- she places everything quite clearly in the personal, adaptive, migratory context.

Anyway, tomatoes come from the new world. Anybody who wants to climb up on an authenticity soapbox about Italian tomato recipes will quickly fall off.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Anyway, tomatoes come from the new world. Anybody who wants to climb up on an authenticity soapbox about Italian tomato recipes will quickly fall off.

That's kind of like the "World's Shortest Giant" argument? :blink:

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I read the article with real pleasure. I'm astounded by the dismissive comments. She was writing about her experience, and her that of her family's, not posing as Marcella or Lidia. For the record, my husband's Nonna made very similar meatballs and served them on the side.

(The "Times" might have provided the title, you know.)

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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After reading hathor's and Pontormo's comments, I actually re-read the article to make sure we were talking about the same thing. I said before, and I stand by it, that it didn't seem to me that she's claiming any kind of Italian "authenticity" for her sauce or her mother's sauce. I saw just the opposite: yes, she starts out in Italy, but she quickly realizes and freely admits that there's no "mother red sauce" to be found there. From her grandmother necessarily relying on American ingredients to her mother and aunts further changing the "family" recipe depending on whim (and what was in the freezer), she seems completely aware that the family sauce is an ever-changing hybrid that's more a state of mind than an actual recipe.

That, to me, was the point of the article. To get upset that her sauce isn't "Italian" or "authentic" or to infer that she's perpetuating stereotypes is, I believe, to miss her point entirely and to put words in her mouth (or typescript on her page) that she never intended.

While I might not go as far as Steven and say that it'll be the best of the Times in 2007, I did think it was a very well written and artfully constructed essay that told the story she wanted to tell. (And I'll second his statement about headlines -- never hold a writer responsible for the headline.)

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I read the article with real pleasure.  I'm astounded by the dismissive comments.  She was writing about  her experience, and her that of her family's, not posing as Marcella or Lidia.  For the record, my husband's Nonna made verysimilar meatballs and served them on the side.

...

I agree; I just read the story a second time and like it very much!

As someone with a parent from Europe and on the other side of the family, my grandparents, it resonates and in a truthful fashion. The article talks about her exploration of the dish she grew up with that has roots in the 'old country' but has inevitably evolved as a part of the larger American immigrant story. She is not manufacturing or glorifyng a "nonna concept"; that *is* her nonna; that *is* her story. Not only is it a true story for her, a similar experience is true for many other children and grandchildren of immigrants in the U.S.

It's already been said, but in terms of Italian food, she does actually clearly discuss the different variations that abound in her grandmother's home town and how they are different from her family's version. I think the story is warm and informative, and I also learned something re:Bastianich's comments regarding not only substitution of ingredients and abundance of meat and other 'expensive' ingredients in the U.S. but also how the idea of amplifying remembered tastes may factor in transforming dishes upon emigration.

Interestingly, in terms of considering the concept of a "master" or "true" recipe she not only shows the significant differences between her family's recipe and that of the Italian village but goes further to uncover that smaller, albeit real, differences exist even within those two places. Many different recipes exist in the small Italian town and even here in the U.S. she and her siblings struggle to replicate the dish their mother made! The dish is continually evolving and is influenced by each cook and famly, by ingredients and even elusive memories.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Well, I think that's a beautiful piece of writing and a beautiful story. No, not about getting to the roots of authentic Italian cuisine, but about getting to roots of who and where the author came from. An American story of how those of us who have come from third-generation families have evolved into who we are, of how we cling to tastes from our childhoods that link us, in a way that nothing else in our mobile society can, to our pasts and to our origins, however distant they may seem.

The story may centre on the quest for the origins of an Italian recipe, but it's subject could have been related to any number of other cultures within the 'melting pot' that is our country - that great, delicious, complex, sweet, sour or bitter bubbling cauldron of sauce that no matter what's in it, somehow comes out tinged (however vivid or faintly) with tones of red, white and blue.

As third generation Korean (on my mother's side), third generation French (on my father's), I've gone on similar food quests (in fact I wrote a book about my maternal grandmother that includes her recipes for classics as she taught them to me, my mothers' for the same dishes, and my own, all of which are different, all of which, I maintain, are authentic by the very fact that they have evolved as such and they are what we eat, they define who we are, as well as where we'e come from).

No recipe is ever writ in stone or exists as the canonic, the definitive. The fascination often lies in the evolution of food, its journey down the decades and generations and across the continents.

I say bravissima to Kim Severson.

Marc

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After reading hathor's and Pontormo's comments, I actually re-read the article to make sure we were talking about the same thing. I said before, and I stand by it, that it didn't seem to me that she's claiming any kind of Italian "authenticity" for her sauce or her mother's sauce.

Yes, you are right. She doesn't claim any authenticity.

I was really thinking about this. To me this article is like a catchy tune, It's like a story where a lot of Americans can identify themselves.

But reading from the Italian perspective still bothers me a little bit. I would be like the old man, saying: why don't you speak Italian? And what is doing oregano in your sauce?????

As I'm sure you know, there is a group of us that have been studying, enjoying, celebrating and debating regional Italian cooking on the Italian forum. This article flies in the face of everything we've seen, and it perpetuates American stereotypical expectations.

Hathor, I was not joking, to me you are more Italian than many Italian-Americans. The author of the article had to go all the way to Italy to discover that her sauce was not to be found there...Everybody has its own evolution I guess, so maybe it was her time to look for something in her past.

What it bothers me is that this happens all the times, if someone is looking for a recipe or suggestion in the cooking section for an Italian dinner, I always end up to keep my mouth shut because what people is looking for is a kind of american idea of Italian food. People is not interested to know how it should be. If a say that a proper Italian meal is not made only of two primi piatti, someone is going to come and tell me that is not true because her mother and her grandmother used to do so.

So, this is the perfect article that makes all sons of immigrates feel better about themselves...

Edited by Franci (log)
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So, this is the perfect article that makes all sons of immigrates feel better about themselves...

Ah. :biggrin: Tell a "son of an Italian immigrant" that he needs to feel better about himself and you will have quite an animated discussion on your hands. :wink:

The essence of childhood foods, family foods, is not in their "authenticity".

The essence of most childhood foods, family foods, is not in their fineness of ingredient or perfection of technique.

The essence is that they belong to the family, *that* family, those people, the people that belong to you and you to them, in that point of time, in that place. Their love and care is brought to the table in those foods, and eaten, and remembered.

Then it is *that* sauce, that way of serving meatballs, that reigns supreme. There is no argument against this, for it would be an argument against love, one that can not be won by any logic, no matter how purely wrought or intellectually convincing.

This personal essay was about something the author loved, and how she went on an almost archaeological search to find out more about it. To her, the old way, the "authentic" way - was something to be looked at and thought about in reference to *her* Primary Sauce (ha, ha like primary source). Not something to be revered or held as better, but something to examine to understand better the thing *she* loved.

It may be that love is blind, and that many if not most or maybe even all of the foods loved from childhood family tables are bastards - not scheming bastards though, not lesser or evil, merely things that have adapted and become of their own time and place. And each person's individual time and place, just like their name, is sacred to them, and important, in close-held ways to the heart.

As far as the essay goes, I enjoyed it very much. My first thought was "It's about time we get to read something like this." The title did not bother me because I didn't connect it to popular culture, I just thought "the code (i.e. mystery) of spaghetti". Which was sort of cute and I like sort of cute in terms of titles. It keeps it simple and not perilous in terms of appproach to something likely read while downing the first cup of coffee of the day, or inbetween doing this-and-that, without great intent of focus given. A friandise, a little frill, that's okay. It's like a touch of bright lipstick. It attracts the eye in a certain way, but does not signify idiocy as to the rest of the content of the package.

But Pontormo's post gave me food for thought, too. It was a well-reasoned and clear critical analysis, knowledgeable and interesting. Definitely worrth reading in tandem to the essay. It makes the circle of thought larger, fuller. And that, to me, is good. :smile:

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So, this is the perfect article that makes all sons of immigrates feel better about themselves...

Ah. :biggrin: Tell a "son of an Italian immigrant" that he needs to feel better about himself and you will have quite an animated discussion on your hands. :wink:

the meaning I wanted to give to the sentence is that a lot of people can recognize themselves in this picture.

BTW, also my child will be a son of immigrants, with the only difference that his/her first languages are going to be italian and chinese. So, myself I am immigrant :smile:

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      1.Keep nuts in a warm oven ( about 150° F / 65° C ) until you add them. Adding room temperature or colder nuts will reduce working time.
      2.Getting the nougat spread between sheets of Ostia is the trickiest part of the process. I use buttered caramel rulers on the outside edges of the bottom sheet, pour and press nougat in place, and then press the top layer on with an offset spatula. If you don't have caramel rulers, try spreading the nougat with an offset spatula, topping with the other sheet, and rolling with a pin to smooth. I advise against trying to cast the slab in any kind of fixed side pan, as the stickiness will make it very difficult to remove.
      3.Score the top layer of Ostia before cutting through. Once scored, a straight down cut with a Chef's knife works well. Cut into six 8 1/2” long bars and wrap in parchment or waxed paper to store, then cut into smaller rectangles to serve.
      4.There are many possible alternate flavorings. 1-10 Lemon oil or 1 t. (5 ml) vanilla or almond extract work well and are traditional flavors. Candied orange peel and/or orange zest can also be added.
      5.I use half pistachio and half almonds as the nuts. Hazelnuts (filberts) are also traditional. Any common nut should work.
      6.Ostia is available from confectionery suppliers. I get 8-1/2” x 11” sheets from www.sugarcraft.com under the name 'wafer paper'.
      This recipe is copyright 2009 by Patrick J. Santucci. Contact the author on eGullet under the username psantucc.
    • By Paul Bacino
      1 C Northern Beans soaked over-night in
      4-6C Water or Chxn Stock
      1/2 t Cayenne Pepper
      1//2 t Granulated garlic
      1 twig Dried oregano-- dried from last yr
      2 Bay
      pinch of salt ( yes ) and few pepper corns
      in the Morning; All into the Slow Cooker for 5 hrs. ( Crock Pot )
      I removed half the liquor and added chicken stock here back in . to this I added diced cooked Italian sausage about 1 whole .. simmer in a pot.. I transferred to... then add 1/2 head of shopped chicory ( curly endive ) finish cooking 15 mins
      cheers
      Most measurements again are from feel
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