Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lend me your (pasta) ears!

I went to a cooking class last night where they taught us how to make pasta by hand. What fun! We rolled out the dough into thin sheets, cut it into a variety of shapes and sizes, and even filled and sealed tortelloni (large-sized are tortelloni, the small-sized ones are tortellini).

One of the recipes was for something called orecchiette, an ear-shaped pasta. You roll the dough (2 parts semolina, 2 parts all-purpose flour, water, lots of kneading to get elasticity) into smallish cylindrical rolls, and then slice it into "coins." You then use your finger to press each coin into an ear shape. This can be done against the counter top, but if you do it on something textured (we used a gnocchi board) it adds cool-looking grooves on the pasta surface. After cooking, it comes out looking like this:

Cooked orecchiette (top) and finished with kale (bottom). I have to say that our pasta was particularly toothsome, with the right amount of springiness in each bite.

It reminded me of the 貓耳朵 or "cat ear" pasta (noodles?) that my friend from Shandong says his family makes, and how I'd imagine them to be. I have a distinct memory of the pinching motion he made with his thumb and forefinger (followed by a toss into boiling water) when he described the dish to me. I searched online for images of 貓耳朵, gathering some photos and recipes and found them to be just like orecchiette!

"How to Make Cat Ear Pasta" A basic recipe for 貓耳朵

"Cat Ear Pasta with Pork and Mushrooms" The procedure and the product in this blog entry on how to make "肉絲炒貓耳朵" by bonnie8nz was virtually the same as our orecchiette!
Rights to these three images belong to bonnie8nz

With egg and tomato

With curry sauce
They use a sushi roller for texture!

Thus, one might be able to jokingly say that when we make the Chinese variant of this pasta, instead of calling it "orecchiette" we might actually call it "ore-kitty."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Which nation?

The Tufts alumni magazine has an intriguing feature that splits North America up into various "nations" that have distinct cultural beliefs. The author observes these to be the "dominant culture", reminding us that "it isn’t that residents of one or another nation all think the same, but rather that they are all embedded within a cultural framework of deep-seated preferences and attitudes—each of which a person may like or hate, but has to deal with nonetheless.

This conception of nations (plural) isn't that far-fetched. "Albion's Seed" makes a great anthropological study of four different colonial cultures (Puritans, Cavaliers, Quakers, Scotch-Irish) that give rise to enduring regional difference even in modern-day America.

Funny enough, I'm currently reading "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman, wherein the main characters contend that while there may be geographical proximity (on the continental scale), the variegated parts of the U.S. are actually different countries:
"San Francisco isn’t in the same country as Lakeside anymore than New Orleans is in the same country as New York, or Miami is in the same country as Minneapolis." 
"Is that so?" said Shadow, mildly. 
"Indeed it is. They may share certain cultural signifiers—money, a federal government, entertainment—it’s the same land, obviously—but the only things that give it the illusion of being one country are the greenback, The Tonight Show, and McDonald’s."