Food – our modern obsession
Long, long ago in the days of my youth, when hippies roamed the planet, two friends of mine gave birth to a child and named him Radish, hoping that he, like the plant that was his namesake, would grow up fast and be easy to raise. (No word on how that turned out…)
From the Latin radix, meaning root, and from the earlier Greek raphamus, which translates to quickly appearing, our radish is the fastest sprouter in the garden. First to be pulled from the garden, first on the stands of the farmers’ markets – what encouragement the sight of a bunch of radishes provides!
Physiologically, radishes remove bilirubin from the liver, preventing or curing jaundice; their consumption will remove a yellow tinge from the skin or eyes. As well, they contain sulforaphane, an important antioxidant compound and proven cancer fighter.
In culinary terms, radish helps stimulate appetite and prepare the palate for the upcoming meal. The following cold soup, a pretty pink in colour, was most popular each year at The Pantry during the season of the radish. As well, this soup is full of beneficial probiotics due to its fermented dairy, kefir.
Want another use of radishes as a featured dish? I combine them with pine nuts, as in the salad below. One generally thinks of pine nuts as coming from Mediterranean Europe, making pesto wonderful. Today one usually finds them sourced from China. But for 12,000 years on the North American continent, the pine nut was to the people of the Great Basin what the buffalo was to the Plains people. The Great Basin refers to the area of high deserts between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, where high altitude valleys run north and south separating the mountain ranges, where the rivers do not flow into the ocean but simply disappear into the sand and where once flourished the piñon pine. While the cones of all pines contain seeds or nuts, it is only the small-statured piñon, a “dwarf” or “scrub” conifer, that produces the sizeable nut which was the vital food source that enabled prehistoric indigenous peoples of the Great Basin to establish their cultures, known today as the Washo, the Shoshones and the Paiutes. Just as the survival of a hunting people depends on a deep and respectful relationship with the animal world, so the survival of a gathering people depends upon their custody of forests or grasslands, which in the case of the piñons involved the pruning of trees and the cleaning of forests.
A Shoshone family might gather 1,200 pounds of pine nuts every fall. But beginning in the late 19th century, arriving settlers chopped down the piñons for fuel for many square miles around the towns and mining operations that the newcomers quickly established. And in the 20th century, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have uprooted more than three million acres of piñon woods, sometimes done with the motive of increasing rangeland for grazing, for which it is unsuitable and from which that land will take an estimated 10,000 years to recover. It was also sometimes done under the claim of diminishing the fire risk, though piñon and juniper fires are extremely infrequent (several centuries apart) and deforestation increases rather than curbs fire danger. Perhaps it was more likely a failed attempt to break a people’s spirit.
The pine nut contains all 20 amino acids and is very high in its concentration of those needed for growth. It was the reliable staple of all the peoples of the Great Basin for more than 10,000 years.
Carolyn Best is the former proprietor and chef of The Pantry vegetarian tearoom.
Frittata with vegetables and cheese: memories of a family dinner
by Marisa Romano
Around the table we eat, carry on conversations, exchange opinions and share personal stories. Around the table we celebrate important holidays and applaud life’s milestones. Around the table we foster memories that surface when we prepare, taste or smell food connected to them.
One of my earliest memories around food dates back to when I was five or six. It is triggered by the smell of a simple slice of “pane e pomodoro” (bread and tomatoes). That was my favourite afternoon snack, a treat I craved especially during winter when the sweet taste of plump juicy tomatoes brought a memory of the summer past. All that was at hand in the winter were the little round shrivelled tomatoes still clinging to the vine at the end of the previous hot season. I recall my great-grandmother picking them off the withered plant hanging from a nail in a cool corner of her house, her weathered hands squishing the little balls by pressing them onto slices of dense country bread, her fingers sprinkling a pinch of salt and holding the bottle to drizzle golden fragrant olive oil on the reddish bread.
Rosamaria D’Amico Durant has labelled these recollections “gastro memories.” D’Amico Durand is a proud Canadian with deep roots in her native Sicily who has gathered her gastro memories in her third book, The Basta Basta Kitchen, Sicilian Family Recipes and Gastro Memories. The book is a personal recounting of family recipes and their history, and a portrait of a family that is now spread across two continents yet is still bonded to its “Sicilia” and connected by the dinner table and the stories around it.
D’Amico-Durand was the special guest of one of the afternoons of Dalla Parte di Beatrice, a conversation group established by the Ottawa chapter of Dante Alighieri Society, an organization that promotes Italian language and culture all over the world (you may be familiar with the Italian movies that the society presents biweekly at the Glebe Community Centre). I hosted the meeting in March. The topic of our conversation: the dinner table of our childhood. The personal memories shared by the participants were surprising, touching, funny and all priceless. On the table, prepared for all to taste, were dishes from the Basta Basta Kitchen. At the end of the afternoon, our guest offered to share one of the recipes from her book: frittata with vegetables and cheese, which is more like a “tortino” or crustless quiche cooked in the oven rather than a classic frittata that is fried in a pan on the stovetop. This recipe was the favourite among those served at the March meeting. Grazie Rosamaria!
The recipe of Turkish salami, also included in the book, was shared in the January 2017 issue of the Glebe Report.
The Basta Basta Kitchen, now in its second printing, was launched on CBC’s All in a Day last January with an interview with D’Amico Durand by Giacomo Panico. Besides family recipes and gastro memories, the book includes notes on the fascinating history of Sicilian cuisine as it has evolved by assimilating the culinary traditions of the many cultures that have landed on this Mediterranean island over the centuries. Copies of the book are available at Octopus Books and online (www.shop.bastabasta.kitchen).
Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.