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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Seed & Mill Halva Is Halva Heaven

Seed + Mill Halva

Seed + Mill Halva

Seed + Mill Halva

Seed + Mill Halva

Halva With Ground Coffee Beans

Halva With Pop Rocks

Halva Dessert Plate

Halva Dessert Plate

Halva Cake

[1] Clockwise from top: rose, cinnamon, pistachio and coffee. [2] Chocolate chile halva. [3] Lavender halva. [4] From the front: chocolate orange, date, lemongrass and marble. [5] Caffeinated, with ground coffee beans. [6] Vanilla topped with Pop Rocks. [7] A halva dessert plate: mixed flavors and fruits. [8] Dessert plate of halva with dried fruit. [9] For a special occasion cake, just add a candle. All photos courtesy Seed + Mill.

 

Halva versus halvah? Who cares how to spell it*, when it tastes this good.

The sweet confection’s name derives from the Arabic word halwa, which means…sweet confection.

The best halva we can imagine comes from a relatively new company, Seed + Mill, founded by three friends in New York City, one of whom grew up in Israel.

The company was born when the latter friend couldn’t find quality tahini in the U.S., and decided to grind her own. Fresh tahini is ground on-site at their store in Chelsea Market, New York City, and sold along with other sesame-based products.

The company says that theirs is the only store in the U.S. that solely purveys sesame seed products (although we noted a frozen yogurt machine with goat’s milk yogurt).

While all products are excellent, our food-life-changing experience was engendered by the sesame-based confection, halva(h). Seed + Mill makes the most ethereal, exquisite halva we can imagine—and we have been halva-deprived, for reasons we’ll explain in a bit.
 
ARTISAN HALVA

Seed + Mill distinguishes its products using white sesame seeds from Ethiopia, considered the world’s best. Known for their richness of flavor, they are grown in the area of Humera, a city in the northwest corner of Ethiopia, at the borders of Sudan and Eritrea.

Most of the sesame used for halva and tahini sold in the U.S. is made from seeds from India and Mexico, and are not as flavorful. Hence, our disappointment with the halva available to us.

Seed + Mill’s sesame seeds are shipped from Humera to Israel, where they are roasted. Some stay in for a bit in Israel, to be ground in small batches and turned into halva. Whole roasted seeds are shipped to New York, to be ground into tahini.

The halva is made by small Israeli producers to the company’s specifications. The producers use ancient artisan technique—no machines, but caldrons, paddles and troughs. The sugar is boiled and whipped into a foam that produces the melting lightness of the confection. Vigorous hand-kneading produces the finest, fluffiest halvah.

Although halva is approximately half sesame paste and half sugar, you can assuage some of the guilt with sesame’s enviable nutrition† and heart healthy fats.

The confection is only mildly sweet, the opposite of fudge and American candy bars.

And let us add: Seed + Mill has as much in common with halva brands like Joyva as McDonald’s has with Per Se.

Even the large halva cakes sold at Zabar’s and shops on the Lower East Side have become so mediocre through the use of cheaper ingredients, that we gave up eating halvah several years ago.
 
THE HISTORY OF HALVA

  • Some scholars suggest that an early form of halva originated before the 12th century in Byzantium, the ancient Greek colony that later became Constantinople, and now Istanbul.
  • Evidence exists that the original was a somewhat gelatinous, grain-based dessert made with oil, flour and sugar.
  • The first written halvah recipe appeared in the early 13th century, and included seven variations.
  • In the same period, a cookbook from Moorish Spain describes rolling out a sheet of candy made of boiled sugar, honey, sesame oil and flour; sprinkling it with rose water, sugar and ground pistachios; and covering it with a second layer of candy before cutting it into triangles.
  • Halva spread across the Middle East to the Mediterranean, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In each locale, its name and ingredients changed slightly to include regional products.
  • Depending on local preferences, different recipes ground different seeds or nuts to make the halva. For example, Egyptians added pistachios, almonds or pine nuts. Indians flavored their halva with ghee, coconuts and dates.
  • Flour and oil disappeared from the recipe.
  • One recipe, made with sesame tahini, was favored by the Ottoman-ruled Romanians. Their Jewish population passed it on to Ashkenazi Jews throughout Europe. It was this sesame halva recipe that was brought to the U.S. in the early 20th century by Jewish immigrants.
  •  
    Here’s more halvah history.
     
     
    SEED & MILL’S MOST HEAVENLY HALVA

    Halva is made when tahini (ground sesame paste) is blended with sugar at a high temperature, and then hand-stirred.

    The company boasts 27 flavors, including two sugar-free varieties. They’re all available online, and the retail shop in Chelsea carries about ten them at a time. Some are seasonal; for example, expect cranberry in the fall and lavender in the summer.

    Wile many Seed + Mill flavors are vegan, about half of the flavors do include a bit of butter, which makes the halvah even lighter and melt-in-your-mouth. These are noted on the website.

    The non-butter flavors meet dietary preferences including dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo and vegan.

    If this seems like a lot of flavors, note that Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), the Ottoman Empire’s longest-reigning sultan, had a special kitchen built next to his palace that was dubbed the helvahane, house of halva. It produced some 30 varieties of the confection.

    At Seed + Mill, you’ll find traditional and modern flavors:

  • Cardamom Halva
  • Chia Halva
  • Chili Chocolate Halva
  • Chocolate & Orange Halva
  • Chocolate Pistachio Halva
  • Cinnamon Halva
  • Coconut Dark Chocolate Halva
  • Crunchy Peanut Butter Halva
  • Dates Halva
  • Dulce de Leche Halva
  • Ginger Halva
  • Goji Berry Halva
  • Lemongrass Halva
  • Marble Halva
  • Mixed Chocolate Halva (dark, milk and white chocolate)
  • Nutella & Hazelnuts Halva
  • Pistachio Halva
  • Rose Oil Halva
  • Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Halva
  • Sweet Pecans Halva
  • Vanilla Halva
  • Whiskey Halva
  • White Chocolate & Lemon Halva
  • White Chocolate Raspberry Halva
  • Yummy Flaky Halva (for garnish)
  •  
    Sugar-Free Flavors

  • Sugar Free Coffee Halva
  • Sugar Free Pistachio Halva
  •  
    Seed + Mill is certified by United Kosher Supervision. You can purchase a piece as small as a quarter-pound, or order an entire halva cake.

    While you’re at it, treat yourself to a jar of the company’s rich, silky tahini in herb, organic and organic whole seed; and two sesame spices, mixes of sesame with salt or za’atar.

     

    RECIPE: HALVA ICED COFFEE

    Seed + Mill adapted this recipe from Ben of Havoc In The Kitchen. He found it in a Russian food magazine, where it was originally made with peanut halva.

    The shake-like drink does nicely as a snack, a dessert or, with the whiskey, an after-dinner drink.

    Ingredients For 2-3 Servings

  • 2 cups strong brewed coffee, chilled
  • 1/3 cup peanut or sesame halva
  • 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • Optional: 2-3 tablespoons whiskey (or to taste)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the coffee, halva, ice cubes and ice cream in a blender. Process for 5 minutes or until smooth and foamy.

    2. STRAIN and discard the tiny pieces of halva and the coffee will be silky and smooth.

     

    Halva Iced Coffee

    [105] Serve halva iced coffee with alone or with halva dessert plate.

     
    3. RINSE the bowl of the blender, return the strained coffee and blend for another 2 minutes and to foam.
     
    ________________

    *The word is transliterated from Arabic, so either halva or halvah is correct.

    †Sesame seeds are one of the world’s healthiest foods. Here’s a nutrition profile.

      

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    RECIPE: Melba Toast

    Melba Toast & Crostini

    Pate & Melba Toast

    Salmon Tartare & Melba Toast

    Raincoast Crisps

    Raincoast Crisps Copycat Recipe

    [1] Melba toast and olive tapenade. Here’s the recipe from Sprinkles & Sprouts. [2] Chicken liver paté and Melba toast, with a dab of marmalade. Here’s the recipe from Drizzle And Drip. [3] Salmon tartare and melba toast. Here’s the recipe from Olive Magazine. Crackers or crisps like these are thin and crunchy, but were baked that way. They are not toasted from bread, so are not toasts. [4] These are Raincoast Crisps (photo Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE), and [5] this is a copycat recipe from The Wandering Fig.

     

    March 23rd is National Melba Toast Day, celebrating dry, crisp and thinly sliced toasts.

    First, and with all due respect, packaged Melba toast has as much to do with homemade Melba toast as the Keebler Elves have with the best homemade cookies.

    Melba toast, which became a diet staple in the U.S. thanks to manufacturers such as Devonsheer and Old London, dates to the end of the 19th century.

    THE HISTORY OF MELBA TOAST

    Melba toast was born in 1897 at the Savoy Hotel in London, where the legendary French Chef Auguste Escoffier ruled the kitchen, and César Ritz ran the hotel. Dame Nellie Melba, the great Australian soprano, was a guest.

    There is an unsubstantiated tale that Melba toast was a mistake in the hotel kitchen; that the dieting diva asked for some dry toast which arrived as overtoasted, thin and crunchy slices. However, as with the story of the history of potato chips, the guest enjoyed the result.

    The more likely explanation is that Melba toast was created by Escoffier* either as a lower-calorie food for the singer, or as simple fare during a bout of illness in 1897 when she was unable to tolerate richer foodstuffs.

    It is said that César Ritz bestowed the name Melba toast, and put it on the menu.

    Since then, manufacturers have marketed Melba toast as a reduced-calorie bread option.

    But for those who want to enjoy a piece of Melba toast, modern crostini are a much closer match.

    MELBA TOAST & CROSTINI VS. CRACKERS & CRISPS: THE DIFFERENCE

    Those thin toast points served with caviar, pâté and steak tartare…those crunchy toasts served with cheese…are they Melba toast?

    And what do they have to do with biscotti and bruschetta?

    Melba Toast Vs. Crostini

    These two are very similar. Both are cut from a loaf of bread and toasted. However:

  • Melba toast is toasted dry, saving calories.
  • Crostini are brushed with olive oil, and can be thicker than Melba toast.
  • Thin toast points made without added fat (butter, oil), as served with caviar, pâté, etc., are also Melba toast.
  •  
    Melba Toast Vs. Crackers/Crisps/Toasts

    In the U.S., makers of artisan crackers sometimes call them crisps, to sound more elegant. That works in the U.S., but in the U.K., crisps are potato chips.

  • Melba toast is a slice of bread that is toasted.
  • Crackers and crisps are made from a dough that is baked to its finished size and shape. They are not slices of anything
  • Toasts, or party toasts, are actually bread that is dry-toasted like Melba toast. They are baked to size, sliced and then toasted until dry and crunchy. They are a miniature, thicker type of Melba toast.
  •  
    Bruschetta Vs. Crostini

  • Bruschetta are grilled, crostini are toasted.
  • Bruschetta are larger and thicker than crostini.
  • Here’s more on the differences between bruschetta and crostini.
  •  
    Melba Toast Vs. Biscotti/Rusks

    What about savory biscotti?

  • Biscotti are made from a dough that is shaped into a loaf, then baked. The biscotti are then cut from baked loaf and baked again: twice baked, like Melba toast.
  • They are also called rusks (and have a history with teething babies).
  • However, biscotti, also known as rusks, are much thicker and larger than Melba toast.
  •  
    WAYS TO SERVE MELBA TOAST

    Whatever you call them, serve them:

  • As a crostini base.
  • With dips.
  • With pâté, rillettes and other fish and meat spreads.
  • With soft cheeses and cheese spreads.
  • With salads and soups.
  •  
    Are you ready to toast your own?
     
    RECIPE: MELBA TOAST

    Melba toast is made by lightly toasting thin slices of bread in an oven or under a grill (no grill marks!), on both sides.

    The thin slices are then returned to the heat with the untoasted sides towards the heat source.

     
    Ingredients

  • 1 unsliced loaf of bread, 1 or 2 days old
  • Serrated knife, sharpened
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 250°F. Remove the crust from the loaf. You can save them and turn them into parmesan crisps, or let them dry out overnight and pulse (or use other technique) to make bread crumbs.

    2. DECIDE on your toasting technique. 3a. Cut the loaf into sections 3 inches thick. Cut each chunk into triangles, then cut each triangle into three or more thin slices. 3b. Lightly toast thick slices of bread. While still hot, slice horizontally into two; then create triangles or rectangles as you prefer.

    3. PLACE on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown. Toast bread in oven, flipping slices halfway through, until dry, about 2 hours. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning.

    4. COOL thoroughly. Then store in an airtight container.
     
     
    *MORE FOODS NAMED FOR NELLIE MELBA

    Escoffier created four foods in total in Melba’s honor. In addition to Melba toast, there are:

  • Peach Melba, a dessert made of peaches, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream.
  • Melba Sauce, a dessert sauce of puréed raspberries and red currants.
  • Melba Garniture, tomato stuffed with chicken, truffles and mushrooms in velouté sauce.
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Asparagus Season Tips, Tricks & Recipes

    Our favorite harbinger of spring has landed in the market. There are numerous spring fruits and vegetables that are eagerly awaited by food enthusiasts; but our favorite is asparagus.

    Fresh-harvested domestic asparagus is as flavorful and affordable as it gets.

    Bonus: asparagus has just three calories per medium spear, and contains no fat or cholesterol.

    It’s also nutritious:

  • A good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc.
  • A very good source of copper, dietary fiber, folate, iron, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, protein, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and vitamin K.
  •  
    The season runs through June, so dig in.

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF ASPARAGUS

    Asparagus officinalis was first cultivated more than 5,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. The oldest reference shows the spring vegetable on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 B.C.E.

  • The ancient Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They liked asparagus so much that they dried it to enjoy after the short asparagus season ended.
  • The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apicius, believed to be from the late 4th century C.E., has a recipe for cooking asparagus.
  • The vegetable gained popularity in France and England in the 16th Century. King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) enjoyed asparagus so much that he had special greenhouses built to supply it year-round.
  • No doubt Louis enjoyed it with with hollandaise sauce, a rich sauce made from butter and eggs. The first known recipe for hollandaise was published in 1651, in a cookbook by the great French chef François Pierre de La Varenne (1618-1678). The recipe was for Asparagus in Fragrant Sauce (his original name for hollandaise).
  • Early colonists brought the plant to America.
  •  
    Asparagus is a perennial plant, raised in furrowed fields. It takes about three years before the plants produce spears that can be harvested. The spears are cut by hand when they reach about 9 inches in length.

    The delicate asparagus plant needs a temperate climate and requires much hand labor in all phases of cultivation; hence, their higher cost.

    White Asparagus, Purple Asparagus

    White asparagus is a special treatment of conventional asparagus, grown for its color.

    The spears must be grown under a layer of topsoil or in the dark without exposure to sunlight. Light would engender photosynthesis and the development of green chlorophyll. The growing technique was developed in France in the mid-1600s.

    If you come across fresh white asparagus and want to see if the extra cost is worth it, steam them with a bit of salt and taste their nuances before adding butter or another ingredient. You may or may not find a difference worth the money. Never buy bland, canned white asparagus.

    Here’s more about white asparagus as well as purple asparagus, a breed that is larger, sweeter and tastier than the conventional green types of asparagus.

    Purple asparagus was originally developed in Italy by farmers in the Albenga region of the Italian Riviera. It was first commercialized under the variety name Violetto d’Albenga.

    Purple asparagus retains its color if cooked briefly (blanching, quick sauteing), but reverts ti green with prolonged cooking.

    ASPARAGUS PURCHASE & PREPARATION

    Buying Asparagus

    Look for firm stalks of a uniform width and a minimum amount of woodiness at the end. It doesn’t matter if they’re thick or slender: both are equally tender. But you need uniformity of size to cook them evenly.

    The tips should be tightly closed. Once they begin to separate, it means that the asparagus is older and won’t have the best fresh flavor. If your tips have begin to wilt, soak the spears in an ice bath before cooking.

    Vegetables wilt when they dry out. You can restore the moisture with an ice bath: Fill a bowl with water with ice cubes. Add the vegetables (cut as you plan to use them) and let them sit for 15 minutes or longer. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on a cloth or paper towel and they’ll be crisp.

    Preparing Asparagus

    Asparagus can be boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed, tossed into soups and stews, and eaten raw as crudités.

    Most cooking instructions tell you to hold a spear of asparagus in both hands and bend until it snaps at its natural break point (which is 1-2 inches above the base). That produces rough, uneven bottoms.

    We simply trim them with a knife as far as the green portion goes.

    Other instructions tell you to peel the surface of the bottom quarter if they are woody. We don’t have this problem, even with the thickest asparagus. But if you’ve trimmed the white bottoms and still are concerned about woodiness, here are two options:

  • Slice a 1/4″ piece from the bottom and chew it. You’ll know for sure if it will cook nicely.
  • Trim that extra inch or so, keep the trimmings and use them in a scramble or other recipe.
  •    
    Asparagus Scramble

    Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

    Asparagus Burrata Salad

    Ham & Asparagus Rolls With Blue Cheese

    Asparagus Crostini

    [1] Asparagus Scramble (here’s the recipe from California Asparagus Commission). [2] Asparagus-Bacon Bundles (this also works with green beans—here’s the recipe from Food Network). [3] Burrata Salad With Asparagus & Prosciutto at Barbuto | NYC. [4] Ham & Asparagus Rolls With Blue Cheese (here’s the recipe from Castello USA). [5] Asparagus Crostini from Nestle USA | WordPress. Use hummus or bean dip as the base.

     
    Cooking Asparagus

    Boiled Asparagus: Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then gently tip in your prepped asparagus. Boil for 2 minutes or until the asparagus are bright green and al dente. Take them out and lay it in a single layer to cool. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs and herbs for a light lunch, or puree with a little green garlic for a simple pasta sauce.

    Grilled Asparagus: Asparagus will slip through the grill if you don’t use a vegetable basket or skewers. We actually like the skewer technique, which creates a rack of asparagus. Simply skewer four or five medium or thick asparagus together, brush with olive oil, season to taste, and cook on a hot, preheated grill Preheat grill for high heat for 2-3 minutes per side (depending on thickness), or to desired tenderness.

    Before you add the oil, however, use the ice bath technique described above. When the asparagus come off the grill, they’ll be moist and crisp.

    Raw Asparagus: After trimming, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin below the spear. We like to slice it thinly on an angle to create ovals, to add to salads and grain bowls, but you can also peel it into delicious ribbons. Reserve the tips of the asparagus and mix them in with the rest!

    Roasted Asparagus: Heat the oven to 400°. Toss prepped asparagus on a parchment-lined baking sheet with a glug of olive oil and a large pinch of salt and roast for 5 minutes or so—until crisped at the tips and slightly browned.

    Steamed Asparagus: Simply steamed fresh asparagus at peak flavor is so delicious, we find it needs no embellishment—no salt, balsamic drizzle, butter, lemon juice or other seasoning beyond a pinch of salt. It requires just a quick visit to the vegetable steamer (or microwave) to be ready to eat. (Note: While some people love it, we think that a vertical asparagus steamer is a waste of space.)

    But if you do have a bottle of balsamic glaze or balsamic cream, bring it out!

     

    Grilled Rack Of Asparagus

    Linguine With Prosciutto  & Asparagus

    [6] Grilled Rack Of Asparagus (here’s the recipe from the California Asparagus Commission). [7] Linguine With Asparagus and Parma Ham (here’s the recipe from Il Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma).

     

    ASPARAGUS RECIPES

    Enjoy asparagus every meal of the day!
     
    Breakfast & Brunch

  • Asparagus Frittata With Red Bell Peppers
  • Asparagus Scramble With Herbed Cream Cheese & Tomatoes
  •  
    Lunch

  • Asparagus Pizza
  • Asparagus Spring Rolls With Sweet Red Chili Dipping Sauce
  • Fresh Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Sandwich
  • Thai Grilled Lamb & Asparagus Salad
  •  
    Dinner

  • Asparagus & Shrimp Risotto
  • Green Lasagna With Asparagus & Pesto
  • Linguine, Asparagus & Parma Ham (Prosciutto)
  • Linguine In Clam Sauce With Asparagus
  • Morels With Scallops & Asparagus
  • Warm Salad Of Asparagus Spears & Seared Lamb Chops With Fresh Mint Vinaigrette
  •  
    First Courses & Sides

  • Asparagus & Grapefruit Saute
  • Asparagus & Prosciutto Wraps
  • Grilled Asparagus & Mushroom Salad With Shaved Parmesan
  • Grilled Rack Of Asparagus
  • Radish & Asparagus Salad With Blood Orange Vinaigrette
  • Sweet & Spicy Szechuan Asparagus
  •  

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Wedge Salad Bar & Different Types Of Lettuce

    Back in the 1950s and 1960s, restaurant menus offered hearts of lettuce salad with creamy dressings. The head was cut into quarters and plated with a slice of tomato for color.

    Homemakers were fans, too.

  • The iceberg heads were sold fully trimmed, with little waste.
  • It was easy to cut into wedges or slice into shreds.
  • Although some people tore it into pieces, “The Joy Of Cooking” admonished: “Heads of iceberg lettuce are not separated. They are cut into wedge-shaped pieces, or into crosswise slices.”
  •  
    The lettuce’s crunch was very popular, if bland-tasting (solution: lots of dressing!). The heads kept longer in the fridge, so there was no wilted waste.

    Even James Beard was a fan, recommending the crisp texture mixed with other greens.

    Then came the California cuisine movement, introducing us to better varieties to eat. Iceberg was mocked for lacking flavor.

    Instead, foodies filled their shopping carts with romaine plus arugula and radicchio.

    Yet, hardy, crunchy iceberg still accounts for 70% of the lettuces raised in California (down from 80% in the mid-1970s, however). It’s still popular in foodservice (commercial, institutional), at salad bars and casual restaurants.

    And thanks to the retro food movement of the past decade, iceberg has returned to restaurant menus beyond the steakhouse, in the hearts of lettuce salad now known by a trendier name: wedge salad.

    Let the wedge salad add fun and crunch to your meals. If you have a daily dinner salad, feature the wedge once a week. Turn it into a DIY salad buffet for family and guests. An ingredients list is below.
     
     
    ICEBERG LETTUCE & WEDGE SALAD HISTORY

    The crisphead (iceberg) lettuce variety is relatively new in the history of lettuce cultivation (see the different categories of lettuce, below).

    Crisphead lettuce was a mutation: A grower discovered a different-looking, sweeter-tasting head of lettuce in his field.

    Liking its flavor and superior crispness, he teamed with other growers to breed it to be even better. Thus was born what we today call iceberg lettuce.

    The new variety became a top seller, and remains so. It was called crisphead, its given varietal name, until the 1920s. It subsequently acquired the name iceberg because of its ability to be transported for long distances when packed on ice.

    Before the iceberg named settled in, it was also called cabbage lettuce, for its resemblance to cabbage. In 1894, a Burpee seed catalog exclaimed, “There is no handsomer or more solid Cabbage Lettuce in cultivation.”

    Numerous varieties of crisphead were developed, including varieties with reddish leaves tinged with green and varieties with scalloped edges. While they did not enter the mass market, you can still buy the seeds from specialty sellers.

    Now about the wedge salad:

    Period cookbooks, newspapers and culinary reference books date the popularity of iceberg lettuce salads to the 1920s.

    But the general consensus is that the wedge salad with creamy dressing became a ubiquitous menu entry in the 1950s. [source]

    Who served the first “hearts of lettuce salad,” as it was then called?

    Likely it was a steak house, given the popularity of that type of restaurant in the 1950s and the [still] ubiquitous presence on those menus. But as with so many things, we can only give credit to “an unknown cook.”

       

    Wedge Salad

    Wedge Salad

    Iceberg Lettuce

    [1] A California Wedge Salad with avocado, prosciutto crumbles and ranch dressing (here’s the recipe from Little Broken). [2] A BLT Wedge Salad from Applegate also has avocado and bacon with ranch dressing (here’s the recipe). Note that these are two different recipe names with the same ingredients. [3] The ubiquitous head of iceberg lettuce: Just quarter it for your wedge salad (photo Good Housekeeping).

     

    Boston Lettuce

    Red Leaf Lettuce

    Romaine

    [4] Boston lettuce, a variety of butterhead. [5] Red leaf lettuce, a variety of leaf lettuce. [6] Romaine lettuce (photos courtesy Good Housekeeping).

     

    DIY WEDGE SALAD BAR

    At THE NIBBLE, we’ve added a lot to the simple wedge salad. Call it a DIY, customized or signature wedge salad, it’s a fun munch.

    The Must Haves

  • Iceberg lettuce wedges
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Creamy dressings: blue cheese, thousand island/Russian, ranch
  •  
    Nice Additions

  • Avocado
  • Bacon, any type (the different types of bacon)
  • Cheeses: crumbled blue cheese or feta, shaved parmesan
  • Croutons
  • Veggies: peppadews or pimentos, red onion or scallions
  • Watercress
  •  
    For A Main Dish

  • Hard boiled egg halves (the quarters tend to fall apart)
  • Ham or turkey, julienned or cubed
  •  
    Garnishes

  • Fried Chinese noodles
  • Frizzled onions
  • Fresh herbs (basil, chives, dill, tarragon)
  • Nuts and seeds: candied walnuts, pepitas, spiced pecans, salted peanuts, any toasted nuts
  •  
     
    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LETTUCE

    There four basic types: butterhead, iceberg, leaf, and romaine, along with hundreds of hybrids bred from them.

    Iceberg Lettuce: Also known as crisped lettuce, this is the crispest and hardiest of lettuces varieties. It lasts twice as long in the fridge as long as most other varieties. The downside: It’s not as flavorful or nutritious as other lettuces.

     

    Butterhead Lettuce: Comprising Boston and Bibb Lettuces, these are small, loosely formed heads of soft, supple leaves. Boston is a larger and fluffier head than Bibb; Bibb is the size of a fist, and sweeter than Boston. Both are excellent for lettuce cups. The down side: They’re highly perishable and bruise easily; and are pricier than iceberg and romaine.

    Leaf Lettuce: This category does not form a head; the leaves branch up from a single stalk. The leaves are very tender and are often seen in baby lettuce blends. The burgundy tint of red leaf lettuce and the spicier, nuttier oak leaf lettuce adds charming color to a mixed green salad. The downside: Leaf lettuces are more perishable than head lettuces and wilt easily.

    Romaine Lettuce: Second in crunchiness to iceberg lettuce, romaine is a stalk lettuce like leaf lettuce, with a pleasant bitterness. The crunchy center ribs make the leaves sturdy; and when the outer leaves are trimmed, the smaller ones (sold as hearts of romaine) can be used as “boats” to hold protein salads (egg, chicken, tuna, etc.).

      

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    RECIPE: Ravioli Lasagna For National Ravioli Day

    Ravioli Lasagna

    Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna

    Ravioli Lasagna

    Ravioli Lasagna

    [1] Beef and sausage ravioli lasagna. [2] Pumpkin ravioli lasagna (both photos courtesy Taste Of Home). [3] An even ravioli top (photo courtesy Oxmoor House). [4] Adding the layer of frozen ravioli (photo courtesy Design Mom).

     

    March 20th is National Ravioli Day.

    We like ravioli in any form, but have been especially delighted with ravioli lasagna.

    Bless the person who first thought of the trick of using cooked ravioli instead of lasagna noodles. (Alternatively, you can use penne or other tube pasta, but ravioli supplies added filling.)

    What looks like a complicated recipe couldn’t be easier when you use frozen ravioli (no cooking required) and store-bought pasta sauce.

    Prep time is 25 minutes, bake time is 40 minutes.
     
    RECIPE: RAVIOLI LASAGNA

    We adapted this recipe from one by Patricia Smith for Taste Of Home.

    The recipe uses sausage or cheese ravioli and adds ground beef. But you can make vegetable ravioli, chicken ravioli, or anything you prefer. Here’s another Taste Of Home recipe for (here’s the Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna (scroll down).

    You can vary the recipe any way you like. For example:

  • Substitute ground chicken, turkey or textured vegetable protein (TVP) for the beef.
  • Add veggies via two layers of frozen, thawed spinach or kale (pressed dry), frozen peas or medley.
  • Substitute Alfredo sauce (cream sauce) for the tomato-based sauce.
  • Substitute vegetable ravioli for the meat or cheese versions.
  • We’ve even use ratatouille as the sauce, when we’ve made a large batch (pulse it into a chunky vegetable sauce.
  •  
    Ingredients For 6-8 Servings

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 jar (28 ounces) spaghetti sauce
  • 1 package (25 ounces) frozen sausage or cheese ravioli
  • 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Dried herbs/spices: (chili flakes, garlic chips, oregano)
  • Optional garnish: minced fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Cook the beef over medium heat in a large skillet, until it is no longer pink. Drain.

    2. LAYER in a greased 2-1/2-quart baking dish: 1/3 of the spaghetti sauce, 1/2 of the ravioli, 1/2 of the cooked beef, and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat the layers. Top with the remaining sauce and cheese.

    3. COVER and bake for 40-45 minutes or until heated through.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF RAVIOLI

    China gets the credit for inventing not only strand pasta—thin chow mein noodles like Italian angel hair, chow fun noodles like Italian linguine, chow fun noodles like Italian pappardelle, and stuffed wontons like Italian ravioli.

     
    When it arrived Italy, stuffed pasta (another name for the category is pillow pasta) was served with Italian-style pasta sauces.

    Some food historians believe the name “ravioli” derives from the old Italian word riavvolgere, to wrap.

    Others believe that the dish was named after a renowned 13th-century chef named Ravioli, who lived in the Republica di Genova (a.k.a. Genoa, today the Italian region of Liguria).

    The record on him is scant, but according to DeLallo Authentic Italian Foods, Chef Ravioli is credited with the invention of the stuffed pasta composed of two layers of thin pasta dough with a filling sealed between them.

    Interestingly, the Venetian Marco Polo, who brought the concept of stuffed pasta back from China, had subsequently become a soldier in Venice’s war with Genova. He was taken prisoner by Genova in 1296 and released in 1299, to return to Venice [source].

    We don’t have dates for Chef Ravioli, but might he have heard about the stuffed wontons via someone who heard it from Polo? Given how scant the record is on the chef, we can say with almost-certainty that we’ll never know!

    Here’s much more on the history of ravioli.

     
      

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