Because a bare cupboard and an empty fridge are sad sights to behold, the Urban Forager hunts through food & wine shops bringing home tasty morsels that make your kitchen table the best place to eat in town.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Squid Ink is Fabulous

Usually when I fly I avoid the in-flight magazine until I’ve gone through all the other reading material I have, there’s no movie playing, and I’m bored stiff. Sadly, this happened yesterday before the plane even took off. Trapped in a stifling hot airplane for two hours on the runway of JFK, I pulled the Delta magazine out of the seat pocket and after using it as a fan for a few minutes, finally read a few pages. The article I read was taken from a guidebook by Splendora, a website that is the self-proclaimed “authority on Fabulous.” Making the list of fabulous things this summer were kite surfing in Tarifa, Spain, swimming in the rooftop pool at Hotel Gansevoort in NYC, and accessorizing with Cartier watches and belts and buckles reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s! (that exclamation point is Splendora’s, not mine). I realized that if this was the criteria to be fabulous I didn’t have a chance, so I read on and then, finally, there it was, my chance to be fabulous.
What to eat this summer: Black linguine with lemon zest
Four years ago, black linguine with seared scallops was what I cooked the first night I met my future in-laws. The dish was a hit, which helped draw attention away from the near disaster that also occurred in the kitchen that night when I left a glass pan setting on the stovetop and it blew up and shattered into a million pieces, scattering glass and scallop juice all over the kitchen. But I digress…
Black linguine gets its color from squid ink that is added to the pasta dough when it is made. Although squid ink could be added to any shape of pasta, you’ll see it most often in the shape of linguine, spaghetti, or fettucine. Squid ink pasta is more about color than flavor. It basically tastes the same as regular pasta, but the black color, dulled only slightly after cooking, is striking, especially as a backdrop for bright red tomatoes, green herbs, yellow lemon zest or pale pink shrimp. Squid ink pasta also makes you think about the color of the bowl you’re serving it in; I like it best in a plain, white bowl so that the black color really stands out.
I don’t see black pasta regularly in stores, but its out there and you should keep your eyes open for it, because unless you plan to kite surf in Spain this summer, eating it might be your only chance at being fabulous, too.

Monday, June 18, 2007


There is, perhaps, no food more perfect for summer than Watermelon. Picnicking yesterday, I ate some refreshing yellow Watermelon, which I see occasionally in stores and more often at farmer's markets during the summer. There are about 200 varieties of Watermelon, and a portion of those have yellow flesh, which to me has a flavor that is slightly more delicate and less sweet than red melon. Most varieties of yellow melon have fantastic names, like Yellow Crimson, Desert King, Willhites Tendergold, Yellow Fleshed Black Diamond, Tastigold, and Orange Sunshine.
The nitty gritty of picking out a melon: A good Watermelon is evenly shaped and heavy. A yellowish or white color on one side of the melon is where the fruit contacted the ground and does not affect quality. Slap the melon lightly with an open palm and listen for a deep-pitched tone. Avoid melons with a high-pitched tone or a dead, thudding sound. Don’t, however, be one of those annoying people who pick up every melon, hold it up to their ear, and knock on it, as if they are an expert in the subtle tonal variations of watermelon.
Random Watermelon Factoids: In Japan, farmers found a way to grow melon in glass boxes, forcing the melon into a square shape and making it easier to stack and ship. My sister once ate so much Watermelon on her lunch break that she made herself sick and had to leave work. Watermelon is the official state vegetable of Oklahoma, which perhaps happened after Vernon Conrad of Bixby, Oklahoma grew a Watermelon that weighed 255 pounds. Some proclaim him the Watermelon King, a fact disputed by Lloyd Bright of Arkansas who grew one that weighed 268.8 pounds.
Eating it:
The best place to keep an uncut melon is on your countertop (they usually keep for up to two weeks). Put it in a fridge to chill at least four hours before eating. My Dad sprinkles salt on Watermelon to heighten its flavor, my Grandma pickles it, and I’ve been known to soak it in a little vodka and sprinkle it with mint. Last summer, feta and Watermelon salads were all the rage with chefs, although it doesn’t sound particularly good to me. Watermelon isn’t really something I want to eat fancied-up in a restaurant; I want to eat it outdoors sitting at picnic table, where I can spit the seeds wherever I please.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Torta Aceite

I first tasted a Torta Aceite from Spain about five years ago and instantly loved it. Thin and flakey, Torta’s have the savory flavor of olive oil with the light sweetness of sugar and a subtle anise flavor. It is the perfect cross between a cookie and a cracker; it pairs well with soft goat cheese and a glass of sherry, and equally well with your morning cup of coffee. I have to be honest though, it took me quite awhile to find someone who loves Torta Aceite as much as I do. It seems to be one of those love/hate foods. People are either immediately taken with the light, flakey texture and the rich taste of olive oil with a sprinkling of sugar, or their face crinkles up in an expression that says quite clearly “Olive oil and sugar do not go together! And I hate anise!” Now, I don’t like anise either and I usually stay as far away from its licorice-like flavor as possible, but in a Torta Aceite it’s so subtle it’s more like a whiff of anise hovering over the Torta.
For a few years I would only see the Torta in a handful of stores, like Olivier & Co. (who offers them at the best price, $5.00) but now they seem to be everywhere. They do not, however, seem to be flying of the shelves of gourmet stores, mainly, I think, because people have no idea what they are. Next time you’re in your local gourmet store or Whole Foods or Olivier & Co., buy some and give them a try. When you open a package they are best eaten within a few days, as I’ve noticed the Torta’s losing their crispness when exposed to air. In my house, The Husband is one of those who’s face crinkles up at the sight of Torta Aceite, so eating the entire package is left up to me. It is a task I thoroughly enjoy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz

I’ve always thought that when I have a kitchen to remodel the first thing I’ll install is an extra faucet on my sink to dispense seltzer water. I love bubbles in beverages. If boring flat water disappeared completely and the lakes and natural springs and every faucet in the country started running with only seltzer, that would be fine with me. You can understand, then, why a jar I saw today in an Italian market caught my eye. The shape of whatever was in the jar was too intriguing to pass up and one of the ingredients was sodium bicarbonate, which meant bubbles. The next ingredient was Zucchero, which meant sugar. I realized I was pretty much buying a cross between a sugar cube and an Alka-Seltzer. But for $3.75, I was willing to gamble that maybe the jar held something more exciting, something that would turn any beverage into a delicious, fizzy concoction. To get right to the point, my first instinct was right. When I threw a dozen white twiggy things into a glass of water it tasted exactly like sugary Alka-Seltzer. Then, although it clearly said on the package to add water, I couldn’t resist putting one directly on my tongue. Before I spit it out into the sink, it fizzed and foamed in my mouth and I realized that I had basically discovered the Italian version of Pop Rocks Candy. I can’t say that I would recommend buying “Effervescente Tortoroglio” to put in a glass or on your tongue, and probably the jar I bought will sit in my cupboard until December when I will use the white twiggy things as fake snow on a ginger bread house. The thought of an Italian grandmother dropping “Effervescente Tortoroglio” into everyone’s glass at the end of dinner to help digest the gigantic meal she just served is kinda heartwarming though. You can even buy the stuff in a keepsake glass, although why you’d want to preserve the memory of indigestion, I don’t know. The sugar was probably added to this product in an attempt to make it taste better, but when it comes to curing indigestion, bitter is really the way you want to go. A bitter flavor, whether it comes from herbs, or hops in beer, or an arugula salad, gets the salivary glands going and your stomach juices flowing. Bitterness sends a signal to the brain to get the digestive tract in gear. When I was waiting tables for awhile, a fellow server frequently came to work hung over. She always sipped on a glass of seltzer water with a heavy dash of angostura bitters from the bar and swore it was the best cure for an upset stomach. This girl was not the sharpest tool in the shed and when she started coming to work drunk instead of hung over, she got fired. But it turns out she was right about those angostura bitters. Also, the bitter, herbal flavor of a traditional cocktail, Italian Campari subdued somewhat by a squirt of seltzer, is also good for the belly, which means all those Italian grandmothers are on to something too.