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Posts Tagged ‘prosciutto’

I ate a slice of apple pie at a restaurant on Friday night. It sat on a plate that was predictably be-squiggled in caramel. It had such sharp edges you could have used it to slice diamonds. It looked perfect—but it was in fact a triangle of sugar.* Heavens to Mergatroid, was it sweet. That was all I took away. Call me a zealot, but apple pie is supposed to taste like apples. Right?

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For hire.

This pie? Pump Gully Washer Slurpee intravenously into Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island while tossing yellow Skittles** into her mouth at nine-second intervals, and it will be a few degrees shy of how sweet this was.

And there was no butter in it. Twist the knife.

Sondheim’s Into The Woods hammers home a crucial point in the song ‘I Know Things Now’, Little Red’s post-mortem of her famous scuffle with the wolf. He’s a real smoothie. ‘Even flowers have their dangers….Nice is different than good,’ she tells the audience. There’s a difference, and it’s important to be able to discern one from the other.

You know what I mean, right? Go to any bakery and you’ll see offerings all pretty pretty inside glass cabinets. Many are over-the-top fancy, squares on a platter with Pollack-like splatters or anti-gravity curlicues hovering above. Not until you try them do you find out if they’re quality or schmutz.

Over-the-top is fine. It is. Go nuts, really. But make sure the quality is there.

The chicken noodle soup below, from Ben’s Best in Queens, NY, is a good example of this. Everything in it is from scratch and is homey, honest and real. It just happens to be served in the dinner dish of a full-grown Rottweiler.

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Woof.

Then there are places that have the decency to offer quality but insist on gilding the crap out of the lily. (Exceptions in the dessert realm are rare, in my experience. Here’s one. And I typically order desserts without toppings, which unnerves the wait staff, which I quite enjoy, and which I describe here.)

But while it’s usually desserts that chefs overdoll, it’s not just desserts. The below pizza was made with homemade crust, fresh homemade ricotta and prosciutto, and it all went into a wood-fired oven flown in from Italy. It was gorgeous, just as it was. So why did they need to pelt it silly with arugula? I ended up dragging the greens off with every bite, looking like a sheep with an iron deficiency. My friend’s little daughter didn’t even know it was a pizza. When it arrived she took one look and asked, ‘Can I have some salad?’

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Demands a lawyer.

How screwed up is the food business? Last point of exasperation: inventing stuff that looks cute but makes no conceivable sense in your mouth, like peanut-butter-and-jelly sliders. These are on the menu at a place near me. Adorable little hamburgers—charmers!—topped with…yeah.

Audible sigh.

The American public (and others as well, for all I know) is smitten with nice instead of good. What gives, and what prompted this?

*Corn syrup, more likely, actually.

**Slurpees and Skittles are corn syrup tenants as well.

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My first experience eating a fig was on a tropical island when I was about ten. I tried one of the figs my sister ordered for breakfast. (Kind of inexplicable, really, why the hotel offered them. You’re in the Caribbean where you can’t throw a rock without hitting papaya and mango trees, and they serve canned Kadotas?) My review: it was way, WAY sweet. And that’s coming from a kid. You couldn’t tell anything about the character of the fig itself; it just tasted like very cold, amalgamated syrup.

Many years later I bought some fresh figs from a local specialty store prized for its produce. I didn’t like their bitter aftertaste, and I wrote off figs from that point on.

A couple of years ago, mostly to be polite, I tried some fresh, organically-grown figs. I was visiting the home of my parents’ housekeeper, Katerina, an Italian ex-pat. As we went in, she idly pulled a handful of Black Missions off one of the small trees near her front door and I popped one into my mouth. Wow. Third time’s the charm and all that. It was sun-warmed, delicately sweet, oozy, and soft as a raisin. I waited for the bitter aftertaste. Nothing. I concluded that it had been  pesticides that had made the figs I bought from the store so disreputable.

Having said that, unless you have a generous and green-thumbed Italian housekeeper, it can still be tough to find figs that taste as they should. Even organic figs, if shipped from the far reaches of the universe, can be as yucky as eating a tiny water balloon. Ideally, figs should be picked when quite soft, even with their delicate skins split, to enjoy fully their honeyed sweetness.

The turkey figs shown here are from Silverton Farms in Toms River, a place to which I’m fiercely loyal, and now will be even more so. When Tom, who owns the place, showed me his fledgling fig trees this past spring, I gasped like a middle schooler with new lip gloss. And I’ve been counting the days until they were ready.

Yesterday was the day. Lucky me, that was the day I happened to show up, and even luckier me, I bought all four, pretty much right off the tree. MINE.

You can do all kinds of things with figs. For a memorable lunch, slice some in half, put on white bread with provolone and prosciutto, and panini-fy it.

But yesterday I appreciated them pretty much as is—a couple drizzled with local honey, and the rest just as their soft, luscious, plain selves.

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