12 October 2011

12 October - Columbus Day; Spaghetti Aglio e Olio con Acciughe

...Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
                     And peered through darkness.  Ah, that night
          Of all dark nights!  And then a speck -
                     A light! a light! a light! a light!
          It grew; a starlit flag unfurled!
                     It grew to be Time's burst of dawn.
         He gained a world; he gave that world
                    Its grandest lesson: "On! sail on!"
                                                             - Joaquin Miller, "Columbus"

Today is the day that Christopher Columbus (or, more likely, Rodrigo de Triana, the Pinta's lookout) sighted land on his 1492 voyage to find a way to the rich Indies by a westward route.  It was observed Monday in order to give everyone three days in which to celebrate the European discoveries of our continents OR to bemoan the same.  I personally am inclined to celebrate.

So here's to you, Columbus (and de Triana) and Brendan and Verazzano and Madog and Hudson and Cabot and Eriksson and Balboa, and Cartier, and more that I cannot even remember.  And also, here's to all of those brave enough to get on small boats and large ships (over the last four centuries), leaving everything behind, the good with the bad, to start over in a new land that most likely didn't speak the same language and has a habit of looking down on immigrants other than themselves.

And they did it without searching the Internet first - "All the reviews say that the people there are cannibals.  Yuck!  And not a vegan restaurant anywhere!  Well, I'm not eating there!" - or relying on a computerized device to steer the ship in the right direction - "Turn left at the Azores.  Proceed until your crew mutinies. You have gone too far.  Make a U-turn at Panama."

Brave men.

Artwork: The Virgin of the Navigators, Alejo Fernandez, 1531-36, Seville.
If you are interested in the foods that Columbus and his sailors would have eaten on their voyages, there are two very informative essays at the Castello Banfi website: 'Christopher Columbus - His Gastronomic Persona', and 'Recipes' from the same; both are pdf files.

According to Lucio Sorre, who wrote the above essays, the victuals on that first voyage included olive oil, vinegar, wine, honey and molasses;  flour, rice, dried chickpeas and lentils; garlic, cheese, raisins, and almonds; sardines, anchovies, salt cod, and pickled or salted beef and pork.

Sounds like they ate pretty good!

And so shall I, for my celebratory dinner will lead off with SPAGHETTI AGLIO E OLIO CON ACCIUGHE, also known as Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil, and Anchovies.

[yes, I like anchovies.  Like the above named men, I am brave.  And crazy.]

[I put my spaghetti into the boiling water at the same time as I start cooking the garlic in the oil.  The spaghetti is done and ready for the colander by the time the garlic is done, so my drained pasta does not have a chance to cool before it is dressed with the hot oil.]

For 3/4 pound of spaghetti:  Peel 3 to 5 cloves of garlic and split them lengthwise.  Put 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, heat slowly, and add the garlic cloves.  Fry garlic slowly until brown on both sides.  Remove from heat.

For those who cannot face the final step, the garlic-flavored oil is now ready to toss with the cooked spaghetti.  For the rest of us: to the still-hot oil, add 20 anchovy fillets (2 to 3 cans) cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Toss with cooked spaghetti.  Eat at once. 

The garlic pieces, by the way, are not supposed to be eaten.  That has never stopped me, of course.

Follow this gastronomic delight with a well-chilled salad.

Sail on!