giovedì 9 dicembre 2010
Lactating bitches (what fun to write this not as a hurled insult!) typically start to disengage themselves from their pups when the pups are one month, or a little older. So then people need to get involved in the act by helping wean the pups. Signs that the L.B. is getting to that point are her diminished interest in her pups, longer absences from the Whelping Pool, standing up (rather than lying prone) when feeding them, or sitting in a sort of three-quarter pose (if you can imagine that). The pups make a beeline for her, but her boredom fairly quickly sets in; she stands up, shakes them off, and exits the pool.
If you look at the image at the top, left, I’m sure that many of you know that sculpture well. For those of you who don’t, it’s the She-Wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus. Besides the fact that this is a canonical bronze sculpture, a symbol of ancient Rome (see below, however), you can also tell that the She-Wolf Has Had It. And if you look closely, those ain’t no infants she’s suckling – they are beyond toddling stage, given the stance of the twin on the right (years ago at a dinner party in Ithaca, New York, one of the guests -- and this could only happen in a town like Ithaca -- told us that she stopped feeding her child when the latter was four because “I wanted my body back.” Rosie wants her body back; had she chosen the path of that nutbag in Ithaca, she would stop feeding her pups when they were 28).
Various schools of thought abound re: this weaning process, so a few days ago we started pureeing Rosie’s food with high-digestibility milk. Dipped our fingers into it, pups – who are very, very curious (they’re truly coming into their Pupdom), tentatively licked fingers, and then were led to the bowl. Which they gingerly lapped at, though Yip was far more interested in chewing the bowl rather than licking it; Yap, in her excitement, practically nose-dived into the concoction, which made licking it up from the whelping pool all that much easier. Their enthusiasm, however, was not palpable. So we went back to the drawing board, googled “weaning pups” and found someone’s great suggestion to blitz the concoction, and add hot water to the mix. Makes more sense when you think about it, and pups were far more interested.
Maybe because it looked better.
It resembled a brownish ragù, and you could imagine the spaghetti underneath it. Italians don’t do spaghetti and meatballs. They do meatballs, usually small-ish ones (polpettine) or larger ones (polpettone). They are served as a second course, and never with spaghetti, which is always a first course. There’s a big divide on this: when the Sopranos ran on Italian television, an irate Italian -- no doubt appalled by the appearance of spaghetti with gravy -- wrote to the International Herald Tribune ranting about the assault on Italian cuisine; I wrote a letter (which was published) explaining to him the differences between Italian cuisine and Italian-American cuisine. Jim Harrison, that muscular, man’s man, who writes brilliantly about food (among other things), opines in his essay called “Meatballs”: "Certain Gucci-Pucci-Armani Italians have told me that they have never eaten spaghetti and meatballs … These Cerruti aristocrats tell me that the dish is an American perversion of Italian cuisine, to which I always reply, “I don’t give a shit.”
Italians would probably be equally appalled by having little meatballs to accompany an aperitivo.
Since the holidays are upon us, and plenty of aperitivi times will present themselves with family and friends, we will be offering Swedish meatballs to accompany the prosecco and egg nog. The beauty of this dish (my mother’s recipe, which she obtained from our next-door-neighbor) is that you don’t fry them but bake them. Another beauty of this dish is that you can make them, freeze them, and put them back in the oven just minutes before you want to serve them.
Why are they called Swedish meatballs, I wondered. http://answers.yahoo.com provides a compelling explanation: “According to Mathistorisk Uppslagsbok by Jan-Ojvind Swahn, the Swedish word for meatball (k”ttbulle) first appeared in (Swedish) print was in Cajsa Warg's 1754 cookbook. Swahn points out that the meatball could not have been a common food, at least not for common people, until the meatgrinder made the preparation simple. Swedish meatballs, smaller in size that those of Italy or Germany, are traditionally served with a cream gravy and lingonberry preserves.” (Longing thoughts for the food section of IKEA dash through my mind ...)
You could alleviate the tedium of making these tiny things by swilling a little holiday cheer. Pop open the prosecco!
½ c. dry bread crumbs
½ c. water
½ c. light cream
1 T. butter, melted
3 T. finely chopped onion
¾ lb. ground beef
¾ lb.ground pork
1 t. salt
¾ c. sugar
¾ t. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°.
Mix and make as many tiny meatballs as your patience with allow (like the size of half a walnut only a little smaller).
Bake for 5-10 minutes and either eat immediately or let them cool and freeze them in a freezer back.
Makes a great many, and there will be enough for six pups to sample one as well (well, maybe only the three adult pups).
You can find the controversial She-Wolf with Romulus and Remus at the Musei Capitolini in Rome. If you’re interested in the problems of dating, go to Wikipedia for details (it was originally thought to be late 15th century – the twins, possibly by Pollaiuolo, and c. 500-480 b.c. (the wolf). Recent investigations suggest that the wolf was probably cast sometime in the 13th century.
The late, great Alan Davidson: “Meatballs have been the subject of an eccentric and enthralling book by Spoerri (1982), but neither he, nor any other author, has succeeded or could succeed in treating the subject comprehensively. See his entry in his Oxford Companion to Food (New York, 1999). You can find a recipe for the “Sunday Gravy” frequently served up on many a Sopranos episode at http://www.timesonlin.co.uk, January 19, 2003. Jim Harrison provides his spaghetti with meatballs recipe in “Meatballs,” in The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand (New York, 2001). My mouth watered when I read it. Marcella Hazan has a luscious baked rigatoni dish with tiny pork meatballs in Marcella's Italian Kitchen (New York, 1986) – but I think she made a concession to her American readership.