martedì 7 giugno 2011
“Almost every person has something secret he likes to eat. He is downright furtive about it usually, or mentions it only in a kind of conscious self-amusement, as one who admits too quickly, “It is rather strange, yes – and I’ll laugh with you.”
This from the late great Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992).
M.F.K. Fisher wrote about food, which is life to many of us. If you don’t know her, you should; and if you don’t know where to start, do please start with The Gastronomical Me.
This leads me back to secret food. I know of many cases of young women (and older women) with secret things to eat, but these have often led to obsession and weirdness: like a young friend who would open her mother’s refrigerator door, find the Ready-Whip, open her mouth, and squirt it down her throat.
Quick fix, secret.
That’s actually not having something secret to eat. That’s having something secret to shoot up (or, in this case, down). Or expel, later.
M.F.K. Fisher’s secret culinary vice is too lovely for words. While she was young and in love and living in France with her first husband, and after he’d left after a tasty lunch and just desserts (do, please catch my drift, and tell me that I’m not reading too much into this passage (again, from “Borderland”: “It was wonderful [their recently-rented pension] – big room, windows, clean white billows of curtain, central heating. We basked like lizards. Finally Al went back to work, but I could not bear to walk into the bitter blowing streets from our warm room.))”
What happens between lizards, the punctuation mark (a period, in this case, and Finally is anyone’s guess).
M.F.K. Fisher’s secret thing to eat was segmented tangerine pieces, which she would string, and then heat them up on a radiator, placed on top of yesterday’s L’Ami du Peuple (from Strasbourg). Beautiful, sensuous. Literary. Orange.
My something secret to eat is embarrassing. It’s so less soigné, so less high falutin’ … so, perhaps, scarily, White Trash.
It’s Ranch dressing from packets. White. Doesn't need to heat up on a copy of Tirenno. Not even La Repubblica. Indeed, not even il Sole/24 Ore.
A dear friend called Campobello writes a side-splitting blog about life in Italy (http://lettersfromflorence.blogspot.com) . She, like many of us, has made the sometimes unfortunate mistake of marrying an Italian man. She, like few of us, blogs about her in-laws in ways designed to make you laugh ‘til you cry ‘til you weep ‘til your sides hurt. She freely admits that she’s breaking a Cardinal Rule of Blogging: thou shall not blog about your in-laws. Fortunately for her, her in-laws do not read English.
In one of her most recent blogs (see May 26th), she alluded to stockpiling packets of Ranch Dressing. This made me realize that we were fellow addicts.
Many years ago, if you wanted a product from the U.S. or anywhere that wasn't Italy, you had to beg your friends/family to tote the product. In the past fifteen years, this has largely changed (you don’t have to grow your own coriander: with luck, you can find it at the Mercato Centrale in Florence; you don’t have to ask a beloved English aunt to bring you Marmite, as you can always find it at Vivimarket on via del Giglio, or even at a well-heeled Esselunga (again, both of these fine posts in Florence); you always, always, always, have to beg friends and family to stop en route to the airport from New York at the nearest bagelry and ply you with bagels, as bagels in this part of the world are pathetic facsimiles). You get the picture.
But then there’s the case of Ranch dressing. It doesn’t exist in Italy.
Ranch dressing includes buttermilk (an impossibility to find here in Italy, though a local cheesemaker has, in the past, promised us the buttermilk run-off from his sheep; we’ve somehow never gotten around to taking him up on this offer), sour cream (used to be impossible to find; bless all the Germans who vacation near where we live, because now it’s easy), minced green onion, garlic, and other things.
Wiki relates that, since 1992, Ranch dressing has been the best-selling dressing in
the United States surpassing Italian dressing (which, it should be noted, bears absolutely zero resemblance to what Italians put on their salads).
It’s called Ranch dressing thanks to Steve and Gayle Henson who, in 1954, opened Hidden Valley Ranch (near Santa Barbara). Wiki also relates the most alarming fact that Clorox bought them out and “reformulated the dressing several times to try to make it more convenient.” (This will cause me to look on my dwindling packets with some amount of alarm). Clorox’s biggest adjustment was was to add dried buttermilk to the mix, so that you don’t have to add the Real McCoy when mixing it up.
It’s also really, really high in fat.
Last spring, Heather Souvlaki asked us if we ever used prepared foods. Truthfully-ish, I said, No. In fact, I hoard packets of Ranch dressing as if I were hoarding a Faberge egg or two lifted from some down and out Russian noble. We’re down to two packets. Would someone please visit us, and soon?
Pasta salads are pretty much a made-up American thing. However, whenever I’ve served this to Italians, all I can say is that there are no leftovers.
Tortellini salad with Ranch dressing
1 lb. spinach/ricotta tortellini
1 packet Ranch dressing
1 c. mayonnaise (as always, preferably Hellman’s)
1 c. low-fat yogurt (you might wonder why, and I do, too)
½ lb. green beans, tailed, topped, cooked and chilled
½ lb. Swiss cheese, cubed
½ lb. boiled ham, completely optional, cubed
Handful of fresh chives, snipped
Mix up the Ranch dressing at least an hour before you plan to eat the salad: throw contents of the packet into a mixing bowl, and add the yogurt and mayonnaise. Thoroughly blend, and then stick it in the refrigerator.
Cook the tortellini according to package instructions (cooking it, probably, for at least one minute or two less), drain, and run under cold water.
In a big bowl, throw in the tortellini, the beans, Swiss cheese, and boiled ham (if using). Pour in as much Ranch dressing as necessary (in all likelihood, you’ll have some left over to dip pretzels in). When it’s all mixed up, add the snipped chives.
M.F.K. Fisher's essay concludes: “The sections of tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.”
M.F.K. Fisher, “Borderland,” from Serve it Forth, in The Art of Eating, New York, 1976.
For her obituary, see Molly O’Neill’s glowing tribute of 6/24/92 in the New York Times.
Photograph of Lulu and Dwindling Packets of Ranch Dressing, June 2011.