By Marcia Pilgeram
I have always loved words. And food. I especially love food words, and let me tell you, there is no shortage of lingo in the world of gastronomy. In fact, Sharon Tyler Herbst’s “Food Lover’s Companion,” (published by Barron’s and now in its fifth edition) has been my culinary go-to resource for more than 20 years.
There are more than 6,700 food-related words contained within the 829 pages of the 2007 fourth edition (my favorite) that I so covet. For years, the book was a constant companion in the galley when I was a chef on private trains. It was an invaluable reference tool for the galley and wait staff, helping with proper pronunciation as well as correct menu spelling for tricky words like avocado, prosciutto and mascarpone.
Train galleys are notoriously hot and steamy. Even with overhead hoods and fans, there’s no fresh air supply to escape from the warm moisture, so about once a year I would replace the previous copy of “Food Lover’s Companion,” limp from steam and stained from numerous spills. Every now and then, I come across one of the tired, dog-eared copies that I still can’t bring myself to toss.
Often, on long “deadhead movements” (train-speak for repositioning movements sans passengers), we’d mend our sleep-deprived minds and bodies with sunset cocktails in the dome car, playing rousing games of culinary trivia. Every crew member had their own version: come up with a synonym of a given word; describe and spell the word; or, my favorite, guess the word from the given description.
Sometimes, I’d read the “Companion” like a novel, eager to learn about unfamiliar techniques, such as spatchcocking (butterflying) a chicken or quail. And I learned about corn smut. Though evil-as-a-weevil to a farmer, I discovered that this mushroom-like fungus on an ear of corn is sold as a delicacy in many gourmet markets.
Thanks to long quiet stretches along the rail routes, I was pleased to recognize myself as a true turophile (cheese lover). Other great, useful knowledge I gained was distinguishing which fruits contained pips rather than seeds or pits.
The “Food Lover’s Companion” was a great leveler, too. Occasionally, a pretentious passenger, filled with equal portions of self-worth and alcohol would toss around ill-pronounced menu requests to a befuddled crew member. More than once we deciphered the epicurean error, and the crew entertained themselves for the duration of the trip by mimicking whichever highly regarded lady or gentleman had made the biggest fool of themselves on that particular journey.
Besides the descriptions of myriad foods and techniques, the “Companion” contains more than 50 valuable pages of appendices that include every kind of chart a good cook and a busy kitchen need for substituting ingredients: safe cooking temperatures, equivalent charts, British and American food terms and high-altitude baking adjustments. My favorite appendix pages are the pasta glossary (five pages!) and the pan substitution chart.
I didn’t even have to read between the lines on Page 284 to discover that in my youth, my siblings and I were nourished (and flourished) on gallimaufry.
Gallimaufry is a jumble of unrelated things, a hodgepodge, a chaotic mixture of things. The word gallimaufry is derived from the French word galimafrée, which is a dish or a stew made up of odds and ends of leftovers and foods one wishes to use up before it goes bad. Being raised in a Catholic household, gallimaufry was omni-present for Thursday dinner, when Mom cleaned out anything meat-related, and tossed in a few tatties (British for potatoes) to prepare for our Friday fasts.
I, too, have been preparing gallimaufry-like dishes for decades, though I’d like to think mine are fresher and more innovative than the ones my mother served up decades-ago on Thursday night.
I must admit, it was an overabundance of fresh basil (from generous neighbors) that motivated my most recent version. What’s in your fridge, urging you on to gallimaufry-greatness?
Fusilli Pesto Pasta and Chicken Recipe • 8 servings
Delicious combination of fusilli pasta, veggies and chicken breast. Serve with Italian bread and a big salad. Homemade pesto is worth the effort.
• 1 (16 ounce) package fusilli pasta
• 2 tbs olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
• 1 cup diced red and green peppers
• ½ cup diced onion
• 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts,
cut into strips
• 1 tsp red pepper flakes
• ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained
and cut into strips
• 1 cup pesto sauce
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook for approximately 10 minutes, or until just al dente. Drain.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and peppers until tender, then stir in chicken. Season with red pepper flakes. Cook until chicken is golden and cooked through.
In a large bowl, combine pasta, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. Toss to coat evenly.
Fresh Pesto Sauce • Makes 2 cups
• 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
• 4 cloves garlic
• 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
• 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 tsp each, sea salt and freshly
ground black pepper
• 1/2 cup freshly grated
Combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Very slowly, add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully blended and smooth looking. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Add the cheese and give another couple quick pulses. Pour into a container and, to retain pretty green color, cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil. Refrigerate up to a week, freeze up to two months.
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