Advertisements

myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Pasta on the Riviera!

No, not THAT Riveria.  The Mayan Riviera in the Yucatan Peninsula, just south of Cancun in Mexico, abutting the Caribbean Sea.

Fresh Spaghetti with Freshly made Pesto!

Fresh Spaghetti with Freshly made Pesto!

The scene is Playa del Carmen, a somewhat low key, almost European, seaside town only recently rising (or falling?) to major developers and high end merchandise sellers. Rhinestone sombreros are morphing into Swarovski Crystals.

The dinners, by myMEGusta’s and her travel companions’ choice, are Italian. Delicious, perfect pasta, tasting just as it does in Italy: Cooked to an al dente turn and lightly dressed in elemental sauces, for example a delicious arrabiata made only of lush San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and chili oil, in a portion reasonable for a normal person to finish.

Strozzapreti!

Strozzapreti!

Another recent standout, a bit more modern and pan-Mediterranean, was homemade whole wheat strozzapreti (similar to cavatelli, and meaning “priest-strangler” in Italian – myMEGusta reports the facts, we do not make these things up) with tomatoes, mussels, olive oil and a fish roe seasoning the chef called liseta (in lieu of the sea urchin on the menu and out of stock).

Then, there are the pizzas: Paper thin crusts, just like in Naples, with the thinnest layers of accoutrements.

Take the Pizza Luna: Tomatoes, artichokes, mushrooms, a little mozzerella and a little Italian Sausage on a micro thin crust.

Micro-thin Crust Pizza with Artichokes, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Italian Sausage

Micro-thin Crust Pizza with Artichokes, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Italian Sausage

Another evening’s appetizer for three was made simply with prosciutto, mushrooms and (a little) cheese on that parchment crust. The waiter took care to ask if we would prefer with tomato sauce as well, probably in his accurate assessment of us as Americans, and smiled when we said, ‘oh no!”

So, how can this be, when a Mexican resort town produces Italian food of consistently authentic quality and it is impossible to get REAL Italian food in most of the United States, supposedly a sophisticated food mecca?

It has to do with unfettered history.

Simple Tomato/Basil Sauce

Simple Tomato/Basil Sauce

There was a wave of Italian immigration to Playa del Carmen in the 1990s, about the time tourism was starting to take off, and when Fifth Avenue germinated as the pedestrian street for dining and shopping. A particular area emerged, known as “La Nueva Quinta”, and while it had its share of taco and steak joints, it was also home to a concentration of Italian restaurants, resulting in the area being known to some aficionados as “Little Italy.”

Combine this trend with the large number of European, particularly Italian, and other international visitors to Playa, there was a perfect storm of sustaining the quality of these restaurants, rather than their being diluted to suit local tastes or American tourism. And it lives on today.

Perhaps another factor is that the indigenous foods of the Mayan Riviera are fresh and boldly flavored, so the “locals” never forced the Italian dishes to become homogenized and bland.

Making Ravioli

Making Ravioli

Walking along Fifth Avenue, there are innumerable Italian restaurants, not all as good as the best, but many “trained” in the art of handmade pasta, some even visible from the street, but, of course, not including the 130 peso all-you-can-eat joints.

You can even go to a beach restaurant and get incredible spaghetti and a more authentic pizza than in most cities in the United States.

A different kind of noodle on the beach

A different kind of noodle on the beach

Advertisements

News Flash! The Coolest Food/Travel Auction of the Year Is LIVE!

Today’s hot tip from myMEGusta:

Visit  www.charitybuzz.com/ldei for thirteen phenomenal and unique auction packages,  live through December 10, 2013 in support of Les Dames d’Escoffier International .

Read about, and get some vicarious thrills from, these fantastic experiences.  And bid today!

Three Night Napa Valley Wine Experience for Four at Cakebread Cellars

Three Night Napa Valley Wine Experience for Four at Cakebread Cellars

Les Dames d’Escoffier is the only organization of its kind: a world wide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality. The invitation-only membership, composed of 29 individual chapters across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, is highly diversified and reflects the multifaceted fields of contemporary gastronomy and hospitality.

Say Yes to Pianono!

Today myMEGusta is musing on the Philippines.pianono charity

But before we talk about food, take a moment to think about helping those in need there after this month’s deadly typhoon.  A few of the many ways you can help is via organizations such as Save the Children (www.savethechildren.org) , Doctors Without Borders (www.doctorswithoutborders.org), or a charity of your choice. And watch for special fundraisers in your area.

One cannot think of this nation of isles without thinking of the ocean, which brings both the sustenance of seafood and the risks we saw so recently, but also brings an important source of employment to many hard working Philippine people: Cruise ships.

Perhaps I have just been lucky, but all of the sailings I have been on in a decade have been staffed on the “hotel” side by Filipinos, often married couples in which one partner keeps our cabins so sparkly fresh and the other is providing gracious, friendly service in the restaurant or in the kitchen or bar, or perhaps running the front desk or wearing an officer’s stripes on the bridge.

Pianono

Pianono

Pianono in the Making

Pianono in the Making

And, once in a while, the passengers get a special Filipino treat when the cooks let us have a glimpse into the world of staff meals.

One such occasion was in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, a gorgeous day sailing on the open water, enjoying a buffet on deck.  In addition to the usual spread of (really good) desserts was a giant jelly roll, looking more homemade than most of its companions on the spread.

This little beauty was a Pianono, the traditional Filipino cake roll which is a staple of many homemakers and real comfort food, the filling being like any other family food, either the cook’s whim, grandma’s recipe (therefore the one and only way to make it) or what happens to be on hand.

Pianono

Pianono

Pianono

Pianono

Needless to say, myMEGusta had to taste this, and it was delicious:  Light and very flavorful at the same time.  Pretty, but relatively easy for the home cook to prepare.

Palms Have Hearts, Too

Once upon a time, there was a wonderful restaurant called the Brazilian Pavilion, an airy, aromatic joint on the West Side that emerged after the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. While Le Discophage in Paris was myMEGusta’s introduction to the glorious cuisine of Brazil, it was at the Brazilian Pavilion that she enjoyed this cuisine stateside for many, many years.

Salad of Hearts of Palm

Salad of Hearts of Palm

One of my favorite dishes there was a hearts of palm salad.

I found it curious, how the inside of a tree could produce this tender treat. Of course, this was before realizing that palm “trees” are not trees in the usual sense, in that they don’t form annual rings. As the tree matures, the base becomes very woody, but not exactly like normal wood. You don’t often find palm furniture, although this is an emerging “sustainable” industry in the tropics.

Cross Section

Cross Section

The “hearts” are actually the interior of the tender young shoots, and you can see how each emerging frond is a pointy-ended crescent shape or uneven ringlet.

But don’t take a machete to that palm tree in the living room too soon.

Hearts of palm that are consumed as food are farmed from the types of palm trees which send up multiple shoots, so that the whole plant is not sacrificed to get to the salad ingredient. And they are robust enough to yield a nice portion of the edible vegetable. The Peach Palm is one of these varieties whose new growth can be harvested while sustaining the base plant.

Processing Hearts of Palm

Processing Hearts of Palm

In Hawaii, the Big Island’s Wailea Valley is the United States’ largest producer of hearts of palm, and the leading producer for fine restaurants around the country.

Hearts of palm can be found fresh at some grocery stores, not to mention farmers markets if you happen to live in Hawaii.

Hearts of Palm

Hearts of Palm

Failing that, hearts of palm are also available canned, which actually are not bad, and make a delightful addition to a salad year ‘round. Just like in Brazil!

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: