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

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

The Myths Of Italian Cuisine


How do you say “old wives’ tales” in Italian? There are lots, and myMEGusta looked into a few of them, some simply misunderstandings, and other, just plain odd ideas.

We scratched the surface of the subject in looking at that wonderful Italian dish, Salad Caprese, at its best in the summer time with bursting ripe tomatoes and freshly made mozzarella. Readers may recall that a fellow traveler insisted that it was not Italian, and no Italian person would eat it. Balderdash! It comes from the Isle of Capri, quite Italian, thank you.

Pizza with a side salad in Venice

And this is representative of a lot of confusion about what is and is not Italian. United as a nation only in the 19th Century, Italy was a collection of city states with different cultures, climates, crops, and cuisines. The authentic cooking style in seaside Sicily, in the shadow of Mt. Etna, bore no relation to that of an alpine village abutting Switzerland.


So, myMEGusta rolls her eyes when advised that certain things are NOT Italian, or when specialties from one area are dismissively put down as unquestionably inferior to comparable foods and practices from another. They are, or can be, all wonderful.

Let’s talk about pizza. No, the heavily laden, gloppy pizzas of Papa Johns and its ilk are not Italian. “Hawaiian” pizza with pineapple is not Italian. The gentleman overheard on one Metro North train bemoaning that “there is no good pizza in Italy” after a disappointing trip there, was wrong; he just had a very American, un-Italian idea of what constitutes pizza.

Naples is considered the mecca of thin crust pizza, but it can be found just about everywhere in the country, with local variations. We have fond memories of eating a fantastic eggplant pizza at the unfortunately named “Bar Domino” (no relation to the chain) on the Lake Lugano shore, in the Italian sector of Switzerland. And the giant oblong and rectangular pizzas of Rome are crispy and delicious, meant to be sold by the piece.

Roman Pizza Dough

Sicilian Pizza

Sicilian pizza is another very real and authentic treat, essentially focaccia bread, as opposed to a thin crust, with toppings. Chicago deep dish pizza is an attempt to replicate this, and can be quite good, but only if the bread base is crispy and delish, and if the toppings are modest and top quality.

We recently saw a delightful picture of a very young friend eating pizza with her “nonni,” grandparents, on a trip to visit them in Milano.

And what about the concept that fresh pasta is, by definition, better than dried pasta? Wrong, again.

They are just different: Fresh pasta, found largely in the North, is made with eggs, hence the yellow tinge, and the best versions will use a softer flour. Yes, you can make this at home. Dried pasta, more Southern, is made with durum wheat, harder, with a higher gluten content and too stiff to work by hand, so it is factory made and sold dried.

Rolling fresh egg pasta

The best of both are equally fine, and will go with different dishes, fresh skewing to the North and dried skewing to the South. For example, you’ll probably see fettuccine served with a creamy sauce (no tomatoes) and spaghetti with a red sauce.

A recent issue of Saveur Magazine quoted a good-eating Ligurian talking about Genovese white sauce (celery, carrots, garlic, pine nuts, veal, olive oil) and their wonderful pestos, “And no tomatoes with your food in Liguria!”

Not all fresh pasta is great, and not all dried pasta is, either. Pay attention to the brand, and be willing to pay a little extra when you find one you like.


And, forget about the prohibition on twirling spaghetti with a spoon. No, it’s not correct everywhere in Italy, but it’s what’s done in Sicily, and we have confirmation on this from a friend who learned it from his Sicilian grandmother.

What about tiramisu? Italian ancestors from some regions will tell you that it’s an imposter. But, not so fast. Tiramisu is as Italian as can be, with several regions claiming its origin, from Renaissance Venice to 16th Century Tuscany. Whether it goes back that far in some form (probably) or not, tiramisu never really became widely known and loved until it was “invented” in 1971 in a restaurant in Treviso.


Now, it’s time to plan a trip to Italy to do more research!



Cashew Nuts

Who knew that a visit to St. Lucia in the Caribbean would yield a taste of freshly roasted cashews, made the old fashioned way over a wood fire, cracked and peeled by hand and still warm when gobbled up?

Cashews are another of the universally loved foods that originated in the New World, specifically, Brazil. Portuguese traders introduced them to Europe, and then to more exotic locales where they became wildly popular and a staple of local cuisines, like in India and China.

Cashew fruits, note kernel at base

Have you ever wondered why cashews are never sold in the shell, like most other popular nuts?

Raw cashew kernels

Cashews contain a chemical similar to the irritant found in poison ivy, and so they are never eaten raw. The thick, hard nuts are usually heat processed, by steaming or roasting, and this facilitates the necessary removal of the outer shell and skin.

Roasting cashews the old fashioned way

Cashews roasting in St. Lucia

They can also be processed by drying, which can be the case when they are marketed as “raw”, although that may just mean that they have had no further roasting (with or without oil) or salt.

Chinese spicy cashew chicken

The less processed nuts will show up in Chinese, Indian and other popular dishes, while the more processed (developing further flavors) will show up in a Planter’s can or in a little dish on an airplane.

Indian cashew rice

Cashews are particularly popular among vegetarians, because of their high protein content, and you can even find cashew paste and flour in an Indian market (or just go on Amazon or drive to Trader Joe’s). They also appear to be a viable food for those on Paleo diets.

One of myMEGusta’s good cookin’ friends uses ground cashews instead of panko for coating fish, a great idea which she is going to try!

What Are Yellow and Live in The Canary Islands?



Gotcha. The answer is bananas, not birds.

Canary Islands

The first European settlers were greeted by indigenous people (probably from North Africa) and their multitudes of dogs. “Canis” is the Latin word for “dog”, hence the name, Canary Islands, now a part of Spain.

Yes there are canaries there, too, but the local species is grey, not yellow. They were named for the islands, not vice versa.

Back to bananas, the fruit originated in Southeast Asia, spread to Africa and then to the nearby Canary Islands. But, you won’t see banana boats leaving there too soon. The substantial tourism industry on the islands demands tons of the fruit during high season, so there is no export industry.

Banana Greenhouse

On a recent visit to two of the islands, myMEGusta saw bananas and plantains growing all over the place on Gran Canaria. Some were in orderly farms, others in odd fabric greenhouses. We were told that a grower’s investment in the greenhouses is significant, but that the yields were substantially higher thanks to protection from the winds and other elements.

There are a multitude of banana varieties. The Cavendish is the most well known type of banana. One of the first widely traded bananas, it has several cultivars which largely impact size. William Cavendish owned the greenhouses where they were planted in the 19th Century, and labeled as such when his gardener created the scientific name for them, Musa Cavendishii.

You’ll sometimes see red bananas (quite sweet), tiny bananas and other more esoteric types, and it is said that there are between 300 and 1000 types globally, although some of them may simply have different names in different places.

Varieties of Bananas and a Plantain

Plantains are relatives of bananas, and can be seen growing side by side in some farming areas in The Canaries.

Visually, they are larger and pointier. In terms of flavor, they are starchy and only mildly sweet. A Latino favorite, fried plantains are a real treat, as are plantain chips, particularly delicious at Brasitas Restaurant in Stamford, CT ( ).

Fried Plantains

“Game” At The Table? Not So Much

What do lodge dining in Yellowstone National Park and at a Big 5 Game reserve near the Indian Ocean have in common?

Lunch Time at Pumba

Not the cute monkeys who hop over to steal your lunch at Pumba Lodge in South Africa, that’s for sure.

It’s the appearance of “game” on the menu, and it’s no more “wild” than the free range chicken at the grocery store. But this is NOT a bad thing. One thing that struck myMEGusta was the notion of how farmed game was so similar in such diverse places, over 10,000 miles, nearly half a globe apart.

Old Faithful Inn

This is about bison burgers, which are not made from those beautiful beasts that are ‘home on the range’ in Wyoming, and ‘venison’ which, when ordered in Africa, is really farmed impala.

We won’t get into the virtues of eating Bambi, or not, or the politics of the Old West, when the newcomers nearly decimated the bison to eradicate and control the native people who depended on them.

“Bison” Burger

Did you know that bison burgers are really beefalo? Relatively low in fat and cholesterol, the meat of bison (not buffalo, that’s a misnomer that an early settler used and it stuck) cannot be farmed unless it is interbred with beef cattle.

Ground “Bison”

The reason for this is very practical: Bison are extremely powerful, violent animals with extraordinary abilities to perform feats like jumping over high fences. Charming to view at a distance, these beasts are quite dangerous up close, which those who attempted to domesticate them learned very quickly. Breeding with the more docile cattle, creating beefalo, made farming them possible, and led them to our tables.

Bison burgers, by the way, are one of the real culinary treats to be had in the Western National Park lodges, although they are so lean that they have to be consumed cooked rare, otherwise they are turn into cardboard.

“Venison” Dinner at Pumba Lodge

Impala are at the other end of the easy farming spectrum from bison. When you order venison in South Africa (and, I suspect, elsewhere in that continent) you will receive delicious impala. They certainly were not captured in the wild (where they are chased by lions), rather grew up in relative calm (and good feedings), on a farm somewhere. And, the venison you find in the United States, unless you are at the home of a hunter (or friend of a hunter) is also farmed.

Like deer venison, impala is a delicious red meat, but also very lean, and requiring careful cooking so as not to be overdone and dry.

Our friend and colleague, Chef Arno Schmidt, encountered a very different “game” experience on a recent trip to Greenland. The opportunity to taste never came up, but he describes a fish market in Sisimiut, halfway up the West Coat.

A lady “of a certain age” with a walker negotiated with the fishmonger as to exactly which cut of blubbery seal – wild, not farmed – she wanted. Spotting her later at the supermarket purchasing root vegetables, Chef Schmidt didn’t know what dish she was planning, but he posited that a boiled dinner – one of the traditional ways to eat seal meat – was in the offing. Or she could have been planning on crispy seal cracklings, and rendered seal oil for an old fashioned lamp.

Bloomin’ Zucchini

Zucchini Blossoms

“My grandchildren are going to bankrupt me.”

Scene: Sunday morning farm market at the Nature Center in Stamford, CT

Players: A tiny Italian lady ‘of a certain age’ and a much younger couple speaking (when just between themselves) in an Eastern European language.

As the lovely little lady amassed her purchases, which included a giant box of zucchini flowers, the Eastern Europeans asked her what she did with them. Kindly, she explained her flour (flouring the flower) procedure and deep frying, as they looked on uncertainly, clearly not doing a lot frying in their house. Having left before the couple, myMEGusta does not know if they are going to try it.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

These gorgeous yellow blossoms are an expensive seasonal treat, and a great way for anyone to literally nip zucchinis in the bud rather than wait for a bumper crop of squash with not enough friends to farm them out to. And, they are a nice profit center for our farmers (who can also be plagued by a deluge of squashes beyond what they can sell).

Interestingly, the male flower is the one found in US markets, while in Europe, you see both the male and the female, with a baby zucchini attached, perhaps because there is such a strong market for them there.

The lady’s recipe is classic, and a tempura style batter also works great, although it’s a lot more work.

In her travels, myMEGusta has also had them in the Roman style, stuffed with a little cheese before frying, meltingly delicious, of course! Here’s a link to Michele Scicolone’s recipe: ( /

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Verandah Restaurant at the Hotel Splendide on Lake Lugano, Switzerland

On a recent trip to Lugano, Switzerland, the heart of Italian Swiss cooking, myMEGusta sampled them at the Verandah Restaurant in the Hotel Splendide: stuffed with chopped wild mushrooms, pan seared rather than fried, then served over a tomato sauce with a garnish of cheese sauce. It was awesome, and less guilt-inducing than the deep fried specimens (other than the delish cheese sauce).

Zucchini Blossoms and Wild Mushrooms at the Lugano Market

What a treat that was after ogling the flowers and fresh wild mushrooms in the market that morning!


Spitzbuben, Those Little Rascals


Sometimes things just catch your eye.

The first Spitzbube sighting was in Zermatt, Switzerland, while myMEGusta was agog from just having seen the peak of the Matterhorn overlooking a glacial brook on a cloudy afternoon.

How can you see a cute fellow like this smiley guy and not stop into the bakery to ask about him?

Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland


Known as Spitzbuben, these Swiss cookies pop up all over the country, and the motif is even used in restaurant signage. The funny name ties to the cute, mischievous face, and it means “villain, rogue, scamp, scallywag or rascal.”

Spitzbube Sign Near Interlaken, Switzerland

In context:

“Dieser Spitzbube und mein ungezogener Sohn stopften sich einst mit Melonen aus meinem Garten voll.“

“This scamp and my scapegrace son crept into my garden and gorged themselves on my seed melons one year.”

Relatives of Austrian Linzer cookies, which also contain ground up nuts and some spices, they have a jam filling, usually raspberry or strawberry. Interestingly, their relative, a proper Linzer Torte, much larger, will usually have a fancier lattice top.

Linzer Torte

Swiss bakers* have a lot more fun than do the Germans, who simply make them into little circles. But, they are well known treats in Germany, especially around the holidays.

Recipes are rarely included by myMEGusta, but this one looked particularly simple and tasty, and you don’t have to take their boring design direction. Have fun with the shape, like the Swiss do!

*Autocorrect wants Swiss bankers to take on this task.


Simmering Fondue in Gruyeres, Switzerland

It was a dark and stormy night, rather, noontime.

Normally a cause for tourists to be annoyed in July, the cool weather was a blessing for us in beautiful Gruyeres, Switzerland, because it was Fondue Day! And we got Raclette, too! But myMEGusta is getting ahead of herself.

Those of us of a certain age remember fondue parties, with fondue pots at wedding showers seeming to multiply like spoons in the sink.

Cheese fondue, a mélange of cheeses with some white wine, maybe a little mustard seasoning, was the most popular, eaten by dipping hunks of crusty bread on which impatient neophytes would always burn their tongues.

There was beef fondue, now pretty much unheard of, where little pieces of tenderloin were dipped into oil, then dipped in savory sauces. A cholesterol festival, if there ever was one.

Chocolate Fondue

And, who doesn’t love chocolate fondue, totally decadent but delish when made with really good, dark chocolate and excellent fruits in season.

Getting back to Switzerland, fondue is a genuine “local” food, not something created for tourists, but something the locals eat relatively rarely, and then, only in cold weather.

Raclette Bubbling

Raclette is a close relative, basically baked cheese which oozes and bubbles as it cooks and caramelizes.

It was no surprise to see fondue signs all over the place in Switzerland, but Chinese Fondue mystified myMEGusta (although not enough to stimulate her to order it).

Interestingly, and it makes sense, this dish is a local version of the traditional Mongolian Hot Pot, a simmering bowl of broth, in which thinly cut, tender meat slices are quickly cooked, then dipped in one’s favorite seasonings and sauces. Vegetables also simmer in the broth, maybe noodles as well, and it makes for a healthy, savory dinner. The oddly named Hometown Restaurant on Grand Street in NYC’s Chinatown serves a varied and delicious hot pot menu.

Asian Hot Pot

Lovers of Japanese food will recognize the similarity to shabu-shabu, the bubbling broth into which well marbled beef, from Kobe when you can find it, is plunged just long enough to barely cook it, then, like with Hot Pot, dipped in a soy/mirin based sauce. Yummy.

Once, on a trip to visit the snow monkeys of Nagano, Japan, the ryokan’s (inn’s) set dinner included a simmering hot pot (intended for vegetables or noodles or whatever) and beautiful sashimi from the local fresh water, an extremely risky thing for outsiders to eat due to potential parasites and such. Not wanting to cause the innkeepers to lose face, it was imperative to eat the fish. What to do? Sneak it into the hot pot to cook when they were not looking. And it was delicious.

Japanese Snow Monkeys

It is fun to think that parallel culinary universes developed in the Alps, in Mongolia, and in Japan, and no Marco Polo legends about why the similarities!

The Joys of Summer: Salad Caprese

“No Italian would ever eat that. It’s an American invention.”

Caprese Salad at Ristorante Santa Eufemia, Verona, Italy

Thus was spoken with authority by a fellow traveler in Switzerland, and myMEGusta had no internet at her fingertips to prove him wrong. And he was insistent on the subject, even as she pointed out that the cuisine of Italy is hugely diverse, from the Alps to the toe, from Sicily to the deep interior.

Tomatoes with buttermilk mousse.

OF COURSE it is Italian, a classic from the Isle of Capri. This combination of tomatoes and mozzarella, with a daub of pesto or fresh basil leaves, is beloved, and a plateful of heaven when made with top ingredients. Also known as Tricolore, it is said to been created to resemble the Italian flag; more likely, the name came after people had come to love the flavor combination.

It is so popular that variations show up all over, like the addition of balsamic vinegar or serving on a bed of lettuce (gilding the lily, but harmless). One delicious combination found in a long-forgotten restaurant, but wonderful, was heirloom tomatoes with pesto and a buttermilk mousse (OK, not mozzarella, but a relative). Sometimes, herbed smooth cheese is substituted.

Tomato with herbed cheese, olive oil and basil, La Girolle, Grenoble, France

Coeur de Boeuf Tomatoes at Marche Ste Claire, Gernoble, France

No Italian would eat Styrofoam tomatoes and slabs of dry mozzarella (intended for adequate pizzas, not eating plain). But they, and the world, love the flavorful tomatoes of summer, whether from a backyard in Minnesota or a market in Munich. The most frequently seen in markets and on menus on a recent trip to France and Switzerland was the Coeur de Boeuf, or Beef Heart, tomato, as tasty as it is beautiful.

The mozzarella available now in the United States, if you shop carefullty, is light years better than it used to be.

The best mozzarella, IMHO, is the freshest:

Tomato with buratta, basil, olive oil, balsamico, Brasserie Chavant, Grenoble, France

It can be the bufala, made in Italy with the milk of water buffalos (no relation to the American bison of Yellowstone Park), oozy with a little tang. This is flown to the US, but can be hard to find and expensive.

It can be buratta, made fresh everywhere with a fresh mozzarella skin enveloping heavy cream and stracciatella cheese, exquisite and a super-caloric treat.

It can be freshly made, still warm fresh mozzarella from stores like Fratelli Market in Stamford, CT, or on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, where it is made continuously throughout the day.

Failing these options, the little “fresh” mozzarella balls you find in the supermarket will do in a pinch. Just stay away from the rubbery blocks whose only purpose is sit atop a bubbling pizza.

A Summertime Treat: Cold Asian Noodles

Soba Salad

Even if you’re avoiding carbs, it’s time to think about indulging in some refreshing Asian noodles in a light, zesty sauce.

Soba noodles, made with a mixture of buckwheat and regular flour (NOT for the gluten-free) are a really special summer treat. Readers of myMEGusta may recall an artlcle last summer about buckwheat: .

Cold Soba with Dipping Sauce

Our favorite ways to enjoy soba noodles at this time of year (or at any time of the year, for that matter) are dipped in a tasty sauce found on the shelves of all Asian groceries, or in a salad, like they serve at Nippon Restaurant in NYC, offered with various garnishes. Both concepts are nice, light dishes in any case, served up either as a main course or as a little side dish.

Enthusiasts of Dr. Dukan or other low carb diet advocates may be familiar with shirataki noodles, made with potatoes and/or yams or tofu, and also known as harusame. Easy to prepare, these noodles can be found in supermarkets, usually in the refrigerated section near the produce department (the same area where hummus lives). One tip: Don’t attempt to freeze them, as they’ll disintegrate.

Harusame Noodle Salad

Gluten free, shirataki are beloved by carb-free and gluten-free dieters as a spaghetti substitute, and actually are reasonably satisfying in that context if one is desperate for a satisfying red sauce experience.

More traditionally, they are served with a light soy dressing, perhaps with chilis, lime juice, onions and peanuts over lettuce, as myMEGusta enjoyed recently at Haru Sushi in Manhattan’s Theater District .

Yes, you CAN try these at home!

Tofu Shirataki

Yam Shirataki




Getting a Dose of Dosas

Dosa at the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur

This is the story of a pancake.

Think of a giant, crispy crepe, made of rice and lentil flours, stuffed with a savory filling, and always made to order. It started as a food for South India’s vegetarian masses, and became so popular that it is now served all over the country, whether as a breakfast offering in some India’s (and the world’s) best hotels, or on the streets of Varanasi, the mystical destination for religious pilgrims on the shores of the Ganges.

Street Dosa Maker in Varanasi

In the delightful novel, Selection Day (by Aravind Adiga), a Bombay slum dweller seeks to claw his family’s way out of poverty by molding one of his two sons into a star cricket player. The boys are forbidden to eat dosas, although it is unclear whether this is because of street food sanitation or carbs (most likely the latter); one son sneaks them from time to time and becomes a star anyway.

At the start of a group tour of India, myMEGusta was the only one eating this exotica at breakfast (in lovely hotels, not on the street). Then came odd gazes and comments like, “Hey, that looks good. What it is?” After 18 days, dosas were being savored by fellow travelers throughout dining room every morning.

Dosa at the Leela Palace in Delhi

The thin, rolled pancake is pretty much empty at the outer edges, with all the stuffing, usually spicy onions and potatoes, in the center. Start adding the accoutrements – a thin but chunky vegetable stew, spicy tomato sauce(s), and coconut chutney – one is quite challenged to eat this dribbly treat without making quite the mess. But, myMEGusta had never seen anyone eating it otherwise, whether in a New York restaurant or in the hotels, all tourists struggling with knife and fork.

Then, voila, came the great revelation at Navaratna, a fantastic vegetarian Indian (kosher) restaurant in Stamford, CT, where the clientele is primarily Indian businessmen and families (with a sprinkling of good eaters who keep kosher). A dosa had to be sampled soon after my return from the sub-continent, just to see how the local rendition would compare with the wonderful breakfasts in India.

Dosa at the Vivanta Hotel, Cochin in Kerala

Two big news flashes: The flavors at Navaratna were actually more exciting than in all those fancy places that catered (deliciously, by the way) to tourists. And, the proper way to eat it is with one’s right hand, no utensils. It was amazing how easy it was to rip off a little crispy pancake and grab up some of the filling and sauces. Who knew?

This is one thing that myMEGusta is not about to make at home, particularly given the proximity of Navaratna, but you can get the pancake mix in an Indian grocery store, and the fillings would be time consuming but not difficult to make, assuming that you start with top quality, authentic ingredients from that same source.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: