Pasta Fazool: That's Amore!

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Dean Martin, in an otherwise forgettable 1953 movie with Jerry Lewis called "The Caddy," sings this faux-Neapolitan street song composed by Harry Warren with lyrics by Jack Brooks:

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore.

Academy Award nomination for best original song, but it lost to Doris Day's "Secret Love." Regardless, "That's Amore" became Dino's signature tune. Moving right along:

When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool, that's amore.

Pasta fazool is what east-coast Italian-Americans used to call pasta e fagioli, pasta with beans. It's a hearty soup, still served at Olive Garden, $6.79 at dinner, with unlimited breadsticks: a hearty, unfussy soup tjat lends itself to infinite variations; Cheese/no cheese, tomatoes/no tomatoes, chicken stock/beef stock, sausage/no meat at all, The noodles can be whatever short or tiny pasta you've got on hand, macaroni, shells, ditalini, even spaghetti you break into short bits. You could add spinach, you could even add kale (although--ugh--that would spoil it for me). An ideal crockpot recipe, frankly.

Enza Sorrentino made this version today at Mondello. She used five or six different kinds of beans (two kinds of lentils, pintos, cannellini, chickpeas), and mini-macaroni, topped with bits of crispy-fried pancetta. Heading to the restaurant's regular menu, it is, where it will go into rotation with three already popular soups: vegetarian minestrone, lentils with Italian sausage, and Nonna Vita (aka Italian wedding soup) with tiny veal meatballs.


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It's the third annual Alaska Herring Week, and several dozen leading restaurants and retail seafood vendors in the Seattle area are showcasing unique dishes and products featuring one of Alaska's unsung "seafood heroes." (The full list is here.)

"Our hope is to begin expanding it to other cities beyond Seattle next year," says Zachary Lyons, a spokesman for the local agricultural collaborative known as FORKS: Farms, Oceans, Ranches, Kitchens.

There are a few other herring events in other markets; New York, for example, but it does only Atlantic herring. 

Alaska herring is one of the largest, most abundant and sustainable fisheries in the world, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, but has largely disappeared from US menus and fish markets.

The Alaska Herring Development Project aims to restore herring to its "proper place" as a commercial fishery for human consumption. "As one of our region's great, wild seafood resources, herring is abundant, affordable, sustainable, delicious and nutritious," says the founder of the project, a nano-distiller in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood who goes by the single name of Lexi.  "It is part of our culture, and it comes with a rich and colorful history," she says. Lexi's Old Ballard Liquor Co. produces aquavit and other traditional spirits to accompany herring dishes.

The Alaska Herring Development Project is partnering with Seattle chefs and grocers to restore the Seattle market for herring as a high-quality food. North Pacific Seafoods, which produces the popular Bristol Bay sockeye salmon in Naknek, Alaska, during the summer, is producing fillets from Alaska's largest herring fishery in Togiak, Alaska, for use by chefs and sale by grocers during Alaska Herring Week.

The Togiak herring fishery is sustainably managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The herring harvest is based on a sustainable level of the herring biomass.

Old Ballard Liquor Co.jpgCurrently, the primary market for Alaska herring is for their eggs in Japan, but changing tastes in Japan are reducing this market, both value and volume.

A very small portion of the Alaska Herring Fishery is used as bait for species like halibut and crab.

Hence the push for herring in the Lower 48.

Which explains why we have herring smoked, pickled, fried. We have herring tartare; herring boquerones (normally served in Spanish tapas bars, but with anchovies); herring panzanella; crispy fried whole herring; Sichuan-dressed herring with Walla Walla onions; herring with buccatini pasta; smoked herring salad; herring with a green salsa; lemon-dill herring (a deli dish); herring in saor; even herring as a teriyaki sandwich.

"It's an opportunity to taste this delicious and healthful fish, while supporting the fishermen who bring Alaska herring from sea to table and at the same time supporting a fishery dedicated to providing a sustainable food supply," Lyons said.

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What we call "agricultural literacy" is at a depressingly low point, according to a scholarly report in the Journal of Agricultural Education. One grade-school respondent, for example, told researchers that "My mommy told me bread comes from an animal. I don't know which animal."

In a front-page story, The Washington Post reports today that a high percentage of Americans do not have the most rudimentary understanding of food or agriculture. "Today, many Americans only experience food as an industrial product that doesn't look much like the original animal or plant," the Post says.

The story reports on an online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy.

A few examples:

  • 16 million people think chocolate milk comes from brown cows
  • 40% of California 4th-graders (5th and 6th graders, too) didn't know that hamburger comes from cows
  • Orange juice is the nation's most popular "fruit"
  • French fries and potato chips are the nation's most popular "vegetables"
Says the Post: "For decades, observers in agriculture, nutrition and education have griped that many Americans are basically agriculturally illiterate. They don't know where food is grown, how it gets to stores -- or even, in the case of chocolate milk, what's in it."


There's actually a non-profit, FoodCorps, with a mission to bring more agricultural and nutrition education into elementary schools. But it may be a losing battle, according to Cecily Upton, FoodCorps co-founder. "Right now, we're conditioned to think that if you need food, you go to the store. Nothing in our educational framework teaches kids where food comes from before that point."

It wasn't that the kids didn't know, apparently; it's that they couldn't explain it in academic terms. "All informants recalled the names of common foods in raw form and most knew foods were grown on farms or in gardens," the researchers concluded. "They did not, however, possess schema necessary to articulate an understanding of post-production activities nor the agricultural crop origin of common foods."

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Tempting to call it the end of an era, but it's just a hiccup in a 40-year run for Seattle saloon-keeper Mick McHugh. Along with his business partner Tim Firnstahl, Mick ran a chain of eateries that were hugely influential in the seventies and eighties, with a detailed operating manual, an insistence on detailed descriptions of ingredient sourcing, coupled with outrageous promotions.

For those with long memories, McHugh and Firnstahl chartered the Concorde in November, 1984, to bring the first cases of Beaujolais Nouveau to Seattle. They paid $100,000 for LeRoy Neiman to paint a mural of the bar at McRory's. When they split up, to decide who got first dibs on which property, they flipped a coin from the top of the Space Needle.

A personal note. Some 35 years ago I had my office a block from McRory's and one autumn day I stopped in for coffee. "Hey, Ron," said Mick, "You have a passport, right? You busy next Tuesday?" Which is how we took off for France in November, 1983, to set up the Concorde trip the following year.

Well, the neighborhood has gentrified, two new sports facilities have replaced the Kingdome, and Mick's landlord needs to do a seismic retrofit for the building. So Mick is moving out, taking the whole kit & kaboodle with him to another spot a couple of blocks away. But he's playing it coy; he's not saying where. He did say, in between toasts and hugs, that he wants to be up and running again by Seahawks season.


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In 1941, a 24-year-old art critic, photographer, and fledgling painter named William Cumming produced a remarkable work for the National Youth Administration: a 28-by-7 foot mural in egg tempera on linen sailcloth, destined for Burlington High School's new "farm shop." The scenes depicted farm life in the Skagit Valley in the style known as social-realism: felling timber, baling hay, milking cows, loading a milk wagon, picking berries, mending fences.

Cumming, on his way to becoming one of Seattle's most important and beloved artists, never again painted an agricultural scene. And once the nation recovered from World War II, much of the publicly funded art of the Depression, like his Farm Shop mural (formally known as "Mural of Skagit County Agriculture 1941") were quietly retired. A teacher at the school, Edward Breckenridge, folded it up, took it home, and stored it in his barn along with paraphernalia from the Skagit County Junior Livestock Show.

To his unsuspecting family, it looked like an old utility tarp. "My nieces used it to measure their long- jumps," according to Edward's son, Tony. Four years ago, Breckenridge dragged it out, into the rain, and was about to take it to the dump when he noticed a colorful image, "a cow's butt," on the inside of one of the creases.

What came next is a chain of unusually happy coincidences. Tony Breckenridge called Brian Adams at the Skagit Parks Department, who hung the mural at the Skagit County Fair; a reporter for the Skagit Herald, Shannen Kuest, put a photo of the mural in the paper; a Skagit resident and patron of the arts, Sharene Elander (who passed away earlier this year), sent a copy to her longtime friend and art dealer John Braseth in Seattle; and Braseth immediately recognized the long-lost Farm Shop mural from 1941 and further confirmed his identification by authenticating the scuffed-up Cumming signature.

Two years ago, fire ravaged the Breckenridge family house and barn. If Tony hadn't spotted that cow's posterior and turned the tarp over to the county, the piece would have been lost forever. Instead, it's now on display at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, and is valued in the high six figures. But decades of life in boxes in barns, not to mention occasional use as a long-jump landing pad, have taken their toll. The mural awaits proper (but costly) restoration to claim its reputation as a major piece of Northwest history.

To that end, the Woodside-Braseth Gallery and MoNA are teaming up to raise the necessary funds. Contributions gratefully accepted: www.monamuseum.org/makegift.

Wayne Johnson.JPGFour months ago, Amazon announced it was turning over 25,000 square feet of space in its complex of office buildings north of downtown Seattle to FareStart, a program that trains culinary workers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Now the second phase: FareStart has announced it will use the space to operate five new cafes: one full-service restaurant called Maslow's, one Italian-style café called Rise, and three fast-casual outlets, called Community Table, that will offer what's described as "a market-like dining experience."

The new Amazon restaurants are in addition to the existing FareStart training facility, which is open to the public for lunch and dinner. The FareStart apprenticeship program provides tools, training and support for careers in the food service industry.

The expanded program is expected to serve some 7,000 people whose backgrounds (lack of skills, criminal history, and so on) are considered "high barriers" to employment. In addition to training students in the basics of cooking, FareStart also teaches them "soft skills" such as teamwork, professionalism and self-confidence.

FareStart's Executive Chef Wayne Johnson was hired two years ago after a stellar career at high-profile local restaurants (including perennial favorite Ray's Boathouse) to bring new prestige to the training and apprenticeship programs.

Johnson told the Seattle Times: "This expansion is amazing for how much more good we can do!"

Founded in 1992, FareStart has served 8,000 people from its adult and youth programs, including culinary and barista training that give students the technical and life skills they need in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

The expansion made possible by Amazon will allow FareStart to nearly double its reach over the next 10 years, serving 7,000 people across all of its job training programs in an effort to raise more people out of homelessness and poverty and into long-term financial stability, not just entry level positions, but higher-wage jobs as line cooks, line leads, sous chefs, supervisors and managers.

The new full-service restaurant,"Maslow's by FareStart," takes its name from Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who developed the "hierarchy of needs" theory of motivation.

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