Postcard from Valencia, Spain: A temple to food

Whether a recipe requires fresh sea urchins (still alive), horse meat or an enormous 25-euro ostrich egg, the Mercat Central in Valencia has almost anything your culinary heart could imagine artfully displayed under a soaring dome designed to inspire.

The lively market features the wares of some 300 vendors, many willing to deliver directly to your home. But that would definitely spoil the stimulating sensory experience of wandering amongst the stalls.

This stunning temple of food replaced an earlier “New Market,” which dated from 1839. A design competition was held for a model modern market in 1910, with the new-new temple to food finally opening in January of 1928.

Adios, Fiesta. Ciao, Italia.

Tastes of honey and cheese. Together. And then chocolate.

Wait, I’ve been here. This tastes like the flavors of Perugia. In fact, I’m including a photograph of a cheese plate with a palette of regional honey we enjoyed a few years back at Ristorante Gus.

But Central Market is making it easy to get those flavors by focusing on Italy from April 30 to May 13. These snapshots represent a preview of some of the products that will flood the shelves of every department during Passaporto Italia.

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Tre Numeri Parmigiano Reggiano? Never had heard of seeking this out, but Central Market did and has brought in huge wheels of the prized dairy cheese from Reggio-Emilia. While most cheeses from this region are branded on the outside with four-digit numbers, these are aged 20 to 24 months and are branded with three. Howard cracked open one to taste, and it melts in your mouth.

And why had I never noticed the barrels of amazing balsamic vinegars in the bulk section?

A convenient shortcut to assembling the ingredients for Ragu alla Bolognese can be found in a sleeve, a ready-to-cook mix of beef, pork, pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste, seasoning and three bay leaves. The accompanying recipe card launches you onto the course of simmering the ingredients for three hours with milk, Italian red wine and beef stock.

My favorite things previewed were Sous Chef Santiago Flores’ arancini. The prep to make these fried, filled balls of risotto is more than I care to undertake at home so being able to buy them freshly ready-made is wonderful. The two featured are a spring vegetable one and a saffron one with beef marrow. Please keep these on permanently….

The genius of Dorcas Reilly: More than 100 million Americans will have her dish on the table this Thanksgiving.

This is my first re-post, but it is so seasonally appropriate.

It also came to mind because some relatives I love dearly asked if I could make “the” green bean casserole.

Wait. I don’t do that.

Fortunately, I have wriggled my way into other responsibilities, but I know I am clearly in the minority:

Stock Tips:  Buy Luby’s.  Buy Campbell’s. (from May 2010)

If Luby’s stockholders read the Taste section of the San Antonio Express-News, I thought, NYSE: LUB will tumble dramatically on Monday.

A reader wrote in to the San Antonio Express-News requesting an “old” Luby’s recipe for eggplant casserole.  To the credit of the “new” Luby’s, which is promoting “healthy sensations,” the manager of an area Luby’s said she could not find the recipe.

The Express’ Karen Haram dug up the recipe from a 1994 column.  The ingredients seem more vintage than that.  In addition to eggplant, the casserole includes diced onion, peppers and celery.  Fine so far.  But the add-ins and add-ons include a can of cream-style corn, a can of cream of mushroom soup, bacon bits, two cups of crumbled cornbread and a cup of, believe it or not, shredded American cheese.  Results:  Extremely well-disguised eggplant with the capability of single-handedly supplying more than half of your sodium intake for the day.

Having not purchased a can of mushroom soup for at least 25 years, I thought nobody was cooking this way any longer.  But I am dead wrong.  My cooking evidently is out of step with the majority of America.

Dorcas Reilly gets a lot of the credit (blame?).  According to Rod Taylor in a 2003 article for Promo Magazine:

Reilly was the midwife, as it were, who gave birth 48 years ago to the mother of all comfort foods: “Campbell Soup’s Green Bean Casserole.”

The now 77-year-old Reilly was in charge of the Campbell Soup Co. test kitchen in 1955 when the recipe was created.  “My initial inspiration for the Green Bean Casserole was really quite simple,” Reilly notes.  “I wanted to create a quick and easy recipe around two things most Americans always had on hand in the 1950s: green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup….”

Campbell estimates that 40% of its annual sales of Cream of Mushroom Soup end up in this recipe, which isn’t too surprising when you consider the company also estimates that 1.5 million cans of Campbell’s soup are used as an ingredient to prepare dinner every day….  Although consumers use the recipe year-round in their cooking, Thanksgiving represents the pinnacle of usage with an estimated 20% to 30% of all US households making the casserole for their holiday feast.

Run the numbers on that one and you’ll discover we’re talking 17.6 million homes on the low end.  Figure that one casserole feeds six, and you’re reaching an estimated 105.6 million Americans in one meal, well over a third of the total population, and that’s on the low side as an estimate….  Consider this:  their Cream of Mushroom soup ranks as one of the six fastest moving items in the entire dry grocery category.

And think about all the additional people who purchased other brands of mushroom soup?

Taylor claims:

Last year Reilly appeared at the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame to donate her original copy of the recipe to the museum.  Her now-yellowed 8 x 11 recipe card takes its place alongside Enrico Fermi’s invention of the first controlled nuclear reactor and Thomas Alva Edison’s two greatest hits:  the lightbulb and the phonograph.

That seems like a big stretch for combining cans of soup and green beans, and I could not verify the story.  The National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, is closed right now as it prepares for the opening of a major exhibition, “Inventive Eats: Incredible Food Innovations,” which does, however, sound like a logical time to spotlight Reilly’s contribution to American cuisine.

But wait, is this the same country in which Julia & Julia grossed $95 million at the box office?  Paraphrasing Julia Child’s husband Paul in the film, I thought her book changed the world.

Campbell Soup Company’s stock continues to rise.

Hey, five recipes on the label of every can, all much easier than any of those through which Julie Powell plowed and blogged her way.

Forget my initial market prediction.  Buy Luby’s stock.  Buy Campbell Soup Company’s stock.