Award-Winning Pasta, Eating Locally and Benefits

by ROBERT PEYTON
myneworleans.com

The hot, humid weather is here at last. I hope those of you who were bemoaning the cold weather a few weeks ago are happy. I know that the warmer weather means good things with the discomfort. I will happily consume tomatoes in a few weeks that could only ripen in warm weather. But I will still be pining for the low temperatures and low humidity of March. I love this freaking city, but sometimes I wish I had been born in Chicago or something. (No, not really).

A few things of note to those of you who enjoy food.

The website Grub Street New York issued a list of the 101 best pasta dishes in the country recently, and two local restaurants were included. A Mano’s Maccheroni Chitarra with Tomato-Goat-Thyme Ragu and August’s Gnocchi with Crab and Truffles both earned a nod. I might have added a few other dishes to the list: the spaghetti with guanciale and fried-poached egg at Herbsaint, for example, or the stracci with oxtail ragu and chicken livers at Domenica. I can’t argue with either of the selections they did make, however.

Eating locally is one of the foundations of the new food movement. Broadly speaking, the idea is that eating things raised or grown in your vicinity is good for the environment in that transportation is not required, good for local farmers in that they have a market for their products and good for the consumer on an aesthetic level. NOLA Locavores has issued a challenge relating to local eating that starts June 1. Here are the rules:

“The New Orleans Eat Local Challenge begins on Wednesday, June 1, 2011, and ends Thursday, June 30. Participants who think they could only last one or two weeks are still encouraged to enter the contest. Any conscious effort to use local products will have a positive effect on your awareness of your food’s origins, the local economy and the environment.

“We are going to divide the challenge into three levels: the Ultrastrict, the Bienville and the Wild Card.

“The Ultrastrict Rule is the most strict; participants in this category are limited to consuming products that can be grown or caught within 200 miles. Ultrastrict locavores avoid all ingredients that have not been grown and produced locally. Bread would have to be made from locally grown grains, and spices (salt, pepper, etc.) must also be locally grown/harvested. Although much like the hunter/gatherers of pre Columbian days, the ultrastrict followers of this contest will find it much easier to gather local produce and meat and in greater variety. Wine from Pontchartrain Vineyards of the Northshore would be acceptable, as they grow their own grapes.

“The Bienville Rule is the next level down. Bienville rule followers incorporate dried spices into their diet – items sailors could carry along while at sea – but keep all other ingredients local. Imagine how the early colonists in the 1700s lived in Nouvelle Orleans. These colonists would have had limited access to spices and products that were not locally produced. Locally roasted coffee and flour would be acceptable but on a limited basis. Although they are not using Louisiana−grown hops, Abita beer would be acceptable.

“Wild Card locavores are less restrictive. They bend their foodshed to include coffee, sugar, chocolate or any ingredients they feel they just can’t live without. The wild card locavore diet is the movement’s most accessible. Some locavores rationalize their coffee fix by purchasing only beans that have been certified fair trade.”

Can you make it an entire month eating only what has been grown or produced within 200 miles? I damn sure can’t, but more power to you if you can. It’s a noble goal, to be sure.

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