About three o'clock every afternoon a persistent question seems to present itself.
No matter how well answered yesterday, it returns day after day to pose a problem susceptible to a rich myriad of divergent solutions. How rich? Why as rich as my most vivid imagination yet admirably suitable to my meager purse. The solution may expand to fill all comers at a serendipitous meeting of old friends, or contract to suit the contents of the cupboard.
What might answer? Flanders and Swann sang a song that catches the thought:
We have a song here, more or less as a postscript, it's about something that's not really an animal, but it's certainly more than a mere vegetable. I am referring, of course, to that fantastic newly-discovered hybrid, the Wompom. ...The answers have no known geographic limitation. They range from collations as simple as flour and water to the austere complexities of a jaded gourmet's palette wake-up regime. While masters strain and heave the veriest amateur may strike it lucky and carry off the prize. Or not. The point is: It fills. It satisfies. Brillat-Savarin beams.
You can do such a lot with a Wompom,
You can use every part of it too.
For work or for pleasure,
It's a triumph, it's a treasure,
Oh there's nothing that a Wompom cannot do.
Oh, the flesh in the heart of a Wompom
Has the flavour of porterhouse steak.
And its juice is a liquor
That will get you higher quicker
And you're still lit up next morning when you wake.
The question is: What's for dinner?
My all purpose response is: Gorp.
So just what is 'gorp'?
Not so easy. Like a wompom it is so flexible as to evade precision. That lack of precision might be a key that you are on to it. A plain rare chop doesn't give you much room to dance. It either is or it isn't. But don't you dare claim to know the only true recipe for chili (Chile? Chilli? Chilly?). Fist fights seem inevitable in any crowd larger than two. Experts differ. Any peaceable discussion requires a definition of terms. By chili we often refer to a reddish soupy sauce containing beef and/or pork either ground coarsely or diced into ¼” to ½” pieces and spiced with capsicums in the form of chile powder(s) mixed with other herbs and spices. (Chili powder's a gorp to itself. See here or here for recipes to make chilli powder. But there are more variations on the recipe for chili powder than there are chiles.) How about cumin? (“Ewh! Armpits!” Says the rude child) Or cinnamon, cloves, cacao, or herbs such as marjoram, oregano or thyme. How hot do we spice it? Just the virtual thrill of cayenne or the blazing full out hell fire of Naga Vipers at 800,000 – 1,382,118 Scovilles.
A pot of chili usually contains meat and often onions. I was once served a bowl that contained a boot lace eyelet. No doubt it featured well aged, even tanned, beef. Muy auténtico. Possibly there are tomatoes and other vegetables. But, important distinction, do we include beans? No Texan would say yes. But if so, what sort of beans? The non-Texan part of the world makes other choices indulging in a plethora of legumes. Accompanied by: Rice? Cheese? Noodles?Various chopped vegetables – tomatoes, lettuce, scallions, peppers, olives, et al? Oyster crackers? Saltines? Chips – corn, tortilla or pita? Tortillas – flour or corn? Use mere dots? The table covering models? Or something in between-ish? Or corn bread? White or yellow or a mix including sweet corn? Serve it in a bowl? Or in wraps and sauce as a casserole? Or a stand alone 'handwich'? These are only a few of the changes cooks ring on this basic food. Every sort has its adherents proudly claiming the pinnacle of savor.
As Chili is claimed by the Southwest of North America, so any good gorp may be closely associated with a culture. Perhaps this association is more or less specious. No matter. Spaghetti is Italian – except the regions of Italy each do something completely different with their particular local pasta and sauce than most mid-westerners, as an instance, expect.
Dorothy made her spaghetti sauce from a pound of ground beef, with an onion, a rib or two of celery and a quarter of a green bell pepper diced fine . Add a can of button mushrooms, a small one of tomato paste, a tablespoon of oregano, the merest blessing of an ancient, consecrated clove of garlic, and a grind of pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes and serve.
How very different her modest restraint was from Earle's more complex chemistry experiment:
A third version is Strike Night Spaghetti.Dad's Spaghetti SauceDice 4 slices of bacon, 3 ribs of celery and 4 onions.Mince 6 cloves of garlic.Sauté bacon slowly to render fat.Brown 1½ pounds coarsely ground beef.Add vegetables. Sauté about 5 minutes.Add 4 cans consomme, 2 large cans tomato paste, (1 large can tomatoes), (⅓ cup dried shitake mushrooms), ⅓ cup oregano, 1 bunch parsley, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 tablespoon mustard, ½ teaspoon cloves, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon tarragon, 2 teaspoons celery seed.Simmer at least 4 hours.Thicken with 1½ tablespoons cornstarch per quart.Let stand overnight. The flavors need time to blend. Freezes very well.
Mix your favorite red sauce with a mess of cooked pasta (rotelli work very well with lots of crannies to hold the sauce) and fill an oblong baker. Bake to warm and cover with cheese (Mild cheddar, colby or co-jack). Brown that and serve.
This was a favorite with the crew about 1 am of a Sunday morning as we finished clearing out the set (usually two stories and free standing – that was built more like a house than a suit of flats) of the production that closed Saturday night so we could erect the set for the next play on Monday. We had to clear and clean the amphitheatre by 10 am Sunday for rehearsals. This was called striking the set, hence 'strike night spaghetti'.
At the Kirin Beer Hall in Shinjuku they made a wonderful spaghetti with a red sauce, featuring tiny mushrooms, which was vaguely Italian, but decidedly Japanese. What might you expect in an ersatz German Beer Hall? The beer was very good, too.
Yet all of these delicious red sauces are only part of saucing pasta. Sauces may be varied. With cream sauces. With fish sauces. The Italian Food page at All About dot com is a good jumping off point if you are unfamiliar with Italian cooking as Italians do it.
Gorp also results when two cultures meet. Chop suey, supposedly, was the result of Chinese in the US trying to please the tastes of European descendants working on the California end of the Transcontinental Railroad. And succeeding.
This is a myth, apparently. The late nineteenth century immigrants from Taishan in Guangdong Province were enterprising restauranteurs who offered a native za sui, or sub gum (sub gum, Cantonese: “numerous and varied”, means one or more meats or fish with mixed vegetables, Rice or noodles or soup, i.e.: gorp) stir fry, served on rice. Their non-Chinese customers miscalled it Chop Suey and loved it. One American addition is the deep fried noodles that make a nice crunchy garnish.
In the wheat growing regions of Northern China, noodles may be boiled or steamed or served in soup or stir fried in oil (Chow Mein) or stir fried with a stock (Lo Mein) or fried into a pancake or served cold with fresh garden vegetables in a sweet sour stock as a summer cooler or deep fried as a ″bird's nest” or as a crunchy topping or … but I go on.
Pizza is another American innovation (or not, as one prefers) only reminiscent of the bread, herbs and cheese of Roma. Consider a recipe for Neapolitan Fried Pizza ascribed to Sophia Loren which I clipped from a feuilleton some forty or more years ago.
Neapolitan Fried Pizza Sophia Loren
Proof 1 tablespoon of yeast in ¼ cup lukewarm water.
Not exactly your B'way slice with the cheesy top lost in a swamp of red yellow oil. First I had was in 1962 when a window to the street served a four inch slice from a 20” pie on a paper napkin for just 15¢. Bread and cheese with flavored oil. Yum.Mix with 5 cups flour and 1 cup, or more if needed, of water .Knead and let rise about 30 minutes.Saute 6 minced cloves of garlic in ¼ cup of olive oil.Puree 3 pounds of Italian Tomatoes.Add to garlic with fresh basil.Cook over high heat for 15 minutes.Form dough into 6” rounds. Fry in olive oil.Spread with sauce and cheese., fold in half.
Today pizza is a proud exemplar of a truly global dish with bells and whistles, from ultra-super-thin crust to Chicago-Sicilian-drown-your-enemies-in-a-bathtub deep dish, with added refinements in every region. Even I, here at Dum Luk's, once made a double decker pizza as a way to make stuffed crust even more ... Stuffed. Think of it: A crisp crust on the bottom covered in a meaty sauce and cheese under a softer layer of bread covered in a meaty sauce with cheese. That's a jawbreaker of pizza goodness about 2” thick. Well ... I always admitted to being a gourmand. That's a politer (to porcines) way to say pig.
Then there is macaroni cheese, which I consider one of the finer achievements of gorp. My extensive experience was mostly gained as a means of feeding The Kid™ and utilizing the five pound block of government cheddar and pony keg of powdered milk which came our way once a month from a more generous (to the dairy industry) surplus food program soon to be stopped by a rogue regime in the eighties. To this day The Kid™ believes, with a goodly portion of truth on her side, that the best dinners begin by sautéing a mess of onions. Meanwhile boil some pasta in another pot. Add meat, if available, to the onions. A can of tuna fish can substitute or skip it for a veggie delight (lactose tolerant). Add garlic, celery, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, green beans, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, scallions, Lima beans, corn, leeks, or whatever takes your fancy or you happen to have. Add more. Add less. Cook's choice. Add herbs, cook's choice: maybe celery seed, oregano, thyme; or celery seed, basil, bay leaf (crunch it up); or fennel, ginger and allspice. Salt. Pepper. To make your sauce, in the pot stir in a tablespoon or two of flour and some dry mustard to make a roux with the fat (butter, olive oil, or both) in the pan. Add powdered milk, if using. Stir to spread the dry stuff in a thin layer to avoid clumps. Add stock – Milk, water, chicken, beef, mushroom, veggie-- what do you want it to taste like? Let this simmer for a quarter of an hour or so. Time depends on how you like your veg. Stir it now and then to keep it dancing. By now it should be a bit thick – but not a lot. Add a pound or so of cheese diced fine or grated as you have the patience for. Stir to mix and melt the cheese. Add the cooked pasta, stir some more and serve. The Kid™ still adores this meal—which we used to have every Tuesday night for half a dozen years — and was taking a college nutrition course before she tumbled that I was slipping her the vegetables.
Why every Tuesday? That was the day Diana was scheduled to work the swing shift at the library and so it was just The Kid™ and me and maybe Del (who thought I was stingy with the cheese.) Diana took her vegetables in a less cheesy manner. She prefers her mac cheese as Noodles Jefferson.
Old Tom was an inventor and promoter. That way he had with words! While President he expended much personal energy on ways to expand the products of American Agriculture. His sojourn in Paris broadened his culinary horizons. He thought American farmers – particularly in Virginia and the Carolinas – could make a good thing out of sesame seeds, particularly the oil. Among many other foreign blandishments the lobbyists eager for American trade foisted on this simple country boy was some pasta and a wheel of Parmesan cheese.
This led to Noodles Jefferson. Cook pasta. Mix with melted butter and grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Serve. Elegant and simple at once.
One of The Kid's™ good friends was beyond finicky. Her idea of macaroni cheese was tres tres nouvelle cuisine. I fetched her with a simple bowl of buttered orzo flecked with a few cut leaves of Italian parsley.
On line most any good recipe site will provide dozens of variations on this essential comfort food. There does seem to be a bit of a continuo in the noodle. Elbows. Elbows? Well. I have nothing against elbows. I have a great tuna casserole from the fifties that uses them. But what about Rotelle? Or Radiatori? Del always preferred Rotini for there superior sauce conveying areas. But there's also gemeli and bowties and farfalle and conchiglie – aka shells (I like little ones for pasta salads and The Kid™ likes big un's. So there.) Well here's a list. Here's a bigger one.
So, Gorp = meat (protein, animal or vegetable) + veg (vitamins & minerals) and flour(thickener, carb) + water (stock, milk, wine)?
That's neat phony math, but way to limiting to be gorp.
This is just one byway of one pot meals. There are all kinds of soups and stews. There are salads. There are sausages. There are hamburgers, the least of which are merely ground beef formed into a patty. There are breads.
Breads merit a completely different post. But consider that, not just one or two, but whole libraries of books have been written on ways to mix flour and water, with or without a leaven, to obtain nourishment. Something that basic/fanciful, simple/complex and quick/slow that its variations keep us happy all our lives long if only we try; That's gorp
And that's whats for dinner.
UPDATE: to fix link