Up Against the Wall

by Mark R. Vogel

            In 1929, Alphonse Gabby May Capone, a.k.a. “Scarface”, a.k.a. “Big Al”, or just simply Al Capone, was vying for control of Chicago’s criminal enterprises with rival gangster George “Bugs” Moran.  A plan was hatched to rub out Moran and most of his outfit.  On the morning of February 14th five members of Capone’s gang lured seven members of Moran’s gang into a garage under the pretense of purchasing hijacked bootleg whisky.  As part of the ruse, two of Capone’s cronies were dressed as police.  But the subterfuge worked too well.  Moran, who arrived late, saw the “police” and dodged the meeting.  How thin the line is between life and death; for inside the garage Moran’s men were lined up along the back wall and riddled with machine gun fire.  The infamous bloodbath went down in history as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” 

Capone won domination of Chicago but it was an ironic and short-lived victory.  The very slaying which eliminated his competition exposed him to the public spotlight and subsequently the federal authorities.  In two years he would be convicted of income tax evasion, imprisoned the year after, and dead of syphilitic brain disease 15 years after that.  Capone was sojourning at his home in Palm Beach during the massacre to avoid suspicion.  Upon his return it is reported that his family welcomed him with a feast that included one of his favorite dishes:  Cold pasta with walnut sauce.  And that my dear friends brings us to another nut that was difficult to crack, namely walnuts.

            Walnut trees are found throughout the world and include over 15 varieties.  The most common walnut is the English or Persian walnut followed by the black walnut.  The English/Persian walnut originated somewhere between southeastern Europe and northern India.  Archeological evidence from modern Iraq reveals that man was consuming walnuts as far back as 50,000 BC.   Walnuts first started being domesticated about 12,000 years ago.  They were very popular with the Greeks and Romans and it was the latter who spread them throughout Europe.  The Spanish introduced them to California in the 18th century.  Today, China is the leading producer of walnuts followed by the US.

            Walnuts are available year round.  Choose specimens devoid of any cracks or holes in their shells.  Walnuts in their shells can last up to 3 months in a cool dry place.  As the walnut ages its kernel changes from white to gray.  Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids which are purported to lower serum cholesterol.  Normally found in fish, walnuts are one of the few plants to contain omega-3.  Walnuts are also a good source of fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, and a number of minerals.

            Walnuts have a wide range of culinary applications.  They are used in a myriad of baked dishes and pastries, meat, chicken and fish dishes, forcemeats, salads, and stuffings.  You can use them to coat meat or fish before cooking, employ them as a topping on baked dishes, or grind them into a flour.  Walnut oil, an expensive but luxurious oil is usually reserved for salad dressings.

 

AL CAPONE’S COLD PASTA WITH WALNUT SAUCE

 

            This recipe comes from Phil Lempert of the supermarketguru.com.

 

2 lbs. of rigatoni or ziti

1 pint olive oil

1 lb. walnuts, chopped

Half cup raisins

1 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese plus extra for serving

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 handful of dried oregano

 

            Boil the pasta until al dente, drain, and then place in a large bowl.  Mix the remaining ingredients and toss with the pasta.  Refrigerate overnight, tossing occasionally.  Serve with some extra cheese sprinkled on top.  You can also make the sauce a few days in advance and refrigerate.  The extra time will allow the flavors to meld even more. 

 

ASPARGUS SALAD WITH CHAMPAGNE WALNUT OIL VINAIGRETTE

 

            This recipe comes from chef Faith Alahverdian.

 

1 bunch of thin asparagus, ends trimmed

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon chopped chives

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons walnut oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

 

            Blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water and then submerge in ice water.  In a bowl mix the vinegar, lemon juice, chives, salt and pepper.  Slowly whisk in both oils until emulsified.  Arrange the asparagus and tomatoes on a plate and drizzle with the dressing. 

 

 

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