New Year’s Eve: Taittinger alla puttanesca

Above: brother Tad poses with a magnum of Taittinger La Française and his puttanesca sauce.

The Parzen family brought in the New Year at Tad and Diane’s (my brother and sister-in-law’s) house, where we opened a magnum of Taittinger N[on V[intage] La Française.

Many people drink and think of Champagne solely as a stand-alone, special-occasion wine but it’s one of my favorite “food” wines: when it’s well made, it has good acidity, fruit, and body, and it’s arguably the most versatile wine in terms of its pairing possibilities. We drank the wine throughout our meal and it went great with Tad’s pear wedges (topped with “Maytag” blue and wrapped in prosciutto and arugula), an artichoke and cheese dip (brought by one of the guests), and even Tad’s spicy puttanesca sauce.*

Wine in large format (in this case a magnum or 1.5-liter bottle) is always fun to pour at parties and Champagne in particular shows better when aged in large format (experts haven’t really been able to pinpoint the reason for this but it likely has something to do with the fact that wine generally ages better in large quantities, probably because the oxygen-to-liquid ratio is reduced). The wine was drinking beautifully and paired wonderfully with everything — from the antipasti to ice cream cake and cookies.

My nephew Cole and I had spent the afternoon writing and recording a song using GarageBand. He was impressed by the size of the bottle and so I gave him some pointers on opening Champagne (his father noted it’s a skill that proves useful later in lafe):

- always have a serviette or clean dish towel handy (to wipe down the bottle and in case of spills)
- after you’ve removed the capsule by pulling the ribbon counter-clockwise, always keep your thumb over the cork as you twist the wire (in case it pops; the wire twists away from you and it always takes six turns to remove it)
- make sure the bottle isn’t pointing at anyone (in case it pops)
- tilt the bottle at a 45° angle, hold the cork firmly, place your thumb over the cork, and then slowly twist the bottle from the bottom as you gently apply pressure to pull out the cork

Above: December’s Children at Beaumont’s in Bird Rock (La Jolla) — Justin Richert, Danny Baker (left), John Yelenosky (center), Andrew Harvey, and Irwin (right).

The strike of midnight found me at a local bar, Beaumont’s, where I sat in with December’s Children.

I’ve known and played music with these dudes since I was a teenager. Each of them is a excellent musician in his own right. Danny Baker has got a great voice and his Les Paul Gold Top sounds great (I believe it’s a 57 reissue). My doppelganger Jeremy Farson, an accomplished painter, also sat in (if you click the link, scroll down the page to read about Jeremy).

I rocked out on Voodoo Child and Come On (Let the Good Times Roll) — a great way to ring in 2008 (which has got to be better than 2007!).

* Contrary to popular belief, pasta alla puttanesca is not so-named because it was or is the preferred victual of prostitutes (a common but erroneous folkloric etymology, owed to the fact that puttana means “prostitute” in contemporary Italian). The noun puttana and the adjective puttanesco are derived from the Italian putto (Latin, putus), “boy.” By the sixteenth-century (long before tomatoes and dried pasta were popular in Italian cuisine), the term puttanesco was already used in Italian to denote something belonging to a “lesser station in life,” so to speak, “boyish” or “girlish” or even “whoreish,” if you like. Pasta alla puttanesca is a pasta tossed in a tomato-sauce that has been flavored typically with cured anchovies, olives, capers, and chili flakes: the qualifier alla puttanesca refers to the fact that it is not a rich dish. In other words, it’s not a meat sauce or a sauce flavored with stock. It’s a dressing for pasta made savory by combining “humble” ingredients (another related word, puttanata means “rubbish” or “crap” in Italian, as in the expression, non dire puttanate, “don’t talk crap,” and has nothing to do with prostitutes). A meretrix may enjoy eating pasta alla puttanesca, but the dish wasn’t named after her.

Check out the follow-up post I did on Sugo alla puttanesca.

Although she makes a brief reference to it in her entry “Pasta Sauces,” Gillian Riley, author of the recently published Oxford Companion to Italian Food (October, 2007), does not offer an entry for pasta alla puttanesca. I’ve been leafing through the book during my trip out west…

4 Responses to New Year’s Eve: Taittinger alla puttanesca

  1. Marco says:

    I have never heard of that etymological agrument. I will have to verify it from a true Neapolitan.

  2. Marco says:

    My friend from Napoli says that he’s on the folklore side of the etymology. It lends more red-flair to an already great pasta dish. Non?

  3. dobianchi says:

    It does indeed add more “red flair” to the dish! I’m going to spend some more time researching it over the next few days and see what I can find. I based my current research on usage reported in the Grande dizionario della lingua italiana, ed. Salvatore Battaglia. I’ll do another post on it next week some time. Thanks for the comments!

  4. I would suggest, along with the reputable Wikcionario, that the connection to “puer” is tenuous. (http://es.wiktionary.org/wiki/*puta#Lat.C3.ADn) I think the word “puta” just naturally happens to “prostituta”, which is way more work to say.

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