photo: State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

OK, everyone, take out your lab aprons and silicone gloves – today, it’s food chemistry city Arizona! (ok, you two in the back – either cut that out or you’re going down to the principal. Got it?).

It’s Not All Red Tomatoes Out There: “Besides their appealing orange color and sweet flavor, there’s another reason to give tangerine tomatoes a try this year. A one-month study led by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists in California has provided new evidence to suggest that, ounce for ounce, these heirloom tomatoes might be a better source of a powerful antioxidant called lycopene than are familiar red tomatoes.”

Apparently, the sort of lycopene in red tomatoes is different than the sort of lycopene in orange tomatoes. Most of the lycopene in red tomatoes is ‘trans’, whereas the lycopene in orange tomatoes is….(yes, Fred, you can stop waving your hand now) ‘cis’ – actually it’s ‘tetra-cis’. Many times the physical properties of the ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ (for more on this, go Cis and Trans ) versions of the same molecules have very different physical properties and in the case of lycopene, the tetra-cis version in orange tomatoes is much more efficiently and completely absorbed by human bodies than the regular ol’ red tomato ‘trans’ version. SO, for people looking at starting tomato seeds or buying tomato plants this year, think out of the red and into the orange, especially the orange heirloom varieties. Orange is Better than Red

Herbal Teas: It’s not just the fragrance. Finally, human trials have been done on herbal teas, in this case some of the most popular in the country (and yes, the trials were supported by Celestial Seasonings), peppermint, chamomile, and hibiscus. Bottom line: herbal teas do show active benefits. “..chamomile tea has moderate antimicrobial activity and significant anti-platelet-clumping activity… strong antioxidant and anti-tumor actions, and some anti-allergenic potential…drinking hibiscus tea lowered blood pressure in a group of pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults.” Herbal Teas: Proof

Skippy: it’s Salmonella: Ruth Calvo is covering this food safety cuts – but remember – peanut butter is used in a lot of other items than just commercial jars of peanut butter. Think peanut better cups, peanut butter chocolate eggs (all that Easter candy around), peanut butter cookies (Nutter Butters, anyone). Seriously – think about all the peanut butter items we eat and feed to our kids and grandchildren because ‘peanut butter is a good for you food’. Right? Not when it’s contaminated it is not. Skippy Recall

Taylor Farms Ready to Eat Salads and Meals: Bad broccoli. We’re talking Listeria contamination, which is really horrible stuff, and can be fatal in children and the elderly. These salads are found Pavilion’s, Raley’s, Safeway, and Von’s stores in western states. Western States Meals Recall

For some more chemistry – Aunt Toby has a couple of pasta dish recipes that are completely different than anything else she makes. There is the ‘gee whiz’ factor (always a biggie with me) in these. I have yet to figure out why they work the way they do. The common factor to both appears to be the strategic addition of some sort of acidic liquid which seems to break down the outer coating of the pasta, thus yielding a creamy sauce without the addition of cream. Clever, these Italians. The first one is my version of Rachel Ray’s Creamy Spaghetti and Beans . This has, because of the addition of beans, the added benefits of fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. The photo is of Canelllini beans, which are a large white member of the kidney bean family popular in Italy. The original recipe calls for cheese, but my family is quite satisfied with our cheese-less version. It is very filling and I serve this with a salad. Rachel Ray’s Original Spaghetti and Beans

Spaghetti with White Beans and Broccoli
Ingredients
• 5 to 6 cups chicken stock
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 pound spaghetti
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 small head of broccoli, take the bottom stem off and chop up into little florets, and lightly steam
• 2 carrots, cut into a small dice
• 1 fresh bay leaf
• 1 tsp dried thyme
• 1 (15-ounce) can Canellini (don’t try to substitute Great Northerns – they are grainy – any creamy white bean will do – Navy beans will work – but you want a bean that cooks up creamy)
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup dry white wine

Directions
Place the stock in a sauce pot and warm it over medium heat then reduce to simmer.
Heat the extra-virgin olive oil and the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Next add the garlic and pasta and stir until lightly brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onions and carrots, bay leaf and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Soften veggies a bit, 5 minutes. Add wine and allow it to be completely absorbed. Add beans then add a few ladles of stock and stir the pasta. Keep adding stock a few ladles at a time allowing liquids to be mostly absorbed before adding more. When liquids are absorbed and spaghetti is cooked to al dente, 12-15 minutes, turn off heat, add the broccoli and stir another minute. Remove the bay leaf. If this comes out soupy, then serve in shallow bowls; mine never seems to come out soupy so we have it on plates.

For the second, we have a dish by Ed Giobbi from “The Great Cooks Cookbook”, The Good Cooking School, Inc., 1974, Ferguson/Doubleday. In this one, the protein and goodies are coming from the onions and the addition of dairy products.

Spaghetti alle Cipole (Spaghetti with onions)
Ingredients
1 pound of spaghetti
2 T olive oil
3 T butter
2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 cups of tomatoes (canned whole tomatoes works just as well for this), squished up
2/3 cup milk
Grated parmigiani
Directions:
Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter and sauté the onions over low heat until they are limp. Add tomatoes, milk, salt and pepper and boil gently. Cook spaghetti in the water until it is still chewy (I can never tell the magic ‘just before it is al dente’ point, “Still chewy’ works). Drain, add to the sauce and finish cooking the spaghetti in the sauce over moderate heat, tossing constantly. If the sauce becomes to stiff, add more milk. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and a generous amount of freshly grated parmigiano and serve.

So, what we’ve got in these two recipes that is common is this:

Partially cooked pasta (in the first, the spaghetti has been partially cooked through the toasting process in the pan; in the second, the pasta has been actually boiled a bit), which then has the addition of an acidic liquid (in the first, it is the white wine; in the second, it’s the tomatoes), and is stirred constantly. My theory is that some of the starch from the pasta is released through the cooking/application of acid/stirring around action, which results in this velvety creamy sauce. Yes, the second one has the addition of milk – but I can tell you that we have make this with 1% and even skim milk and it tastes just as creamy as if we used regular milk, so I’m thinking it is the action of the released starch.

Buon Appetito!