Sep 192016
 

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Today is the feast of San Gennaro, Neapolitan dialect for Saint Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, a celebration both in Naples and in Little Italy in New York city where many Neapolitan immigrants settled in the early 20th century. It was first celebrated in New York in September 1926 when immigrants from Naples congregated along Mulberry Street to continue the tradition they had followed in Italy. Naples actually has over 50 patrons, but Gennaro is the principal one, where he is the patron of the cathedral.

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Little is known of the life of Januarius, and what gets repeated is mostly derived from later Christian sources, such as the Acta Bononensia (BHL 4132, not earlier than 6th century) and the Acta Vaticana (BHL 4115, 9th century), and from later folk tradition. According to these dubious sources (from no earlier than 300 years after his death), Januarius was born in Benevento to a rich patrician family that traced its descent to the Caudini tribe of the Samnites. At the age of 15, he became local priest of his parish in Benevento, which at the time was relatively pagan. When Januarius was 20, he became Bishop of Naples and befriended Juliana of Nicomedia and Saint Sossius whom he met during his priestly studies. During the infamous persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, he hid his fellow Christians and prevented them from being caught. Unfortunately, while visiting Sossius in jail, he too was arrested. He and his colleagues were condemned to be thrown to wild bears in the Flavian Amphitheater at Pozzuoli, but the sentence was changed due to fear of public disturbances, and they were instead beheaded at the Solfatara crater near Pozzuoli. Other legends state either that the wild beasts refused to eat them, or that he was thrown into a furnace but came out unscathed.

Saint Januarius is famous for the alleged miracle of the annual liquefaction of his blood, which, according to legend, was saved by a woman called Eusebia just after the saint’s death. A chronicle of Naples written in 1382 describes the cult of Saint Januarius in detail, but mentions neither the relic nor the miracle. The first certain date is 1389, when it was found to have melted. Then, over the following two and a half centuries official reports began to appear declaring that the blood spontaneously melted, at first once a year, then twice, and finally three times a year. While the report of the very first incidence of liquefaction did not make any explicit reference to the skull of the saint, soon afterwards assertions began to appear that this relic was activating the melting process, as if the blood, recognizing a part of the body to which it belonged, “were impatient while waiting for its resurrection.” This explanation was definitively abandoned only in the 18th century.

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Thousands of people assemble to witness this event in Naples Cathedral three times a year: on September 19, on December 16 (celebrating his patronage of Naples and its archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (commemorating the reunification of his relics). The blood is also said to spontaneously liquefy at certain other times, such as papal visits. It liquefied in the presence of Pope Pius IX in 1848, but not that of John Paul II in 1979 or Benedict XVI in 2007. On March 21, 2015, Pope Francis venerated the dried blood during a visit to Naples Cathedral, saying the Lord’s Prayer over it and kissing it. Archbishop Sepe then declared that “The blood has half liquefied, which shows that Saint Januarius loves our pope and Naples.” Francis replied, “The bishop just announced that the blood half liquefied. We can see the saint only half loves us. We must all spread the Word, so that he loves us more!”

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The blood is stored in two hermetically sealed small ampoules, held since the 17th century in a silver reliquary between two round glass plates about 12 cm wide. The smaller ampoule (of cylindrical shape) contains only a few reddish spots on its walls, the bulk having allegedly been removed and taken to Spain by Charles III. The larger ampoule, with capacity of about 60 ml and almond-shaped, is about 60% filled with a dark reddish substance. Separate reliquaries hold bone fragments believed to belong to Saint Januarius. For most of the time, the ampoules are kept in a bank vault, whose keys are held by a commission of local notables, including the Mayor of Naples; while the bones are kept in a crypt under the main altar of Naples Cathedral. On feast days, all these relics are taken in procession from the cathedral to the Monastery of Santa Chiara, where the archbishop holds the reliquary up and tilts it to show that the contents are solid, and places it on the high altar next to the saint’s other relics. After intense prayers by the faithful, including the so-called “relatives of Saint Januarius” (parenti di San Gennaro), the content of the larger vial typically liquefies. The archbishop then holds up the vial and tilts it again to demonstrate that liquefaction has taken place. The announcement of the liquefaction is greeted with a 21-gun salute at the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. The ampoules remain exposed on the altar for eight days, while the priests move or turn them periodically to show that the contents remain liquid.

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At the 19th September mass in Naples the cathedral is typically packed to overflowing. The Cardinal presides and after mass takes out the reliquary from a side altar. He then moves to the front of the church whilst the congregation waves white handkerchiefs. He walks with the liquefied blood down the middle aisle for all to see. He continues his procession outside and announces to the city that the liquefaction has occurred, then he returns the blood to the altar. The reliquary is left there for the next eight days.

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After mass the streets of Naples are closed off for religious processions and there is a general carnival atmosphere throughout the city with vendors everywhere. It is no wonder that Neapolitan immigrants to New York continued the tradition – minus the blood, of course. There is a mass and a procession of the saint, with bystanders pinning money to ribbons trailing from the saint’s bier. All the streets of Little Italy are closed, and mobbed by visitors and stalls. It’s not particularly Neapolitan any more – more of an Italian-American celebration in general. I went one year eons ago. That was before I lost my taste for giant crowds.

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For a recipe I’m stuck with several quandaries. I have my usual one which is to say, if you want authentic Neapolitan food, go to Naples. But then there’s also the question of whether to highlight Naples or New York. Festival street food in New York tends towards the generic end of the Italian-American spectrum, which is to say products based on Sicilian cuisine.

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The main thing I’ve learned about Italian cooking since living here is that specialties are highly localized – often centered on a single town. There’s a sort of overarching sense that pasta and pizza are universal, but scratch the surface and you find that this is an overgeneralization, mostly perpetuated by foreigners. For example, where I live in the north, pasta is normal at every meal, but you’ll rarely find it sauced with anything involving tomatoes. That’s southern style. Likewise pizzas come in all different shapes, sizes, thicknesses, toppings, etc, with each region claiming that theirs is the best. You’ll find my modest rant on pizza – especially Neapolitan pizza – here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/pizza/ Talking about styles of pasta and their sauces would fill volumes.

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There’s a host of great street food in Naples for festivals which is much more to my taste than a sausage and meatball sub or some cannoli found in New York street booths. Give me frittatine any day, or pizzette fritte. Fried rice balls might fit the bill. A common type, usually called arancini, are said to have originated in 10th-century Sicily at a time when the island was under Arab rule. The most common type of arancino sold in Sicilian cafés are arancini con ragù, which typically consist of rice stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Many cafés also offer arancini con burro (with butter or béchamel sauce) or specialty arancini, such as arancini con funghi (mushrooms), con pistacchi (pistachios), or con melanzane (aubergine). In Roman cuisine, supplì are similar but are commonly filled with cheese. In Naples, rice balls are called pall’e riso or palle di riso. They are not like the Sicilian arancini, although they may be called arancini. Neapolitan rice balls typically do not have a filling but are simply mixtures of rice, eggs, and Parmigiano cheese. However they are stuffed or mixed, arancini are coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

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For Neapolitan rice balls use the ratio of 1 egg to 1 ¼ cups of uncooked Arborio rice to ⅓ cup  grated Parmigiano.  Cook the rice until tender, drain, and let cool to room temperature. Beat the egg(s) and mix together with the rice and cheese. Form into small balls and roll them in breadcrumbs so that they are completely coated. Place on baking trays and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Some cooks shallow fry the rice balls, but I prefer deep frying. Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 350°F/175°C. Fry the rice balls in small batches so that they are golden all over. Drain on wire racks and serve warm.

Aug 202015
 

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Today is World Mosquito Day, created on 20 August 1897, marking a world changing discovery made by Sir Ronald Ross, a British doctor working in India who first made the link that female mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans. On making this breakthrough on this date, Ross declared that it should be known as World Mosquito Day henceforth. Ross went on to become the first British person to be awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1902.

Ross’s discovery laid the foundations for scientists to better understand the deadly role of mosquitoes which currently infect 250 million people with malaria every year, causing 850,000 deaths. World Mosquito Day is still a little known celebration, but given the global importance of eradication of malaria it should be better known.

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Females of most mosquito species are ectoparasites, whose tube-like mouthparts. or proboscis, pierce the hosts’ skin to consume blood. Thousands of species feed on the blood of various kinds of hosts, mainly vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even some kinds of fish. Some mosquitoes also attack invertebrates, mainly arthropods. Though the loss of blood is seldom of any importance to the victim, the saliva of the mosquito often causes an irritating rash that is a serious nuisance. Much more serious though, are the roles of many species of mosquitoes as vectors of diseases. In passing from host to host, some transmit extremely harmful infections such as malaria, yellow fever, west nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, and other arboviruses, making it the deadliest animal in the world.

Various species of mosquitoes are estimated to transmit various types of disease to more than 700 million people annually in Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico, Russia, and much of Asia, with millions of resultant deaths. At least two million people annually die of these diseases, and the morbidity rates are many times higher still. Effective control is a major health concern. There are various methods:

Personal protection

Fortunately mosquitoes don’t like me apparently because I don’t have any of the usual attractors. The feeding preferences of mosquitoes include those with type O blood, heavy breathers, those with a lot of skin bacteria, people with a lot of body heat, and pregnant women. Individuals’ attractiveness to mosquitoes also has a heritable, genetically-controlled component. If you do suffer, repellants and mosquito nets work.

Source reduction

Since many mosquitoes breed in standing water, source reduction can be as simple as emptying water from containers around the home. This is something that homeowners can accomplish. For example, homeowners can eliminate mosquito breeding grounds by removing unused plastic pools, old tires, or buckets; by clearing clogged gutters and repairing leaks around faucets; by regularly (at least every 4 days) changing water in bird baths; and by filling or draining puddles, swampy areas, and tree stumps. Eliminating such mosquito breeding areas can be an extremely effective and permanent way to reduce mosquito populations without resorting to insecticides. However, this may not be possible in parts of the developing world where water cannot be readily replaced due to irregular water supply.

Biocontrol

Biological control or “biocontrol” is the use of natural enemies to manage mosquito populations. There are several types of biological control including the direct introduction of parasites, pathogens and predators to target mosquitoes. Effective biocontrol agents include predatory fish that feed on mosquito larvae such as mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) and some cyprinids (carps and minnows) and killifish. Tilapia also consume mosquito larvae. Direct introduction of tilapia and mosquitofish into ecosystems around the world have had disastrous consequences. However, utilizing a controlled system via aquaponics provides the mosquito control without the adverse effects to the ecosystem.

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Other predators include dragonfly naiads, which consume mosquito larvae in the breeding waters, adult dragonflies, which eat adult mosquitoes and some species of lizard and gecko.

Dead spores of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, especially Bt israelensis (BTI) interfere with larval digestive systems. It can be dispersed by hand or dropped by helicopter in large areas. BTI loses effectiveness after the larvae turn into pupae, because they stop eating. Two species of fungi can kill adult mosquitoes: Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana.Oil drip

An oil drip can or oil drip barrel was a common and nontoxic antimosquito measure. The thin layer of oil on top of the water prevents mosquito breeding in two ways:[ mosquito larvae in the water cannot penetrate the oil film with their breathing tube, and so drown and die; also adult mosquitoes do not lay eggs on the oiled water.

Pesticide

Control of adult mosquitoes is the most familiar aspect of mosquito control to most of the public. It is accomplished by ground-based applications or via aerial application of residual chemical insecticides. Generally modern mosquito-control programs in developed countries use low-volume applications of insecticides, although some programs may still use thermal fogging.

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DDT was formerly used throughout the world for large area mosquito control, but it is now banned in most developed countries. DDT remains in common use in many developing countries (14 countries were reported to be using it in 2009), which claim that the public-health cost of switching to other control methods would exceed the harm caused by using DDT. It is sometimes approved for use only in specific, limited circumstances where it is most effective, such as application to walls.

The role of DDT in combating mosquitoes has been the subject of considerable controversy. Although DDT has been proven to affect biodiversity and cause eggshell thinning in birds such as the bald eagle, some say that DDT is the most effective weapon in combating mosquitoes, and hence malaria. While some of this disagreement is based on differences in the extent to which disease control is valued as opposed to the value of biodiversity, there is also genuine disagreement amongst experts about the costs and benefits of using DDT.

Notwithstanding, DDT-resistant mosquitoes have started to increase in numbers, especially in tropics due to mutations, reducing the effectiveness of this chemical; these mutations can rapidly spread over vast areas if pesticides are applied indiscriminately. In areas where DDT resistance is encountered, malathion, propoxur or lindane are used.

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There’s no question that blood should be the culinary ingredient of the day. In looking back I see that I have made reference to blood in recipes a few times; now it’s time for the full monty. Many cultures consume blood as food, often in combination with meat. The blood may be in the form of blood sausage (the most common), as a thickener for sauces, a cured salted form for times of food scarcity, or in a blood soup. Culinary blood comes from domesticated animals, obtained at a place and time where the blood can run into a container and be swiftly consumed or processed. In many cultures the animal is slaughtered, in others it is bled and remains alive. In some cultures, blood is a taboo food.

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Blood sausage, or black pudding, is any sausage made by cooking animal blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. Pig or cattle blood is most often used. Typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, rice, barley and oatmeal. Varieties include drisheen, moronga, black pudding, blutwurst, blood tongue, kishka (kaszanka), biroldo, morcilla, mustamakkara, verivorst, and many types of boudin. Blood sausage is found worldwide. Black pudding is a great favorite in the U.K. as part of the full English breakfast. In Argentina and China it is commonly found grilled.

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Blood pancakes are found in Galicia (filloas), Scandinavia, and the Baltic; for example, Swedish blodplättar, Finnish veriohukainen, and Estonian veripannkoogid. There’s a video here on Swedish blood pancakes in English (with a fair amount of swearing!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQcGprXpjk0

You’ll see that blood pancakes are like regular pancakes – a mix of egg flour and mix – only some of the fluid is blood which darkens and thickens the batter when cooked. Could be good with blood sausage.

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Blood soups and stews, which use blood as part of the broth, include czernina, dinuguan, haejangguk, mykyrokka, pig’s organ soup, tiet canh and svartsoppa. Spartan warriors going into battle reputedly ate blood soup for strength and courage. Such soups are most often found in eastern Europe and SE Asia.

Blood is also used as a thickener in sauces, such as in traditional coq au vin or pressed duck, and puddings, such as tiết canh. It can provide flavor or color for meat, as in cabidela.

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Blood can also be used as a solid ingredient, either by allowing it to congeal before use, or by cooking it to accelerate the process. In Hungary when a pig is slaughtered in the morning, the blood is fried with onions and served for breakfast. In China, “blood tofu” is most often made with pig’s or duck’s blood, although chicken’s or cow’s blood may also be used. The blood is allowed to congeal and simply cut into rectangular pieces and cooked. This dish is also known in Java as saren, made with chicken’s or pig’s blood. Blood tofu is found in curry mee as well as the Sichuan dish, maoxuewang. In Tibet, congealed yak’s blood is a traditional food.

In some cases, blood is used as an ingredient without any additional preparation. Raw blood is not commonly consumed by itself, but may be used as an addition to drinks or other dishes. One example is the drinking of seal blood which is traditionally believed by the Inuit to bring health benefits.

Consumption of blood as a nutrient is forbidden in Islam and Judaism, and in many cultures meat that is considered “bloody” (such as rare or raw beef) is thought unfit for consumption. In the Greek Bible, blood was forbidden by Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-21).