Monday, May 10, 2010

A minimalist approach towards scholarship or editing?

At times it seems like one could make a career out of correcting the mistakes in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times. Come to think of it, isn't correcting the mistakes made by journalists the job of an editor, whose job is to make a career out of finding and correcting mistakes? I don't know, maybe in this brave new world of declining revenue in the newspaper industry and the explosion of free content on the web, the Times can't afford to hire enough bodies who know enough about cooking to keep up with the mistakes made by some of their less careful writers, videographers and photographers.

After Lou  (aka Don Luis) pointed out this recent column about asparagus pesto  by Mark Bittman wherein he claims that the word pesto means "paste" (it does not, "pasta" means paste) I was reminded of this column about no-knead dough by Harold McGee where someone on the editorial staff decided that this photo of tight-grained bread was what was needed to illustrate the typically wide open grain of bread made using the no-knead technique. I could go on and point out many more instances where inaccurate and wrong information ends up being published in the Dining & Wine section of The New York Times. But the Times is already paying someone to do that job. Right?

The Minimalist - Asparagus Pesto Combines the Best of 2 Greens -


Jessika said...

To me doing a "pesto" on asparagus is blasphemy to asparagus. Asparagus deserves far better that being beaten to death. I prefer asparagus cooked as simple as possible.

dave said...

In my experience, increasing the portion of flour that is whole wheat in a no-knead bread dough will yield a tighter crumb. That bread looks to have a considerable quantity of whole wheat, so perhaps the crumb is plausible. The crust, however, looks odd, like it was baked without being covered initially.

Natalie Sztern said...

Bob, you must have overheard my husband and I. Albeit not on the subject of food but the subject of inefficiency and lackadaisical attitudes in the workplace.

Shame on the New York Times and shame on Mark Bittman...he is of the age when checking three times before printing still left you wondering if you made a mistake...No body cares about mistakes any more. They chalk it up to the 'internet' as if that should make a difference and therefore it's okay to be dumb.

(and u call me a kvetch:))but i'm reight up there with you...oops aww it's just the internet who cares if i misspell my words

Bob del Grosso said...

I tend to agree and think that pesto should be made with herbs such as basil, parsley, nettles etc.

I think you are right. If the dough had been put in super-hot kettle/dutch oven and covered, it should have risen more during oven spring. That would have also caused bigger cells to form inside.

I don't think much of Bittman's cooking skills and "anybody can cook anything is 30 minute: attitude but I think when it comes to writing he is overextended and is not getting the editorial attention he needs.

Lou said...

I love your blog because it reminds me, of well, me.
I was a factory floor mechanic, then an electronics technician, then a technical writer, and then a technical writing manager and editor. I took the same approach to each of these jobs: do it well, or don't fucking bother.

Sorry if I got you riled. ;-)

Lou (AKA Don Luis)

Jessika said...

Bob: The last couple of years bear's garlic (allium ursinum) has become popular to make pesto of here. If you hold back on the regular garlic somewhat it is really not bad.

ladelfina said...

I would say that BOTH 'pasta' and 'pesto' mean paste.

The Italian verb "pestare" means to smash or crush. Here that happens with mortar and PESTle.. "PEST"le, get it???

Actual Italians (outside of Genova, perhaps) are not disturbed by tomato pestos or artichoke pestos; they use the term regularly.. why should this put Americans out of joint?

Now, where do you and Bittman stand on Italian PASTries? In Italian, "pasta" also means a pastry, like a millefoglie, brioche, cream puff, croissant, etc.

Jessika said...

I'm not going to argue, each to their own pretty much but then I'm not american. I never have seen artichoke, asparagus or other pestos in any abundance in Italy. If they exist, they have eluded me. I have seen them as a crema though. Crema di cartiofin is very nice, we eat it as a dipping sauce, much like tapenade. With pastries, the bakeries being pasticcerias, the etymology of pasta to pastries is also a bit elusive.

The Bad Yogi said...

Ditto to ladelfina: growing up in Italy, we learned as she says.

Also, editors edit, not fact check, especially "lifestyle" segments. Otherwise your morning paper would appear only every 3 days and cost $10.

And photos are assigned by the layout people, who have little or no connection to content. Be thankful it wasn't a picture of pita bread!

ladelfina said...

Lasagna al pesto di asparagi, cotto e bufala‎
Ravioli al prosciutto cotto e ricotta in pesto di asparagi‎
Riccioli al pesto di asparagi e favette fresche
Reginette al pesto di asparagi bianchi
Pesto di asparagi, spinaci e mandorle
Trofie al pesto di asparagi

Here's a good one with wild asparagus:

Jessika, what's elusive?
A pasticceria is where they make "paste".
They "impastare" (smoosh together) the dough. This verb is also used for bread dough.
A stand mixer is called an "impastatrice".
The mix is the "impasto".

A big mess is called a "pasticcio"!

Sorry, I love etymology.. :-)

I think there is a tendency to "impreziosire" (make precious) foods that started out being very straightforward and even adopted out of poverty.

If you have ten stalks of wild asparagus, they are not going to do you much good sitting there steamed. Better to make a pesto out of them.

Mix that tendency with apparent animus (jealousy?) towards Bittman, and you get irrational nit-picking. I don't particularly care for Bittman; he has his shtick and a few more hits than misses. Is what's at issue really pesto/paste, or Bittman's popularity (or ubiquitousness or PR machine or what-have-you) that rankles?

Jessika said...

Bittman's texts are full of factual errors and a good guide on how not to cook. The New York Times has editors, they should do their jobs better.

Bob del Grosso said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob del Grosso said...

Pesto and Pestle have one Latin root: pistare/pestare which means to crush or pound; Pasta/Pastry/Pate/Paste are a whole different ballgame, etymologically speaking: Latin pasta is a translation of Greek paste (=sauce mixed with flour; originally barley porridge).

Bob del Grosso said...


I'm perfectly content to be who I am.

I agree with you and also think that one can make pesto out of whatever one wants to make pesto from and it will still be pesto. However, I prefer to make pesto from herbs and not things like artichokes and asparagus.

However, no matter what you make pesto from the word pesto does not mean "paste." Moreover, pesto and pasta are not made the same way. Pesto is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle, from start to finish. Pasta has been made since it was introduced to Italy by the Arabs by milling grain into flour (farina) a mill, then mixing the grain with water or egg to make pasta. Not mortar and pestle involved.

Finally, the words pestle and pasta have different roots. Pestle's root (see my next comment) is from Latin while the root for the word pasta is from Greek.

Bob del Grosso said...

Of course you are correct. However, isn't it the responsibility of the section editor to oversee the writers and assure the accuracy of the content?

ladelfina said...

A few different dictionary definitions for "paste":

"a preparation of fish, tomatoes, or other food reduced to a smooth, soft mass, as for a relish or for seasoning."

"a foodstuff, pounded or ground until fine and made creamy, soft, etc."

"A food that has been pounded until it is reduced to a smooth creamy mass."

Perhaps the NYT fact-checkers used one of these dictionaries? I appreciate your diligence, but to me here it still seems like a distinction without a difference.

The Bad Yogi said...

Well, I would love to see it. Unfortunately, the accuracy (esp in the style sections) is left up to the writers, and only the most egregious and obvious mistakes would be caught, much less corrected. As I said, the photos were almost certainly added after the piece was written, edited and laid out, and was ready for publication.

The photos were probably tagged something like 'artisanal bread' and the layout people grabbed it with an eye towards esthetics and proportion, not perfect accuracy. They may not have had an exact picture readily available, etc.

Also, an Italian etymological dictionary shows that the origin of Pasta is uncertain: possibly from the latin Pastus and possibly also from the greek Paste:

and pestare from the Latin Pistare

So not quite as black and white.

Bob del Grosso said...

Unfortunately, I know a lot more about how that photo got into the article than my relationship to the source of the information will allow me to print. Sorry, I know that sounds lame. I won't protest if you blow me off.

And, yes. The more one looks at how words are thought to have arrived, the fuzzier things become.

But questions of etymology aside, let me revisit the original bone of contention here viz. the statement from the NY Times article
"Pesto means paste."

I read this as a declarative statement, or an assertion of fact which, that is set in the present tense and that if true, should satisfy the more than one of the following conditions.

1) the literal meaning of the Italian word "pesto" in a majority of English language dictionaries English is "paste"

2)the primary (1st) definition of the Italian word "pesto" in a majority of English language dictionaries should be the same as the primary definition for the word "paste"

3) the literal meaning of the word "pesto" in Italian dictionaries should be "pasta" or "colla" or some other word that refers to a type of paste.

4) the primary (1st) definition of the word "pesto" in Italian dictionaries should be the same as the definition for some type of paste

3) the word "pesto" should be used by living Italians to refer to what English speaking people understand to be "paste" (The statement is not that "pesto once meant paste" but that it means paste now.)

4) The word "pesto" should appear on a variety of Italian products that English speaking people recognize as some type of paste.

I doubt more than one of these conditions can be satisfied.

If he had instead written "pesto is a kind of paste" or "pesto is like paste" I would not have bothered to comment.

Anyway, thanks for caring. I'm not sure the subject deserves this much attention.

Jessika said...

Oh Bob, you shouldn't be surprised, there are after all people out there that can speak klingon! ;)!
(No offense to trekkies)
And my partner wrote a minor thesis in particle physics on the metamorphisis of well, one particle to another. Or something like that. But it's detailed. Very very detailed. I am lost by the first Zigma though.

Word verification asks for osake (o-sake) oh yeah a shot of sake would be sooo nice now!

OK, back to reality.

The Bad Yogi said...

Bob, I absolutely won't blow you off. Thanks for the extra info. I thought most people would not know how photos get chosen, so I thought I'd expound.

OK, off to breakfast.

Jennifer S said...

Attention to detail is an important part of writing, as it is in baking and cooking. I'm glad there are people like the readers here who care about these things. It reminds me I'm not alone. It's good to know others CARE.