<i>Trompe la bouche</i>
<I>Trompe l'oeil</i>, French for "fool the eye," is a classic art technique in which a painter creates an image so vivid that a casual observer might think he's viewing the real thing and not a mere picture. An apparent landscape outside a real-looking window, for instance; or a piece of fruit that looks so solid and three-dimensional that you want to pick it up and take a bite.
This week I ran across a dish, wacky but surprisingly delicious, that I propose for a newly defined category of food-as-art: <i>Trompe la bouche</i> ("Fool the mouth"), a food creation that imitates something completely different.
There's nothing all that innovative about this, of course. Chinese Buddhist cookery in particular has used soy and wheat products for centuries to make vegetarian "mock" meats, poultry and fish.
Today's dish, though, is a little more offbeat. It's a meatless Roman tradition that emulates, of all things, tripe, an organ meat that a lot of people would choose neither to eat nor to emulate. Part of the cow's (or, sometimes, pig's or sheep's) stomach, tripe is not admired by those who decline to dine on offal; moreover, until it's cleaned properly, it's foul-smelling stuff indeed. But in a well-made Mexican <i>menudo</i> or as a key ingredient in the French sausage <i>andouilette</i>, tripe can be a real treat, if you're willing to give it a try.
The dish "<I>Uova in trippa alla Romana</I>" ("Tripe-style eggs in the Roman fashion") certainly isn't meant to taste like tripe. But tripe (properly cleaned) is as much a texture thing as a flavor thing anyway; and in that regard, <I>Uova in trippa</I>, with its firm ribbons of thin-sliced omelet cloaked in a thick sauce of tomatoes and tangy Pecorino cheese, boasts a gentle texture that's surprisingly like, well, tender tripe.
If you're put off by the very idea, never fear ... don't even think of this dish as "mock tripe." Simply consider it a logical continuation of last week's article about the perfect fried egg: In contrast with the familiar universe of fried, scrambled, poached or boiled, this may be one of the most peculiar ways you'll ever cook an egg.
It's good, though.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
1 generous sprig flat-leaf Italian parsley
2 fresh large eggs
1 tablespoon (15g) olive oil
1 cup (240ml) tomato sauce
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Mince the parsley (there should be enough to make about 2 tablespoons). Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
2. Pour about half the olive oil into a large nonstick skillet and wipe it around with a paper towel to coat the entire surface. Put the skillet over medium-high heat and, when it's hot, pour in the egg mixture, taking care to spread it over the entire surface in a thin layer. Cook until it's firm on one side - this should take only a minute or two - then carefully turn it and cook briefly on the other side. (I made turning easier by sliding it out onto a large plate, then carefully inverting the plate to turn it back into the skillet upside down.) When the omelet is done, put it on a lightly greased plate and set aside.
3. Heat the tomato sauce in a saucepan, or if you prefer, make a quick sauce by blending into a puree a couple of canned tomatoes and their juice or a large, fresh tomato, skinned and seeded, and cooking the result with a bit of minced garlic gently sauteed in a little olive oil.
4. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Lightly grease an oven-proof baking dish or casserole. Roll the omelet like a rug and, starting at one end, cut it crosswise into thin (1/4-inch or 0.65cm) strands. These soft strands, cloaked in thick tomato-and-cheese sauce, will give the "tripe" texture. Slice the mint leaves into fine julienne strips. Gently toss the egg strands, tomato sauce, mint and about three-fourths of the grated cheese to mix, and put the result into the baking dish. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, and bake for about 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
It really doesn't taste like tripe. But those tender-soft egg ribbons with just a hint of chewiness do make a toothsome treat, and the flavors of egg, tomato, cheese and mint go together in an unexpected but surprisingly appealing combination. Best tripe I ever ate!
<B>WINE MATCH:</B> The combination of tomato sauce and cheese bring this meatless dish right up to meet a Chianti or other acidic Italian red; it should also go fine with a Syrah or Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend. A problem with a profoundly corked Syrah forced me at the last minute to substitute a softer Merlot, which was OK but didn't fare quite as well with the tomatoes.
This recipe came from the 2002 cookbook "<I>Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking</i>," by Micol Negrin. It's too early for me to review the book, as I've just started looking it over and cooking from it; but I love the concept, and I'm impressed so far. It's a fat, 416-page book with 200 rustic country recipes from all 20 Italian regions, with photos and sidebar stories about Italian life and culture. If you'd like to read more about it on Amazon.com, or even consider buying it on the basis of this limited preview, you'll find it at this Amazon.com link for $22.05 in hardcover, a 37 percent discount. As always, purchases made on this exact link will return a small commission to us at WineLoversPage.com.