June 2020 News/Columns Recipes

Parmigiano Reggiano/Crappie Fillet Sandwiches, by Vernon Summerlin

Crappie with an Italian twist

by Vernon Summerlin

“There has never been a better assortment of cheeses than there are today,” says Larry Olmsted Senior contributor to Forbes Life, “with an explosion of high-quality artisanal cheese makers and craft dairies springing up around the world. This makes it even more impressive that most people in the cheese industry look up to one particular variety as the pinnacle of success – hence Parmigiano Reggiano’s nickname, ‘The King of Cheeses’.”

The process for making Parmigiano Reggiano must follow strict regulations. For eight centuries this delicacy has been made almost exactly the same way. But as with most good things some cheese makers created knock-offs but couldn’t call their product Parmigiano Reggiano. In 1538 they began calling their cheese “Parmesan” to skirt the strict rules of production. The “real” cheese taste and quality of Parmigiano Reggiano are far more consistent than the Parmesan taste.

1-1/2 pounds crappie fillets
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan cheese)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoons onion powder
Canola oil for frying
Italian sandwich bread sliced
Butter
Lettuce leaves
Tomato slices
Tartar sauce

Preheat oil to 375 degrees. In a shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, lemon pepper and black pepper. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the garlic and onion powders. Dip fillets in eggs, coat with crumb mixture and fry in a large skillet. Fry until fish flakes easily with a fork. Butter sliced Italian bread and brown under a broiler or on a grill, sprinkling with a touch of garlic. Dress the sandwich with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce.

Going Green

I’m going a little off track from my usual recipes but still staying food-related. “Going Green” has become a movement in the food industry. As with most movements there are glitches and shady truths plus a few out-right lies. An article by Anna Funk in the May issue of Discover magazine shines a light on a number of things we think are environmentally friendly but miss the mark, some by a mile and more. A few examples are…

• Thin Plastic Polyethylene Bags (TPPB): These are commonly used in grocery and big box stores (like Walmart, for example) and can be recycled if placed in a bin marked “plastic-bags-only”. These TPPB bins are usually found near the store’s entrances. Bread bags fall within the TPPB category.
• Uses and Re-uses: If we count 1-use of a thin bag, TPPB, as generating the smallest environmental foot print then we can compare the number of re-uses required by other bags and totes needed to match that one TPPB. I’ve found I can get 2-uses if I line small wastebaskets with grocery bags that have no holes in them.
• Tote Bag: Reusable paper and plastic-based reusable totes require between 35 to 84 re-uses to equal the foot print (cost of materials, labor, manufacturing and disposal) of one thin polyethylene plastic bag.
• Cotton Tote Bag: A cotton tote has to be used 7,100 times according to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency’s study of different bags ranging from TPPB to reusable totes.
• Organic Cotton Tote Bag: An organic cotton tote requires 20,000 re-uses. If you use an organic cotton tote twice a week for the rest of your life you still will not meet the mark of 192 years.
• Products Labeled “Green”: These “green” labels are magnets to eco-friendly shoppers wanting to be good environmental stewards. Products labeled as “vegan”, “non-GMO”, organic”, “buy local”, etc. make you think you’re helping the planet but that may not be the case.
• Do you buy almond milk? Almonds have a smaller footprint than dairy milk (which has a gigantic footprint) but it takes more than one gallon of water to grow one almond. California produces more than two million tons of nuts annually, more than any other state, however, in a state that doesn’t have enough water. It takes 48 gallons of water to fill an eight-ounce glass with cow’s milk. You can Google “how much water does it take to _______? (fill in the blank) and discover surprising results.
• Food Waste – Food for Thought: Beside recycling plastics, American families discard between thirty and forty percent of the food we buy to carry home in TPPB. That’s about 219 pounds per person per year, which translates to $1,600 a year for a family of four.

So, what’s a guy to do? In a word…

Compost: Composting is currently one of the cheapest and most effective ways to deal with food waste at home. It’s an effective way to recycle in a constructive and entirely natural way and help reduce some of the 40 million tons of food waste that’s dumped in our landfills each year. Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away and could be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a greenhouse gas. Compost your biodegradables (kitchen scraps, etc.) because they are not likely to break down in a landfill. Fungi and bacteria need oxygen to do their work. Once a landfill is full the contents are packed tightly and sealed with clay or (dare I say it?) plastic.

The composting process recycles organic materials into a humus-like substance that can be used as a soil conditioner. It’s an aerobic process (exposed to the air) in contrast to anaerobic fermentation (air exposure is minimized), both of which can be used to turn food waste and other organic matter such as kitchen and garden waste into rich compost.

For conventional composting to work effectively, four elements are required; carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water. Balancing food waste (greens = nitrogen rich) with organic materials such as dry leaves or woody debris (browns = carbon rich) will always produce the highest quality compost. When these elements are present, microorganisms break down waste and render it inert, killing any pathogens that may present a danger to humans. These microorganisms include bacteria, antibacterial, fungi, molds, yeast, protozoa and rotifers (microscopic aquatic animals) that play an integral part in converting food waste to compost.

Standard Composting: This method piles up layers of waste, killing pathogens and slowly composting organic material. Generally, meat, fish, dairy and oils are difficult to compost at home while other materials such as citrus and onion peels may also be problematic. This is because temperatures may not reach the required levels to breakdown such waste in smaller piles, and the potential to attract rodents and other pests may also be an issue. However, this method requires little maintenance and expense to set up in a garden or other outdoor space.

I’ve been composting for many years. At first, I simply made a “corner” of cement blocks stacked four high and six wide with two sides open (L-shaped). Kitchen scraps, fall leaves and green weeds in spring and summer plus some cow and/or horse manure piled in and turned under after a few weeks. Compost needs turning very week or two. Several years ago, I added an eight-by-twelve dog kennel to generate more compost that is now at least two feet deep with fecund black soil. So, don’t trash it, compost it!

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