WHAT? A peace of pie. The 19th-century Russian count Karl Robert Nesselrode, a resident of Paris, lived and ate lavishly (according to some accounts, anyway), and had a number of dishes named after him. In honor of the count-cum-statesman's negotiation of the Treaty of Paris in 1856 (which settled the Crimean War), his chef, a certain Monsieur Mouy, created Nesselrode pudding out of custard flavored with maraschino, chestnut purée, and chopped candied fruits that had been macerated in Málaga wine. Later, the American version added gelatin to stabilize the dessert, and rum for flavor. According to Carole Walter's Great Pies & Tarts, Nesselrode was popularized in pie form before World War II by Hortense Spier, a professional baker in New York City. Indeed, some cookbooks call it New York Nesselrode Pie, and in The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, Craig Claiborne wrote that he was "inordinately fond of desserts that bear the name Nesselrode."
WHAT? Wine you can bank on. The region in Switzerland that gives its name to a cream-cheese-like spread also distinguishes the light white and red wines produced in the area. Neuchâtel Blanc is made primarily from Chasselas grapes, the most common varietal in Switzerland. The wine is crisp, light-bodied, and sometimes faintly fizzy because it is bottled sur liealong with the yeasty sediment left over from the initial fermentation. Sometimes the in-bottle fermentation is encouraged to produce a fully sparkling wine. Müller-Thurgau and Chardonnay are also planted in the area.
WHAT? “With the exception of Mexican kitchens, nopales—which grow like weeds in much of the American Southwest—have remained noticeably absent from our nation’s tables,” noted our former editor-in-chief Peggy Grodinsky in the Houston Chronicle. Nopales, or nopalitos, as they’re sometimes called, are the paddle-shaped stems from prickly-pear cactus plants. Most often seen in the cuisine of West-Central and Central Mexico, the green vegetable is delicious but labor-intensive: before cooking, each paddle must be cleaned and stripped of its prickly spines. The effort, however, is worth it. When prepared properly, nopales are refreshingly tart, with a crunchy texture. According to chef and Mexican food expert Rick Bayless, nopales are most delicious when slowly grilled or roasted. “Fresh cactus,” he wrote in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, “shouldn’t stay just a novelty; it’s a great vegetable to add to your regular repertoire.”
WHAT? Sweet spread. This addictive edible is said to be as popular in Italy as peanut butter is in the U.S. What is today sold as Nutella is derived from gianduja, a mixture of hazelnuts and cocoa created by Italian pastry maker Pietro Ferrero in the 1940s when chocolate was being severely rationed. The foil-wrapped sweet was such a hit that Ferrero, who hailed from the hazelnut-rich region of Piedmont, created a spreadable form of the product in 1951, naming it Supercrema. When Pietro's son, Michele, decided to market the product throughout Europe in 1964, the product was renamed Nutella. The mixture of hazelnuts, vegetable oil, sugar, and cocoa (the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret) has since become a cultural phenomenon in Italy, with an estimated production currently averaging 179,000 tons per year. Though Nutella has long enjoyed international popularity, it remained an expensive import in the U.S. until recent years. The traditional way to serve it is in pane e Nutella, or Nutella spread on crusty bread, but it can also be enjoyed in crêpes and pastry fillings, or even as a frosting for a cake.