Let's take a break from Roman history and see what's happening in the Western Hemisphere. Ana from the History of Small Things takes us to her hometown of Mexico City to talk about ancient Mexican history. The standout wonders this episode are the great pyramids of Teotihuacan, started in 100 CE in a city which rivaled Rome in size and artistry.
But that's just the start. We talk about the first Americans, the earliest Mexican civilizations, and stories of human sacrifice, wars, and mayhem.
Mexico City is one of the world's great cities, and we talk about two of its most magnificent sights: the National Anthropology Museum and the Zocalo. Plus street food, tacos, tamales, and huaraches.
We who are about to podcast salute you! Titus comes back for one more round as he unveils his father's masterpiece: the Flavian Amphitheater, a.k.a. the Colosseum. The stadium on which all future stadia have been based is a magnificent creation, site of gladiatorial combat, public executions, and emperors giving thumbs up and thumbs down.
Dr Peta Greenfield of the Partial Historians podcast drops by to talk about Vespasian, Titus, and the gladiators themselves. We discuss visiting Rome, gorging on gelato, and the joys of exploring the living city.
The recipe is bruschetta, the perfect appetizer of which you've probably only had disappointing versions. Not this time, my friends. Not this time. Salvete!
Can you make this classic Neapolitan pie at home? No. No you cannot. You don’t have Neapolitan flour, Vesuvian tomatoes, Campanian water, fresh mozzarella from Italian buffaloes… or a dome-shaped wood-fired brick oven.
So whatcha gonna do?
Well… You can improvise.
I like to grill my pizza in the summer - which gives a nice char and crisp but still provides a good chew. But it’s not Neapolitan.
To replicate the Neapolitan experience, you’ll need your oven. It won’t BE Neapolitan. Your oven can’t get up to a Vesuvius-like 700 degrees, so it will never be the same. But it can be delicious. So step one is getting a pizza stone. Now, I hate the concept of buying a giant piece of rock that you’ll rarely use and will take up space in your house. But you can actually use a pizza stone for all sorts of other thing that you’d like to bake or roast. A pizza stone is just a slab of rock or ceramic that absorbs heat from the oven and provides that heat to whatever you’re roasting in a nice even, consistent way. Better than an aluminum baking sheet, anyway. So get one, but remember, have it in the oven as your preheat. If you put it in after you’ve preheated, it will crack, as both pizza stones I have ever owned have done because I’m an idiot.
OK. So dough. Flour, salt, yeast, and water. But not just any flour. It has to be type 0 or type 00 Italian flour, which are very finely milled flours, so they are super powdery, almost like baby powder. You can find this at specialty groceries, or you can substitute all-purpose flour, if needs be.
Mix up the flour with salt, water and yeast. Knead it up, divide into a couple of balls, cover and let them rest overnight in the fridge. So no, this isn’t a spur-o-the-moment thing.
Put the stone in the oven and preheat it to full hot for an hour. Flour a surface and stretch out the dough with your hands. Don’t twirl it over your head unless you’re an expert or comfortable with having floor dirt in your pizza. Get nice and thin so you can almost see through it.
Sauce is next. You can get canned San Marzano tomatoes at many stores, although note that a lot of canned tomatoes claim to be San Marzano without actually being San Marzano, so double-check. Just puree the tomatoes to make the sauce, with a smidge of olive oil and a pinch of salt. That’s it. And DON’T USE MUCH.
Next: fresh mozzarella. Again, quality matters. If you can’t get the buffalo mozz, cow’s milk will do, but it has to be good. Get it in the fancy cheese section, not in the dairy case in the back. And make sure you drain it, if it’s packed in water. You do NOT want that extra moisture, unless you like soggy pizza. Slice some thin slices and plop them on the sauce. Again, NOT TOO MUCH.
And then scatter a few pieces of torn basil leaves on top. Some people leave their leaves whole, other like a fine chiffonade. Whatever. I like torn pieces, but the key is 4 to 5 leaves per pie. That’s it.
Use a pizza peel, which is a pizza-size super-thin spatula, to move the pie onto the stone. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes and buon appetito!
Wait. Drizzle some good olive oil on top at the end. Then buon appetito.
Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016231-pizza-margherita
The volcano Vesuvius still looms of the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, along the coast of Southern Italy. Dr. Fiona Radford from the Partial Historians stops by to discuss these accidental wonders: towns whose destruction have preserved a remarkable view of Roman daily life. We follow Pliny the Elder as he ventures to his death, pillow strapped to his head. There's chaos, destruction, drama, and weird fish sauce!
Plus I cannot be so close to Naples without talking about pizza, that most glorious gift to the world.
Traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil, and among Israeli Jews, that means sufganiyot: jelly doughnuts.
The word sufganiyot comes from the sword sfog, meaning sponge, and North African Jews brought a long tradition of frying doughnuts with them to Israel. There, they mixed with Eastern European jews who brought their own doughnuts, with jelly. These ponchkes in Yiddish are the Jewish version of the Polish pączki (pronounced "paunch-key". Pączki are Mardi Gras treats, best known in America as the reason there’s a line out of every Polish bakery in Chicago in February.
So, to make sufganiyot, you need to be able to manage yeast and dough. I can’t. I’ve tried several times. Once the water was too cold, and the yeast didn’t bloom. Another time, the water was too hot, and the yeast died a tragic scalding death. A third time, the yeast seemed OK, but I kneaded the dough too much.
But if you have skill with baking, try this recipe, and let me know how light and fluffy they are. This recipe has an orange zest, which adds some zing to the dough, and raspberry or strawberry filling. That’s great, but if you’d rather lemon zest and blueberry, I won’t be mad at you.
Serves 4 at least
A drama in three acts, all centered on the Fortress of Masada, a remarkable bastion perched above the Dead Sea in Israel. King Herod builds a pleasure palace, the Zealots make their last stand against Rome, and Israel returns at last. There are no heroes here, no villains, just complex people doing great and terrible deeds. Josephus, historian/traitor, takes us through the story of the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple.
Masada visitor Lisa Goldberg tells us about the experience of climbing up (and down again) and exploring the ruins. And we eat traditional holiday goodies: sufganiyot and just in time for Purim, hamantaschen. Plus Israeli breakfasts.
Everyone loves grilled chicken, right? Especially cooked on an open flat grill and served in a warm sandwich? Yes, please.
Jerusalemites have their own version, the Jerusalem mixed grill, or me’orav Yerushalmi. Chicken bits, sautéed with spices. Supposedly concocted in the Mahane Yehuda market, just a bit west of the Old City, the mixed grill was based on English mixed grill, brought by the British. It has a twist though.
While you can make it with breasts and thighs, traditionally the mixed grill is hearts and livers. That’s often enough to deter the squeamish, but don’t let it!
This is the easiest recipe I’ll post. Dice up the chicken into small pieces, and marinate with thin-sliced onion and spices. Then sauté on a hot skillet. Easy peasy.
When I tried it, I used breast, because of squeamish family members, and I loved it. The spice mix I used had slightly different flavors than the usual shawarma blend: in addition to cumin and paprika, the mix has allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamom, which give a sweetish warmth and kick on the forefront of the tongue. It’s just pleasant. And in a warm pita with hummus and tahini sauce, marvelous.
Serves 4 at least
Recipe adapted from http://www.girlcooksworld.com/2011/02/jerusalem-mixed-grill.html
Photo from wikipedia because I forgot to take a picture of what I cooked, which was great. The onions, man, the onions made it all so magnificent.
A short bonus episode. Drew's daughter makes her first podcasting appearance as she tells you the story of the Two Bethlehems.
Bethlehem, Indiana is a popular place to mail Christmas cards, but there's more to its story than that!
Jesus Christ arrives on the scene, to the consternation of the Roman authorities and the Jewish establishment. We visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of his death and resurrection, and the holiest site in Christianity. What made Jesus so revolutionary? Garry Stevens from the History in the Bible podcast comes back to the show to talk about the historical aspects of the gospels, as we tell the story of that fateful weekend in April, nearly 2000 years ago.
Even better, Gary Arndt from everything-everywhere.com returns to describe his visit to the church during Holy Week and to Bethlehem.
And of course, there's food too, including Jerusalem mixed grill.
You’ve heard of a cronut, right? Some New York baker took a croissant and fried and glazed it like a donut and made bajillions? Well, feteer is a cro-izza. It’s flaky and buttery like a croissant; in fact, some think it was the ancestor to that noble pastry. But it’s thrown, stuffed, topped, and eaten like a pizza.
It’s fiendishly simple, which is why I haven’t tried to make it yet. I tend to do really badly with fiendishly simple things involving dough, because fiendishly simple dishes often require an expert technique or skill to make them terrific, since they don’t have the complex flavors that come from many ingredients or a more complicated process.
In this case, it sounds too easy to be true. Flour, water and salt in a mixer to create a very sticky dough. Roll into four balls and let sit in a bath of melted butter. This sounds crazy and fattening, but it will make the flour much easier to roll out, and you’re going to use the butter anyway, so why not?
Take a ball, put it on a wide flat and floured surface, and roll it as thin as you possibly can. If you can see through it, that’s ideal. Put your stuffing, whether sweet or savory, in the middle, fold over the sides, and then do the same with the other layers.
Try this, then let me know how it turns out!
Serves 4 at least
Recipe adapted from https://amiraspantry.com/alexandrian-feteer-e-pizza-feteer
Back to Alexandria we go to visit the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, a little-known but fascinating burial chamber encapsulating the marriage of Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures and traditions.
Talking about the marriage of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman, we meet Cleopatra, last pharaoh of Egypt and noted seductress of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Or was she? She might be one of the most consequential people in antiquity, and we try to get to the bottom of her story with Margot Collins from the Undressed Historia podcast.
What's more, Gary Arndt from everything-everywhere.com drops by to talk about visiting Alexandria, including scuba diving to see the remnants of the Lighthouse! Alexandria may not have much left from antiquity, but "age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety." Sorry, obligatory Shakespeare line.
In the process, we'll talk about feteer, a sort of buttery, flaky, Alexandrian pizza. To Egypt!
Soupe au pistou is a classic Provençal dish: ripe vegetables, fresh herbs, inexpensive ingredients. Soul-warming, bone-sticking nutrition in a bowl. It’s sort of like minestrone: a bean soup, flavored with fresh herbs, then with any vegetable you can think of thrown in, but especially tomatoes, then some pasta to provide a little thickening. Traditionalists say it requires haricots vests, zucchini (or courgettes, if you go that way), potatoes and tomatoes, but others say it’s whatever you have handy.
The secret to soupe au pistou, though, is the pistou itself: a dollop of basil/garlic/olive oil sauce on top. Don’t call it pesto - that would contain pine nuts, which pistou does not. Again, traditionalists say no cheese either, but I find a little Gruyere helps to make it smooth and delicious.
There are countless recipes for soupe au pistou out there. This is one I used, and it came out great. Well, I didn’t exactly. I didn’t have the cabbage and forgot the zucchini. I think both would help boost the flavor.
Two other notes: I didn’t have a bay leaf and used rosemary, which was nice but obviously quite different. The most important thing here is to ensure that you have the herbs ties up or contained; otherwise, they fall apart and you’re left with random rosemary needles.
Second, If you’re using green beans, make sure they are cut into small lengths so they’ll fit on a spoon.
The thrill is stirring that bright green dollop of pistou into the soup. It’s delicious. My son loved this one, especially with a fresh, warm baguette to soak up the soup. We also had some French butter on hand, which was very pleasant with the bread.
Be forewarned: this makes a LOT, so don’t make a vat of it the day before you go away on a four-day business trip. Bon appétit!
Serves 8 at least
FOR THE SOUP
FOR THE PISTOU
Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013986-soupe-au-pistou. Image from wikipedia.fr
Julius Caesar takes on Vercingetorix and the Gauls as we travel to Provence in Southern France. The Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct, the largest left standing, and it's just one of the many legacies the Romans left in the land of lavender and sunshine.
While here, we visit Avignon and spend a detour talking about the papacy and the Slap of Agnani - one of those surprising little histories we've all forgotten that had a tremendous impact on the world.
To eat, how about some ratatouille? Except that it's January and so good tomatoes are hard to find. So let's try soupe au pistou instead!
Bonus Episode! We have a running joke on this podcast about Demetrius Poliorcetes, Besieger of Cities. Despite having failed spectacularly at besieging Rhodes, he left a remarkable legacy across the Hellenistic world. Well, as a Christmas treat, I give you his full story.
There is no full-length modern history of Demetrius, and there ought to be. He went from young upstart general to savior-god of Athens to death in a prison cell. Very few people had the ups and downs of this man, and in the process, he experienced many of our wonders in a way that few people have. And in a very real way, his story is our story, for good or for bad.
Many thanks to Plutarch for the primary material. And Happy Holidays!
Moutabel* is a smoky eggplant (or aubergine) dip from the Levant which is particularly popular in Jordan. You would enjoy this with warm pita bread as part of a mezze, a large spread of appetizers like hummus, tabouleh, and other delicious taste sensations.
What makes moutabel different from baba ghanoush is the addition of tahini, that almost peanut buttery sesame paste. This makes moutabel significantly smoother in texture, which I like, without overwhelming the eggplant and garlic.
The key to successful eggplant spreads is the cooking. Flame-grilled is the best way to go, but roasting in an oven is fine too. It’s important not only to make sure the skin is blackened all over but that the eggplant has basically been cooked into a soft goo. If you think it’s done, it’s probably not done. The more you cook out the liquid and break down the fibers, the better your dip will be.
I’ll be honest - I’m giving this recipe now, but I won’t try it myself until the summer. Getting a perfect ripe eggplant makes a huge difference, and this is really a summery dip, with the bright lemon and garlic. So save this for later, OR if you’re one of my Australian or New Zealander listeners, enjoy RIGHT NOW! And then, let me know how it is!
Photograph from: http://bennydoro.com/chef/recipes/moutabal-roasted-eggplant-dip/ since I haven't made it myself yet.
* Moutabel, or moutabal, or muttabal, or mutabbal - I’ve seen all of these, and if anyone can tell me a really good transliteration, I sure would appreciate it.
Lost city of the Nabataeans, the rock-cut city of Petra has been rightfully celebrated as a Wonder of the World, at least since that Indiana Jones movie. But the story is well worth telling. We'll talk about the Nabataeans, their caravans, and their run-ins with the Greeks, Romans and Judeans. We'll meet Pompey the Pompous. And we'll eat Bedouin classics from underground pit ovens.
Stephanie Craig from the History Fangirl podcast shares her experiences traveling in Jordan. For such a small country, there's so much there. You will have chosen wisely to download this episode. Enjoy!
This is the easiest pasta to make, and the easiest pasta to mess up. There are four ingredients:
You’d think this would be so easy. I mean, it’s basically Roman mac n’ cheese. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to get really greasy or clumpy or both. You’re trying to make a creamy sauce from a hard cheese. But it can be done!
Here’s secret one: grate the Pecorino as fine as you can. The finer it is, the easier it will emulsify into your sauce.
Secret two: save a little pasta water - that’s the water you cook your pasta in. Makes a huge difference in making your sauce silky since the water contains starch, which will again help to emulsify.
Secret three: don’t try to make this a one-pot dish. You’ll end up overcooking the cheese, which leads to lumps. Instead try this. Cook your spaghetti in well-salted water. And yes, spaghetti really is the winner here. Not so thin that it falls apart, but not so thick that portions get uncovered in sauce. Short pastas would be less appealing here too. Before you drain your pasta, be sure to save a cup or so of your pasta water.
OK. Now add the warm pasta water to a separate pot with your finely grated cheese, about 2 cups or 110 grams. Stir until it’s all completely melty and beautiful. If it looks as though it’s breaking, add a little more pasta water. Then tong in the pasta and mix it all up so it’s all coated. Buon appetito!
Back for Part II! Nitin Sil from the Flash Point History podcast joins me to discuss the Second Punic War, Hannibal, and Scipio. Was Hannibal crossing the Alps really a big deal? How did Rome win in the end?
I also talk about mathematician and defense contractor extraordinaire Archimedes and his antique death ray!
Plus, finally, a play-by-play of the Roman Forum, how to stroll the streets of modern Rome, and enjoying pecorino romano cheese. If you don't crave spaghetti cacio e pepe now, you will!
An episode so big I had to break it in half! Here comes Rome, both the vibrant, chaotic, eye-catching capital of Italy, and the civilization that made that capital possible. This episode looks at the rise of Rome and the first Punic War with Carthage, that other great Mediterranean Empire.
We'll take side trips to Sicily as well as Tunisia to talk about cannoli and harissa. Worth it. In fact, I get so caught up talking about Rome vs Carthage that I don't even get to the Roman Forum itself. That's OK - there's always next week, when Part II will take us to the Eternal City for a sunset look at the ruins.
It's our FIRST ANNIVERSARY. To celebrate, let's explore EPCOT: a place you can visit many wonders of the world, all at once. Sort of. What you might not expect is its fascinating history and the weird vision Walt Disney had for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
There's also a "state of the podcast" bit at the end and a giant thank you to you for listening to me ramble all these months.
Xi’an, being on the silk road, sits at a fascinating middle ground between east and west, only in this case, west means not Europe but the steppes of Central Asia.
This soup reflects that heritage: it blends Chinese spices and flavors (ginger, star anise, sichuan peppercorns) with lamb, a very Central Asian meat, and bread. The bread is almost a homestyle flour tortilla or naan, meant to be ripped apart and doused in the soup, to thicken and dissolve in the broth.
Noodles make an appearance as well, and the entire experience is one of warmth, both temperature, spiciness, and soul-warming home-ish-ness. That’s not a word.
I think I’m going to try this with chicken, since my wife will go for that. Its won’t be the same! But at least it’s close. Try this out and let me know what you think!
Recipe adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China but Carolyn Phillips and from https://liviblogs.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/yang-rou-pao-mo-recipe.html
They stand row on row in silent guard of a long-dead autocrat. The Terracotta Army, built to defend the tomb of China's First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, are the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century.
Joined by Abel Kay, we look into the story of the Emperor who unified China, and the ruthless path he took to do it.
We'll talk about scheming merchants, pretend eunuchs, beheaded generals, assassins, scholars buried alive, rivers of mercury, and the secret to immortality. Sound like enough for you?
We'll also explore Xian, imperial city, and sample some biang biang noodles and lamb bread soup.
On the way, there might be a detour to Indianapolis, because why not?
One of the special pleasures in life is a cold spread coating a piece of warm, fresh-from-the-oven bread, and this one from Greece is my favorite.
It’s fiendishly easy and magnificently garlicky. If you don’t like garlic, then give this a pass. Not for vampires.
Basically, you boil potatoes, and mash them until they’re smooth. I find it a lot easier to boil potatoes you’ve already cut into chunks.
In the meantime, you make a puree of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and an additional thickener. Almonds are standard, but if you’re nut-free, bread crumbs will do in a pinch. Puree the garlic in the lemon juice - the acid will remove some of the garlic bite while keeping the flavor.
Then spoon it all together. If it’s too thick, a little water will do, but not too much. You want this to be thick enough to spread onto something, but not thin like mayonnaise or anything like that. Slather it onto bread or fish or basically whatever you want. It will be worth it.
All the world is a stage, and the first stage was in Athens, the birthplace of tragedy. With Darby Vickers from the History of Greece podcast, we visit with the great playwrights, as Athens hits a great turning point: the Peloponnesian War.
That doesn't go well, and who's to blame? Surely not a homely old teacher in the Agora? Indeed. But his student will have the last laugh.
All this plus skordalia!
So I have searched every website out there to find an acceptable spanakopita, sorry, I mean spanakotripita, recipe, and I think this one will work.
Here’s the thing: phyllo dough is an absolute pain in the backside to work with. It freaks me out every time. So kudos to those who choose to make their own. Even the frozen kind is challenging for me.
I found this recipe at https://www.themediterraneandish.com/spanakopita-recipe-greek-spinach-pie. The best thing about this site is that they have many photographs and even videos really documenting each step.
Check their website out. Honestly - it’s so well done. They make it look actually easy to do.
Another note: I got into a significant argument with a Greek-American colleague about whether a spinach pie with feta was spanakotiropita or just spanakopita. He was insistent that all spanakopita included cheese - it didn’t need to be mentioned specifically. Note that this is counter to the point that Darby made in the episode. We ended up at a Greek restaurant in Chicago (Greek Islands!) and they listed their spinach and cheese pie as… spanakotiropita! Victory. Nike.
Just go to https://www.themediterraneandish.com/spanakopita-recipe-greek-spinach-pie and follow the step-by-step there. It’s brilliant.