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!