It's the story of a farmboy, an actress, an unruly mob, and a bacterium. The Roman Empire evolved, and based in Constantinople, it reached a new golden age under the leadership of Justinian. His success is best seen in the masterpiece church: the Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Turkish.
The Hagia Sophia was the greatest cathedral in Christendom for a thousand years, then a resplendent mosque, and now a fully restored museum. But shortly after its construction highlighted the peak of Eastern Roman prosperity, a bacterium came to Constantinople and brought the empire to its knees.
Joining me to talk about Justinian, the Hagia Sophia, and the plague is the great Robin Pierson, host of the History of Byzantium podcast. Robin recently visited Istanbul and talks about exploring its Byzantine sites as well as how Turkish food charmed even his palate.
There are fish sandwiches to eat and Ratatouille references to enjoy.
Heather, Peter. The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders
Lonely Planet Istanbul
Lord Kinross. Hagia Sophia
Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Early Centuries
Paul the Silentiary, Descriptio S. Sophiae
Procopius. The Secret History
Procopius. Wars of Justinian
Rick Steves' Istanbul
Rosen, William. Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe
Music by Turku, Nomads of the Silk Road from their album Alleys of Istanbul
Rising from the Sri Lankan jungle stands the citadel of Sigiriya. An immense rock of volcanic origin, Sigiriya was transformed into the magnificent palace of Kassapa, a king whose story will blow your mind. Think Macbeth meets Othello with a dash of a Poe short story. You're going to enjoy this one.
By a tremendous bit of serendipity (which is useful, given that the word "serendipity" comes from the Arabic word for Sri Lanka), my daughter's two best friends are of Sri Lankan descent, and one of their mothers joined me for an in-person interview about visiting the magnificent citadel, other sites in Sri Lanka and of course, all the great things to eat, including kiribath, a coconut milk rice dish that serves as the official first meal of every new year.
Bullis, Douglas and Wendy Hutton. The Food of Sri Lanka: Authentic Recipe from the Isle of Gems.
Culavamsa, translated by Wilhelm Geiger
Lonely Planet Sri Lanka
Rough Guide to Sri Lanka
Wanasundera, Nanda Pethiyagoda and Jo-Ann Spelling. Sri Lanka.
Music by Niranjala Sarojini
The best lunch I’ve ever eaten was ceviche in Lima. Hands down.
Traditional Peruvian ceviche is amazingly simple. Seafood, lime juice, red onion, and chile. That’s it. Plus sweet potato and corn on the side.
As I said in the episode, you probably won’t be able to make the real thing, because your seafood, as fresh as it might be, won’t be as fresh as the seafood in Lima. Fed by the Humboldt Current, caught that morning, and served for lunch because dinner would be too late: that’s Limeño ceviche.
But if you do have good seafood available, this will get you pretty darn close!
Etched in the rocky plains of the southern Peruvian coast, the Nazca Lines fascinate visitors and archaeologists. While we still don't know why the Nazca people created lines, shapes and figures that could only be seen from the air, we have some hypotheses. We also know: not aliens.
Max Serjeant from the Latin American History podcast talks about how civilization came to ancient Peru, how the Nazca and their predecessors tamed the desert, and why archaeologists think the Nazca created their geoglyphs.
Tracy DeLuca, an avid traveller who recently flew over the lines, tells about her experience, both the amazing views and the stomach-churning turns.
We also talk about Lima, one of my favorite cities, with its colonial architecture and incredible food scene, featuring ceviche, some of the best food on earth. So grab a pisco sour and enjoy!
Dubé, Ryan. Moon Guide to Peru
Hadingham, Evan. Lines to the Mountain Gods: Nazca and the Mysteries of Peru
Lonely Planet Peru
Masterson, Daniel. The History of Peru
Moseley, Michael E. The Incas and Their Ancestors
BONUS EPISODE! In March 2018, Drew Vahrenkamp appeared on Stephanie Craig's History Fangirl podcast to discuss what was once the largest city on earth, in area at least: Angkor, Cambodia. For the upcoming holiday weekend in the US, we are honored to share this episode with you. Please check out more of Stephanie's interviews with travelers, historians, bloggers and podcasters at https://historyfangirl.com.
Angkor, along with its most famous temple Angkor Wat, is one of the most unique places in the world. The French claim to have discovered it when Cambodia was part of French Indochina, but like so many “lost” places the locals always knew about it. However, much of what we know about the ancient city comes from inscriptions and other artwork on the temple. And because the jungle climate much of the other information we have about the city may be lost forever, but we do know that it was the largest pre-industrial city in the history of the world.
My guest today is Drew Vahrenkamp of the Wonders of the World podcast. We chat about the ancient history of Angkor, how tourism in the city has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and how history lovers grapple with the ancient past of Cambodia, and the more recent reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, is justifiably famous for this dish, a delectable, spicy beef broth served over hand-pulled noodles, with layers of beef and daikon radish on top. Restaurants all over Gansu ladle out this dish as a pick-me-up breakfast.
You can’t make the real thing, because some of the actual ingredients are only available to restauranteurs in China and because hand-pulling noodles is incredibly challenging — they even have schools for it in Lanzhou.
So this is a legitimate home version from the terrific cookbook All Under Heaven.
Really exciting: it’s an excuse to use that InstantPot you got for the holidays and have been struggling to find uses for. Woot! You can do this without a pressure cooker, of course, but it will help to have one.
The challenge here is getting all the ingredients. It will be hard to do if you don’t have access to an Asian grocery.
One last note: this dish will taste much, much better if you let it rest for a day or so to let the flavors blend. Prepare it the day before you plan to serve it, then reheat on the stove.
As usual with red meat, I won’t get to make this at home, so if you can get the ingredients and try it out, please let me know!
Recipe adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips
Photo from user N509FZ on wikipedia
A great trade route connected China to the West: the Silk Road. No place in China better illustrates the value of that route than Dunhuang, site of the Mogao Caves, grottos carved into a cliffside which hold the largest collection of Buddhist art anywhere. In Gansu province, Dunhuang was the site of the Jade Gate, where the main road left China into the lands beyond.
Nathan Cherry of the Silk Road History Podcast helps tell the story of these caves, their city, and the route, starting with the expedition of Zhang Qian, China's Lewis (or maybe Clark?) who first traversed into the unknown.
More stories follow: the son of immigrants who translated the sutras, the daughter who went to war, the crown prince who saved countless artifacts.
The caves are remarkable; the town is too, nestled against giant sand dunes at the edge of the desert. To eat, try Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup, the perfect breakfast, if you like soup for breakfast - Westerners might find this a perfect dinner instead.
Keay, John. China: a History
Kwa, Shiamin and Wilt L. Idema. Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend, with Related Texts
Lagerwey, John and Lü Pengzhi, editors. Early Chinese religion. Part 2, The period of division (220-589 AD)
Lonely Planet China
Stephan, Annelisa. "14 Fascinating Facts about the Cave Temples of Dunhuang" from The Iris from the Getty Museum
The Dunhuang Academy's website (http://public.dha.ac.cn/)
A quick update about the podcast, with news of all sorts. To learn more: click here
Pašticada is a long-simmered piece of beef, the kind of beef that would normally be tough and chewy, but when you cook it low and slow melts in your mouth. Flavored with vinegar, fruit, veggies, and spices, it’s a traditional holiday or Sunday night meal,
Basically, you take a big ol’ slab of top round, or silverside in the UK, stick cloves of garlic and pieces of prosciutto inside it, douse it in vinegar, and leave it overnight to marinate. The next day, you quickly sear it Then you roast it with veggies like onion, celery root, carrots, plus prunes, and wine and olive oil. Low and slow in the oven.
When it’s done, as the meat rests, you puree the fruit, veggies, spices, wine, and drippings into a succulent sauce. And serve it all over njoki (gnocchi if you’d rather), which is far easier to make at home than you think.
Every Croatian grandmother has her own recipe; this is one that seems like a winner to me. Since, as I may have mentioned, my wife doesn’t eat red meat, I’m reliant on you to try this out.
Recipe adapted from https://www.petersommer.com/blog/another-bite/pasticada
Rome was entrenched in chaos, until one man took charge, and through sheer force of will - and the army - remade the Empire into a completely new government, one that would last for over a thousand years. Then he retired to farm cabbages, moving into an incredible palace on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, a palace which today forms the core of Split, Croatia's old town.
Rob and Jamie from the Totalus Rankium podcast drop by once again to discuss Diocletian, one of the most significant emperors, whose legacy paved the way to medieval Europe. We dig into the good, like his bureaucratic reforms, the bad, like his persecution of Christians, and the ugly, like his edict on prices.
Listener Hrvoje Tolić calls in to discuss Split, the sights, and the cuisine. Pašticada, a long-marinated beef roast served over njoki, is the recipe of the day.
Ma’amoul (Date Cookies)
Ma’amoul are shortbread cookies, filled with a sweetened date puree, baked until just golden, and dusted with powdered sugar. They are traditionally served for Eid, as a welcome sweet reward following the fasting of Ramadan, and for Easter, as a welcome sweet rewards following the fasting of Lent, for Rosh Hashanah for a sweet new year… Basically, no matter what your religion, in the Levant, if you want a sweet treat, these cookies are your go-to.
Making them traditionally requires two things you likely don’t have, but I’ve got ways to work around those. First, you probably don’t have the traditional wooden mold that you use to shape the cookies - but that’s OK. You can use your palm or anything else you have on hand to mold small cookies. Or you can order one online.
Second, traditionally, these cookies include mahlab, a spice made from cherry pits, which gives an amaretto-like flavor. Easy to find at a Middle East specialty market, but not accessible anywhere else. You can substitute almond extract or just leave it out.
Building the cookies are easy. Mix up the dough, knead it and let it sit.
Pit and chop the dates - I like medjool dates for this, but if you have deglet noor, those work too, they just aren’t as sweet. Letting the dates cook a bit helps to break down the fibers, enrich the spices, and build up the sweetness.
Roll out the dough into little balls, then take one, press it out in your hand, add some dates, and fold the dough around it. If you have a mold, put the cookie into it, press gently to get the shape, and then whap onto the counter to release it. If you don’t have the mold, it’s fine - consider using a fork to make indentations to form a pattern.
Then bake until just golden - do NOT overbake - and dust with powdered sugar.
So good. IF you like dates.
FOR THE DOUGH
FOR THE FILLING
Recipe adapted from https://www.munatycooking.com/maamoul/ Image from the Guardian
In 2015, ISIS terrorists destroyed the Temples of Bel and Baalshemin in the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, temples which had remained in pristine condition since their city's glory days in the 3rd century.
Back then, under the capable leadership of its rulers Odenaethus and the "Warrior Queen" Zenobia, Palmyra rose from wealthy caravan town to leader of the Eastern Mediterranean, taking advantage of the chaos of the Roman Crisis of the Third Century. So. Many. Emperors. So. Much. Chaos.
Scott Chesworth from the Ancient World podcast returns to finish his tale of Roman Syria, discussing how Palmyra challenged two empires, and how they very nearly pulled it off.
Also, listener David Adam recounts his trip to Palmyra before the temples were destroyed; you'll appreciate how he brings the humanity of modern Syrians into the story. And you can see his photos here: https://www.wonderspodcast.com/single-post/2018/07/10/The-Temple-of-Bel-at-Palmyra
The destruction of Palmyra and of Syria has been a great human catastrophe, and by acknowledging and remembering lost Palmyra, we might hope to prevent the next one.
Also, there are cookies! Date-filled cookies, in honor of the date palms that gave Palmyra its name.
Kibbeh are delicious Lebanese dishes made of ground meat (usually beef or lamb), bulgur wheat, onion and spices. Very simple, very delicious. Sometimes kibbeh comes as a baked casserole, like a meatloaf, and sometimes it’s a deep-fried croquette, shaped in balls. Sometimes, it’s eaten raw, like steak tartare.
I genuinely like fried kibbeh best, but it’s pretty similar to falafel in looks, and you might be tired of fried food, so y’know what, we’ll try the baked variety. I think you’ll like it, and maybe your arteries will too!
A couple of things: If you can’t get the meat for the kibbeh layer ground finely from the butcher, you’ll need to grind it super-fine yourself, but if you’re like me, you don’t have a meat grinder lying around. So what to do? You may have to use a food processor to grind it down. Not great, but it’ll do.
Second, the meat will stick to your hands. Having ice cold water on hand to moisten your hands and keep them free from stickiness will help a lot. Just make sure not to get too much water into the meat.
For bulgur mixture (kibbeh)
Recipe adapted from Maureen Abood’s Rose Water and Orange Blossoms (https://www.maureenabood.com/baked-kibbeh-you-say-meatloaf-i-say-meatlove)
Photo from sbs.com.au
In the remote Bekaa valley in Eastern Lebanon sit the ruins of the great temples of Heliopolis, some of the largest and most impressive ever built in Antiquity, three times larger than the Parthenon, which columns half again as tall as as those in Karnak.
The temples are mysterious, and Scott Chesworth from The Ancient World podcast helps explain what they might be, and how they might be connected to Elagabalus, one of the most fascinating and least appreciated Roman emperors. Not good, mind, but fascinating.
Elagabalus does not get the coverage of a Caligula or Nero, but maybe he should. The teenage emperor did not kill indiscriminately, but his sexual and religious activities shocked conservative Roman society and make for excellent story-telling.
Some modern writers call Elagabalus the world's first known transgender leader. Maybe? We'll discuss.
There's also the story of how Caracalla meets his untimely demise, thanks to a prescient fortune-teller and a dislike of reading his own mail.
And of course, we'll talk about Lebanon, its Phoenician heritage, and the way Lebanese food has spread around the world. The recipe of the week is kibbeh, a deep-fried croquette of goodness that is as popular in the Dominican Republic as it is in Lebanon.
The trick to wonderful couscous is to steam the grain over the sauce so that the flavors of the stew seep into every little piece. Much fluffier and more flavorful than the store-bought boiled method you’re probably familiar with.
This version also steams onions and chickpeas with the same method. You soften the couscous with chicken stock first, then make a simple stew of chicken thighs, onion, tomato paste, salt and Libya’s favorite Five Spice blend: Hararat. Hararat is cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and allspice - I love that concept of earthy, spicy, slightly sweet.
As that simmers, put a steamer over the pot and steam a ton of onions and chickpeas. After they’ve softened, you’ll transfer them to a separate pot to caramelize. Then put the couscous in the steamer and let it steam until pure fluffiness. Then pile it up: couscous, stew, and onions on top.
Recipe adapted from Umm Obabdiah’s website (http://ummobaidahcooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/libyan-couscous-bil-busla-couscous-with.html)
The sadhya is a traditional Keralan feast: a banana leaf covered with small servings of 20 different items, from rice to curries to breads to a banana for dessert. It’s pretty awesome.
It’s also not something you’ll make for a weekday meal. So what I’ve done is to take three vegetable curries and combine them for you for a mini-sadhya of sorts. Delicious, redolent of Keralan flavors, and just fun.
Each dish has a different texture, so even though the flavor profiles are complementary, the tastes are very unique. I loved how they all worked together, so I’m going to present them as such. If you want to make each individually, I got all three recipes (plus the rice) from the cookbook Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala by Maya Kaimal.
Each recipe has its own spice mix, or masala. You’ll note that they are each slightly different, and that difference matters.
Curry leaves are the hardest part of this to get and also the most important. I bought a bunch for $1 at a local Indian grocery, so I’d recommend that. You can also order them via mail, but the premium for shipping has to be crazy.
Read through this first and build your mise en place before starting. Several of the steps go VERY quickly, so it’s best to have everything chopped, mixed, and prepped before you turn on the stove.
This is going to be a bit messy and will use five pots: I’ll note which recipe you’re working on as you go - what can be made first and what can wait until the end.
Start with the:
Move on to the:
Back to the:
Next comes the:
SPINACH with COCONUT (Spinach Tharen)
Proceed to the:
Wow. 23 steps. I know that seems like a lot, but it’s all about careful planning your mise en place.
Trust me - you’ll love this. I did. The chickpeas are my new go-to recipe, and the spinach with the coconut was particularly outstanding.
Recipe adapted from Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala by Maya Kaimal (2000).
So close to the tourist trail, yet so far, Libya sits on the Mediterranean yet has been isolated for decades by poverty, dictatorship and civil war. But should peace return, Leptis Magna is the jewel in Libya's crown: potentially the largest and best preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean. With a resplendent forum, theater, basilica, harbor, amphitheater, and especially, a colossal arch, Leptis is an unvisited gem.
Leptis' golden age came under the leadership of local-boy-made-good Septimius Severus. To help tell the story of how a lad from Leptis became ruler of the "known world," Rob and Jamie from the Roman Emperors: Totalus Rankium podcast stop by.
Not only do we talk about Severus and the disastrous emperor who preceded him (Didius Julianus), but we also discuss Severus' evil son Caracalla. Evil. Oh so evil.
No discussion of Libya would be complete without discussing the cuisine: a blend of North African and Middle Eastern, highlighted by couscous. This isn't your store-bought fluffy cardboard; we'll be properly steaming it this time.
Nestled along the coast of India's most southwesterly state, the Backwaters are a 600 km-long series of lakes, rivers, channels and canals linking the jungle to the sea. Their story, and Kerala's story, is the tale of maritime trade, and to help tell that story, Brandon Huebner from the Maritime History Podcast stops by.
Kerala is the birthplace of pepper, and given how rancid meat would get in the age before refrigeration, the Mediterranean world craved it. The Romans traded extensively with the kingdoms of Southern India, we discuss how they figured out the monsoons, and what they brought in exchange for that piquant spice.
Tianna Gratta from Passportchronicles.com was just in Kerala, and she gives her insights about traveling there today and riding on a houseboat along the backwaters: definitely the most chill of all the wonders on this show.
We try different Keralan curries, rich with coconut, curry leaves, and pepper, and as the coup de grace, Marcus Aurelius makes a cameo, as trade to Asia had brought something unexpected to Rome: a plague. You take the good, you take the bad...
Artichokes are a special part of a Roman spring. Jewish-style artichokes are flattened and fried, and are delicious, but they can be devilishly difficult to cook at home. Roman-style artichokes, on the other hand, are, as I’ve learned, only regularly difficult to cook at home.
The cooking isn’t the problem. It’s the cleaning.
Artichokes are spiny, woodsy, challenging, and inside there’s the nasty, inedible, fluff-ridden choke. Why on earth do we bother?
Because they’re delicious.
I’ve seen some recipes which only call for the hearts, while others allow more of the leaves. Here’s what I’d recommend: trim the outer leaves, using a y-shaped vegetable peeler to remove all the woodsy bits. Then cut the tops off the artichokes, so that you can spoon out the nasty choke. Put them into lemon juice infused water - this well keep them from browning.
Once they’re cleaned, slather them with herbs and plop them in a pot with olive oil and wine. Braise them until they’re tender and enjoy!
Recipe from https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2017/10/carciofi-alla-romana-roman-italian-braised-artichoke-recipe.html - They have a terrific page on cleaning artichokes, complete with video!
I know I promised you huaraches. I even described them in the episode. But can I be honest? Yes? I like to keep these recipes to things you can do on a weeknight: delicious and authentic, yet not overly complicated. Well… huaraches were getting too complicated.
So instead, I give you a very simple and delicious dish with its roots in Puebla, a city between Mexico City and the Gulf Coast, where the Mexicans defeated a French Army in 1861 on May 5, forever remembered as Cinco de Mayo.
Cinco de Mayo is NOT a significant holiday in Mexico, which will surprise the many Americans who celebrate with tacos, margaritas, and more margaritas. It’s big in Puebla, but how it became big in the US is simply a marketing thing. The weather is usually nice on May 5, and early May lacked a good alcohol-driven holiday. Mexican Independence Day (September 15) is too close to Labor Day and would be less festive, I guess.
Anyway, Puebla is famous for its mole above all else, which I’ll get to eventually, because mole poblano is one of the world’s best dishes, bar none. For now, though, I introduce the tinga: shredded meat, combined with chipotle peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes and spices. Traditionally, it’s served on tostadas, crispy fried tortillas.
This recipe, from Rick Bayless’ Everyday Mexican is adapted for a slow-cooker, so it’s great for a weekday meal. This is one of my absolute go-to recipes. Set it up in the morning, and come home with the house smelling like absolute heaven.
It’s not completely traditional. It’s got potatoes, which are not typical but which make for a nice additional filler. The slow cooker doesn’t allow for browning, hence the Worcestershire sauce to bring in umami.
I prefer tinga as a taco filling rather than as a tostada topper. It’s just less greasy that way.
I will vouch all day for this recipe. ¡Feliz cinco de mayo!
Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless’ Everyday Mexican, a cookbook that I have used more than all my other cookbooks combined. Every recipe is fantastic.
Rick Bayless is a Chicago-based chef, who has made a career of bringing out the best in regional Mexican cuisine. You may have seen his show "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" on your public television station. I appreciate that he is white and that calls for cultural appropriation reign down upon him. But he has a passionate love for Mexico which shines through. Generations of young Mexican chefs have passed through his kitchen, to start their own successful restaurants. Every year, he shuts down his restaurants to take the entire staff, from busboys to sous-chefs to a different state in Mexico, to sample the cuisine, explore the markets, appreciate the local flavors. I believe there is a massive difference between appropriating culture (like bars doing Cinco de Mayo) and showing honor and respect. If you want cultural appropriation, may I introduce you to hipster white dudes selling "Nashville Hot Chicken"? OK, soapbox over. Try this recipe and enjoy it.
Back to Rome for a meeting with Hadrian, the roving emperor. Ryan Stitt from the History of Ancient Greece podcast comes by to discuss the "Greekling" and one of his most impressive monuments, the Pantheon: the best preserved Roman temple anywhere.
Hadrian is a fascinating soul: bearded, homosexual, flaunting conventional wisdom, travelling to the farthest reaches of the empire just because. Ryan shares his experience visiting Hadrian's villa in Tivoli as well.
To eat, consider artichokes this spring, either alla Romana or alla giudia (Jewish-style), both Roman classics.
You shouldn’t need a recipe for bruschetta. It’s so simple, after all. And yet, you’ve had bad bruschetta. We all have. The bread isn’t crisp enough or maybe too crisp. There’s too much topping or it’s too wet. And so, as a public service, I give you SIX EASY TRICKS to PERFECT BRUSCHETTA.
#1. The bread: Use good crusty Italian bread. Day old is preferable. Slice to about half an inch thick. Grill it if you can, toasting is an acceptable alternative.
#2. The tomatoes: fresh, ripe, local is best. Peel and seed before chopping. Most people miss this step and it makes for a less pleasant experience. Peeled and seeded tomatoes will melt in your mouth.
#3. The garlic: Slice a clove in half width-wise, squeeze the half a little bit and rub it on the top of the toast.
#4. The olive oil: Use good Italian olive oil, extra virgin, unfiltered if available. Aim towards a fruity variety, rather than a more bitter variety.
#5. The salt: Kosher salt only please, or sea salt with largish crystals.
#6. The basil: Fresh and bright. The best is the kind you grow yourself. In fact, if you live in an apartment or house or anywhere, and have a southern exposure that gets sunlight, you can grow basil. It’s worth it to do - you can use it on all sorts of things and it’s so wonderful when you pick it yourself.
Recipe adapted from http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/08/04/bruschetta
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