Your email address is required to begin the subscription process. We will use it for customer service and other communications from Milk Street. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.
This week, we’re exploring Italy’s best recipes and stories. Leah Koenig brings us inside the Roman Jewish kitchen for fried artichokes as crisp as potato chips, a cherry pie that has a secret and the beef stew that made her break vegetarianism. Plus, Katie Parla gives us a tour of Italian island cuisine, Matt Goulding infiltrates the secret society that reigns over Neapolitan pizza, Viola Buitoni reveals a surprising use for balsamic vinegar, and we make Rome’s “dirty” pasta, Rigatoni alla Zozzona.
Questions in this episode:
"Is there a reason to use anchovy fillets over anchovy paste?"
"Do you have tips for smoothly transferring pizza from the peel to the stone?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're traveling across Italy to find the best recipes and the best stories. Matt Golding infiltrates the secret society that reigns over Neapolitan pizza.
Matt Golding: One of their bylaws is something like there may be no variance greater than point 2.5 centimeters from crust to the center of the pizza.
CK: Plus, Leah Koeing guides us through Rome's Jewish cuisine from artichokes as crisp as potato chips to the Shabbat dinner that made her stop being a vegetarian.
Leah Koeing: I looked at the table and it was covered in meat dishes and I just I literally I turned to my husband and I was like, that phrase when in Rome ever applies. It's tonight, I'm going to eat everything and I ate everything and I'm really glad he did.
CK: To start our tour of Italy, we're heading to the islands with author and travel guide Katie Parla. Her book is Food of the Italian islands. Katie, welcome to Milk Street.
Katie Parla: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.
CK: Okay, the islands, Sardinia, Sicily. We've heard of those. How many other islands are there that you talk about in your book?
KP: There are hundreds when you think about Venice, there are like 120 islands. Some of them are inhabited. Some aren't. But when you go to like the coast off of Latvia, you've got Ponza and Ventotine and Palma rola, off the coast of Naples, Protegida, Ischia and super famous Capri. And then remember, Chris, that those big islands you mentioned Sicily and Sardinia also have their own islands. Some are just like hanging out off the coast of Tunisia, others are part of archipelagos. So, Italy is a kind of island nation.
CK: Okay, so the history is as I understand that is you have Byzantine rule right after the Roman Empire moves to Constantinople. Arabs come in around nine century and so so take it from there.
KP: Well, don't forget the Goths and the Lombards, they would be furious to be excluded. And then the Byzantines roll in of course, Arab rule is the most impactful I think, from an ingredient standpoint, until the Spanish rule, when lots of botanical species from the Americas are being introduced. And so, when you eat in the islands, whether you're off the coast of Rome, or Naples or in Palermo itself, the food is this product of this incredible cross contamination of different ingredients. Some are coming from North Africa, some are coming from Asia, others are coming from the Americas. And what we kind of dream of when we go to an Italian island is sitting on a beach and eating eggplant parmesan which would be impossible without this gastronomic conquest
CK: Techniques, just a couple. You talk about salting water more heavily for fresh pasta than dried. And you know, I never considered that before. But obviously makes sense because you're cooking it for two or three minutes instead of eight to 10. And then you also talk about always salting fish and meat, meat overnight fish for a few hours before you cook it. You want to just talk about that?
KP: Yeah, for sure. So, Food of the Italian Islands is my seventh cookbook. And so, over the course of the past 10 years, I've gotten a lot of feedback from users and readers. And one thing that keeps coming up again and again is like you know, the meat doesn't have the same flavor. The fish that I have access to doesn't have the same flavor. And I'm like, just try seasoning it continually season it before you cook with it. And that will at least be like a kind of little hack to enhance the flavor. But for sure, taste everything as you go and know that if you're making spaghetti with bottarga and clams, you can really kind of rein in the salt there and then adjust when you're serving. Salts like salt, a big ingredient, not just in pasta, water and flavoring meats or tenderizing meats. But different savory ingredients really inform cooking and if it hasn't been clear yet this whole book is just like pro Sardinia propaganda. I want everyone to think about Sardinia and cook Sardinian foods. So, I’ll use two certain ingredients as examples. All of the wonderful sheep's milk cheeses which are sort of generically called pecorino. That's the singular ___plural. And bottarga, which brings a level of umami to a dish that I think you need to be a little bit conservative with salting before you add those ingredients,
CK: Not to mention salted anchovies that show up in a large percentage of the recipes. Now I use a couple not salted, but in in oil just to dissolve in the oil onions. You use that in quite a few recipes. I noticed just to add some additional flavor.
KP: Yeah, for sure. And you know when you're looking back at recipes from Sardinia, Sicily and the other islands, a lot of the anchovies that were being employed were salted so now you can certainly find them under oil, but they certainly do appear throughout because so many places on the coast and in the interior were salting anchovies for long preservation so they could be used throughout the year rather than just during the fishing season.
CK: Snacks, hors d'oeuvres appetizers. You have a lot of really interesting things like tuna salad sandwiches or jammy eggs with a salted anchovies cook six and a half minutes. I think here in the States, we don't do hors d'oeuvres very well here. But I think Italy does them much better. A few suggestions, perhaps.
KP: Yeah. So, this is my advice, like Venice is a cool place. It's also one of the most expensive places on the planet to visit. So, one very affordable way you can get into the Venice spirit is by making cheap cacti and just preparing some of the really simple things you mentioned. You could do like an egg that's got a salted anchovies spiked into it, you can do a little toast with any type of pesto that you want. This is something that's super controversial, and all the Italians listening are going to get very angry, and I apologize for that. But there are a lot of pastels in the book that would traditionally go on pasta, but you can make those and put them on little toasts and serve those and that's delicious and have a little select sprint. So rather than the Aperol Spritz, use the red bitter liquor from Venice, and you got yourself a Venetian party. It's really affordable. And it also takes it out of the kind of like hors d'oeuvres setting. It's more convivial. So, I just saved all your listeners. 5000 euros.
CK: A couple of things really struck me, well more than a couple of things. One one was using candied orange peel and dumplings in Sardinia.
KP: Okay, so one of the coolest places in the world is called Nuoro. It is the capital of the sub region of Barbagia. It's a wild and wonderful place. And there's a spot there called ____, and they make cooler jhanas which are these potato and cheese dumplings that are pinched with this beautiful closure. And because the chef is, you know, 32-year-old guy he's studied abroad, he's been in Japan and France. He wants to add like a slightly different dimension to traditional dishes. And so, he serves his classic jnanas with an untraditional sauce like butter, sage and candied orange that it doesn't radically change the dish and makes it feel really modern with a very small tweak.
CK: Let's talk about mixing starches like pasta with potatoes or pasta with chickpeas. Obviously, it's a long tradition of that. Are there other combinations or partnerships that are particularly local for the islands?
KP: I mean, the Neapolitan archipelago is like the capital of starch and starch, so you can definitely find, you know, fried breadcrumbs that are sprinkled on top of pastas, potato, provolone, and pasta is a classic comfort food in the Neapolitan archipelago. But yeah, there's really no shame in putting carbs on carbs or even incorporating potato into bread dough, or into desserts. You often find not in the islands in particular, but in Pula and Basilicata, there's a tradition of rice and potatoes into cookie dough, to give it some more caloric heft tastes great, too.
CK: Let's go back to pesto on the outskirts of what is a pesto or what is considered a pesto could you just go through some other pretty different ways of thinking about pesto? Because it's, as you said, you could just put it on on bread or toast, put it on pasta, but most of us have a very limited repertoire, at least here.
KP: Yeah, I mean, for sure, Genova has the best pesto PR in the game, because globally, when you hear pesto, you think of specifically that city or the Ligurian regions recipe, but pesto just implies the method of producing a condiment or a way to dress pasta and use a mortar and pestle to smash the ingredients. And they vary, but they could include tomatoes. In fact, many in Sicily, do. They often include nuts, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, even pine nuts, herbs, mint, or basil or oregano might figure in, and then garlic, and then some have cheese, and some don't. So, I think when we hear pesto, we shouldn't be thinking of a sauce, we should be thinking about the technique. And I think that will, I think be a little bit more enlightening to people in terms of what constitutes a pesto.
CK: So, you've been doing this a long time. But let's assume I went to Sardinia for a week. What are the three mistakes I would make? And what are the three things I should do right instead?
KP: Well, I mean, a mistake would be not renting a car. Because there's so many special experiences in places that are only accessible by a vehicle. A mistake would not be putting full insurance on that vehicle so you can have a consequence for experience. A mistake would be booking every single meal at a restaurant. Because as wonderful as many of the restaurants are in Sardinia, I always recommend you know, doing some market eating, eating at a bakery there tons and tons of like, takeaway joints where you can go and get things to take to the beach or on a hike and you know, experiencing that side of Sardinia and those types of dishes, which kind of mirror some of the things people eat in homes is something you can't experience at a restaurant with table service.
CK: Katie, it's been a pleasure. I need to get on a plane to Sardinia tomorrow. Thanks so much.
KP: It was a delight. Thanks so much.
CK: That was Katie Parla. Her book is Food of the Italian islands. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sarah is the author of Home Cooking 101. And of course, the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals, which she was recently filming in Naples.
Sara Moulton: So, Chris, before we take a call, I just want to tell you, you know, I was in Italy, and I know you've been to Naples, and we tasted three different kinds of pizza, three different styles. You know, one was the classic Margarita, and then there was another than one that was more fancy with ricotta and was a star shaped thing. Whoo, whoo. But the middle one was my favorite. It was fried. Have you had fried pizza? (No). Apparently, I think it was right after World War Two. They couldn't use their ovens or there was some reason why women or cooks, but it was mostly women decided they had to get inventive and figure out another way to cook their pizzas. You know, what we had that day was a mixture of guanciale, pancetta, and then I think is ricotta and something they called Provola, and then they throw it into a deep fryer. And you know, five minutes later, hands down. One of the best things I've ever tasted. You didn't have that when you were in Naples.
CK: I went to Markellos. Michaels, they only have three kinds of pizza. And they're all the three traditional ones. And they all cook in 60 seconds (it’s crazy). Everybody eats pizza with a fork and knife and you know, we're not doing smoked duck Spargo stuff, right? Which is fine, too. But this was all traditional. Yeah. And you know, you stand in line outside for half an hour. And then your half but i That sounds
SM: Next time you go to Naples. You’ve got to have fried pizza. I'm telling you. It's heaven. Alright let's take a call.
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Joe from Houston.
CK: Hey, Joe, from Houston. How can we help you?
Caller: I had a question on anchovies. I see a lot of recipes that call for one anchovy fillet finely diced. And that leaves you with a nearly full can of anchovies, oil, and it's messy. So, I use anchovy paste, because it's easy to put the cap back on and put it in the fridge. But I was just wondering, is there a reason why these recipes would call for anchovy fillet instead of paste? Is it not a perfect substitute?
CK: What I love about cooking is people think there's always a rational explanation for things that go on your recipes. I think people just get used to it saying that, obviously, a real anchovy in oil or whatever, is probably going to have a fresher, more natural, less salty flavor than the paste, which is probably made not from the highest quality fish, I would assume. But if you're using a teaspoon or a tablespoon in a stew, or something just to provide an umami, you know, foundation, I don't think it would make much difference one way or the other. But those tins of anchovies in oil will keep you know, they're going to keep a while in the fridge couple months. So, you can keep them around. But I know what's going to happen. I do the same thing. I use one and then thrown out. So anchovy paste
Caller: behind the milk or something you can forget about it
CK: So yeah, or my wife who throws everything out after 24 hours, will get hold of it. But if you do use anchovy paste, just make sure you get a really good quality one, you know, but there's nothing wrong with anchovy paste. And there's no I don't think there's any good reason. Yeah, you're fine. I would paste is fine.
SM: Yeah, I basically agree. I think if the adding of the anchovies just there for some umami and salt in the background, you could certainly reach for the anchovy paste. You know, if it's a pretty anchovy forward recipe, you might want to use the little fillet guys, and they do keep in the fridge for a while. My problem is if we get a 10 versus a jar, then you open a tin and then you know it sloshes around. So, you have to put it in a plate. And then you know, suddenly your whole refrigerator smells like anchovies, which is not a good smell. Let's put it that way.
CK: A recipe calling for one fillet. I mean, that doesn't really do much, I’d use two or three and you sauté it with the onions in the oil whatever.
SM: And they melt, you don’t have to chop them. You don't that is silly also, just put them in and they dissolve dissolve. Yeah, they're a great ingredient. Yeah, they should be
CK: Well, it's like fish sauce. It doesn't taste fishy. No, you just won't notice it as fishy. So yeah. All right. Thanks, Joe.
SM: All right. Thank you.
Caller: Thank you very much.
CK: Take care. Bye. Bye. You're listening to Milk Street Radio Sara, and I want to solve your cooking mysteries. Just give us a ring 855-426-9843 one more time a 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hey this is Ali from Charleston, South Carolina.
SM: So how can we help you today?
Caller: So, my husband and I are big pizza fans, he was actually born on National Pizza Day, it was kind of meant to be. And we have been making a lot of homemade pizza. And were gifted a pizza stone and a pizza peel. But we have been having some difficulty with transitioning our pizza from the peel to the stone without any sticking at all. And so, we're nervous every time our pizzas always taste fine, but sometimes they end up kind of ugly because we end up with a little tear one spot that sticks and then we have to kind of use all hands-on deck to get it into the oven. So, we're wondering if you have any suggestions to help us get in one piece?
SM: Well, I'm going to pass this to Chris pretty quickly because he's the pizza Maven. But have you tried using semolina?
Caller: We have not.
SM: Yeah, because I think
CK: That’s the answer
SM: that is the answer right there?
CK: Yes, that’s the answer to the question use semolina
SM: Because I was also going to say, because I'm a big fan of this is you know, when you're making something and it doesn't turn out perfect. And pizza is certainly one of those things. Don't ever sweat it just call it rustic. Right? You know, it's how you position it.
CK: But it is really annoying. If you've gone to all the trouble to make pizza and it's all shaped and it's topped. And you're about to put in the oven and it doesn't come off the peel. I mean, that is
SM: Okay. Okay, I get that.
CK: That's a three-cocktail night.
SM: Okay, well, then I'm just I'm referring to cooking in general. Oh, that's
CK: Oh, that's true. That's true. But I used to use cornmeal, but that that's kind of nasty on the underside of the pizza. Semolina is very hard. And its very high gluten and it'll just roll right off the peel, you'll have no problem at all. So just buy a bag of it. It's great. I tend to use I have a metal peel I use and it's also not perfectly flat. So that I think it makes it easier to get the pizza off the peel. You might I don't know if you have a wood peel or metal one. But yeah, semolina, it is buy a bag of semolina it's a few bucks, and that'll solve your problem.
Caller: Also, do you a secondary question, do you usually form your pizza crust right directly on a peel, or do you pour it somewhere else?
CK: Okay, yeah, that's a long story. But you have to get the dough up to about 75 degrees, at which point it's not going to retract on you. It's easy to shape. So, I shape it. And then once I get it to the right size, then I transfer it to the peel with some lean on it. And then I'll top it on the peel. But I'll do all the shaping because I'm picking it up and I'm using my fists and everything else to shape it. But once it's the right size, and then I'll dump it on the peel. That'll really solve your problem. Do you bake on a stone or a steel?
Caller: Yes, we bake on a stone.
CK: Yeah, that seems to really work too. So, and the last thing so what is do you do one of these multi day cold ferments or do you make it the same day or what's the recipe like?
Caller: I've been trying a few but I recently got back into making sourdough. So, the most recent attempts we've done are with sourdough bread and we love the flavor so we kind of want to stick to that.
CK: Yeah, that sounds good
SM: we want to come over
Caller: Please do. Well thank you guys so much.
SM: Bye Ali
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up we explore Roman Jewish cuisine, including a cherry pie that has a secret that's up after the break. This is Milk Street radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. I recently came back from a trip to Rome where I explored some of the classics. Cacio y Pepe saltimbocca. But as with every trip to Italy, I also came across some lesser-known dishes. And one of the most interesting was a frittata made with spaghetti olives and capers.
Adrianna: ______this is how it's called that the vendor at the market
CK: It was invented in 1799 by a chef who usually cooked for royalty,
Adrianna: : but in this case was asked from the Philistines monks so which is our their very specific order of monks to prepare a dish without meat that could be eaten to give energy to the monks during the period of religious diet.
20:16 CK: That was my guide Adrianna ___. She also took me around the city to ask Italian chefs, what they really think about garlic and how to cook with it.
Adrianna: The general belief even in Rome, nowadays, is that the garlic somehow ruin the taste,
CK: One of those chefs was Elio Mariani at the restaurant Checchino. While I was there, bartender Simon ___ gave me a tour of their famous wine cellar, which is dug into a hill made out of broken amphora, from ancient Rome.
Simon: It’s a dry structure with nothing that glued pieces to the other, this allow there to pass by and allow us to have a custom microclimate inside the cellar always 10 degrees on the floor for a maximum of 16 on top with just one degrees of difference between summer and winter.
CK: But there was another restaurant that really stood out to me a place that wasn't even on my original itinerary. So, when I got off the plane, I went down to the old Jewish Quarter, for a plate of perfectly fried artichokes at the kosher restaurant, Yotvata. Because the day before I went to Rome, I spoke with Leah Koeing, about her book Portico, which tells a fabulous story about the Roman Jewish kitchen. Leah, welcome to Milk Street.
Leah Koeing: Thank you so much. It's an honor to be here with you.
CK: You know, I love this book. For two reasons, at least two reasons. One is the recipes look delicious and are interesting, but also how some Roman cuisine was sort of translated at the hands of Jewish cooks. So, when did this begin, you talk about during Roman times, that was the beginning of a Jewish community in Rome?
LK: Yeah, so the Roman Jewish community dates back more than 2000 years. There actually some people who say that they can date their families back to ancient Roman times. So, if you're familiar with at all with the Hanukkah story, you may have heard of the Maccabees. And this story basically goes that the first Roman Jews were emissaries of the Maccabees; they were fleeing persecution in ancient Judea. And so that group is called ____. And then there's two other groups of immigrant communities that came later on. The first would be this Fireteam, who came during the Spanish Inquisition, Spain actually ruled Sicily at the time. So all of the rules of the Inquisition also applied to the the Jews of Sicily in Southern Italy. So, at that point, they moved to North seeking safety. And then in the 1960s, about 4000 Jews from Libya moved to Rome. So, and it's partially because Libya was a colony of Italy so there was a lot of connection. So, you have this wonderful ancient community that actually is, as all communities are a bit of a mosaic.
CK: So okay, 16th century Pope Paul forth, establishes the Roman quote, unquote, ghetto. And you say, this part really struck me, the area was 250 Steps wide, by 200 steps long, and housed 9000 people at its peak capacity. This was a very small part of Rome.
LK: Yes, Rome was actually not where the first ghetto was, it was actually in Venice, 40 years earlier. And the word ghetto actually is an Italian word, it means foundry like copper foundry, because there was a literal copper foundry in Venice, right where the Jews were forced to live. And in Rome, the buildings had to be built vertically because the community kept growing and so you couldn't get much sunlight during the day. And then on one side of the Roman ghetto, there's actually a now beautiful ruin called portico de Ottavia, which literally means Octavius porch, which is the book is named Portico after that structure. And it was a fish market. So, you have to imagine in the summer and the heat with the fish and the flooding and the number of people it was just not a lovely place to be,
CK: Not to get too dark but just to finish this history during World War Two, there was some hope on the part of the Jews in Rome, that the Catholic Church would protect them from the Nazis at the time. But there were a number of Roman Jews who actually ended up being taken to Auschwitz, right?
LK: Yes, so basically, you know, Italy was on the side of Germany originally, but when Italy decided to join the allies, that's when things got really bad. So, they did come into the ghetto one morning. Very early like six in the morning, I met a man when I was there who actually remembers his mom being taken away. He's 91 now. His name is Emmanuel, and he still lives in the ghetto, like where he grew up. And yeah, so at that point, I believe 1000 Jews were taken away, which I mean, in Rome, there's only about 16,000 Jews now. So, it's, it was a lot of people. The Catholic Church officially did not condemn what the Nazis were doing. But from what I have read, there were a lot of kind of internal directives from the Pope to convents, and monasteries to so (I've heard about that too), yeah, to help hide Jews. So, there's a lot of I met a lot of people when I was there who hid in convents when they were children. And that was how they survived the war.
CK: There was a lot of restrictions during the ghetto period and on occupations. And one exception was to be a street vendor. And many of them became frigitori or fryrs so frying was one of the things that was, I think, central to the Jewish cooking in Rome. Is that right?
LK: Yeah, frying is one of the I would say like, pillars of Roman Jewish cuisine. And a lot of the foods that you see in Rome today that are fried, fried anchovies, ____ fried mozzarella,
date back to the Roman Jewish ghetto and really formed there and the most famous of them is fried artichokes carciofi alla guidia, which literally means like Jewish style artichoke, and it's one of the most delicious things I've eaten in my life.
CK: Yeah, I agree. That's a delicious dish. So how do you prep an artichoke? I mean, if you I know most people in the kitchens are not even sure how to chop an onion. But if you gave them an artichoke and said, please prep it, they would, they would just wouldn't know what to do. Yes. How do you prep an artichoke?
LK: So, I will first say that I've pared a lot of artichokes the Roman way, and I'm still learning, you know, the real experts. Or if you go to the Roman Jewish ghetto, and you go outside of any restaurant, you'll see a guy is sitting on a chair with blue gloves on peeling away the layers of darker leaves to expose the softer inside, and like they work so fast, and it is so fascinating to watch them work, I could literally mesmerized. But if you ask two elders how to pair an artichoke correctly, they will argue and tell you that, you know, the other one is wrong and ridiculous, and they're doing it the wrong way. But the way I do it is you take the artichoke by the stem, and you kind of snap off the outer darker leaves. And from there, you take a small paring knife, and you peel off the outer layer of the stem. And then you take the top and you kind of cut, maybe like a third to a half of the pointed dome part of the leaves off. So, you're basically left with what looks like a closed rosebud. And then from there, it kind of depends on what you're making. If you're making the carciofi alla guidia, the Jewish style fried artichokes, you peel open the center. And if your artichoke has the like hairy choke in the center, you you would remove it, and then you would deep fry it, you let it cool just a little bit so you can handle it. And then you kind of pry open the leaves to make more of like a flower shape. And then you fry it a second time, until the leaves get really crisp. And they're honestly, they're like, they're like flaky potato chips. They're so delicious.
CK: You know, simplicity, always, for me is the hallmark of great cooking. And I made a couple recipes this weekend for your book, actually. And they're all just incredibly simple. Tomato halves, you know, drizzle them, I think a little vinegar and oil, and put them in an oven for you know, maybe hour and 15 minutes. And they were fabulous. And then you had another recipe with thin sliced fennel and some matchsticks of carrot, little lemon juice salt on it, let it sit for a little while. So, talk about that I just like taking vegetables, for example and keeping it simple, either with heat or no heat at all. And you have something you know, which I don't think is part of the classic American repertoire.
LK: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think Roman Jewish cuisine share something with Italian cuisine more globally, and that there's a lot of dishes that really take very few ingredients. And there's something about the alchemy of thyme and really good olive oil, right. And that that makes them taste amazing. I mean, one of my favorite dishes in the book _____. Oh, it's like their version of a beef stew. I first had it at a kosher caterer’s house in Rome back in like 2009. I was actually a vegetarian at the time. And my husband and I were traveling for our honeymoon. And we got to this caterer’s house for Shabbat And I looked at the table and it was covered in meat dishes. And I just I literally I turned on my husband and I was like, the phrase when in Rome ever applies. It's tonight I'm going to eat everything, and I ate everything. And I'm really glad it did.
CK: Did you return to vegetarianism after that or not?
LK: Let's just say I did. But let's say it was the beginning of the end. But one of the dishes that stood out was literally shin meat and tomato Posada, and olive oil and onion. And that's literally all that's in the dish. But there's something that happens in the three hours that you're letting this meat simmer on the stove, and it just becomes velvety. And the cliche of more of the sum of its parts really applies. Because it's so succulent and so delicious.
CK: There was a tomato celery sauce with a meatball dish and what was interesting to me is instead of being part of the sofrito, right, where it's it's diced and sauteed it actually is has fairly large pieces and its retains its character is that something that happens you think a lot in this style of cooking where something like turn up you have a turnip and rice soup for example, things that are looked down upon probably by many cooks as being just a little bit of flavor. Really have a star turn.
LK: Yeah, I mean, I love Roman Jews love of celery, and actually that that dish you're mentioning, it's it's basically chicken and veal meatballs, and they're cooked in a tomato sauce with these little batons of celery, so you actually get like bites of of celery. And I first had that dish at that same Shabbat dinner that same meaty, carnivorous Shabbat dinner that I went to. And I remember just thinking how cool it was that the celery wasn't hiding in this sofrito, and it was kind of getting its own star turn. And yeah, I think Italian Jews in Sicily and in Rome both helped to popularize certain vegetables that the rest of the population kind of didn't like or looked down upon as you put it. So, fennel, eggplants, and artichokes were all at some point considered to be quote, unquote, Jewish vegetables.
CK: One last thing that really caught my eye from the book was a ricotta pie with a layer of fruit at the bottom. And actually, I'm going to Rome tomorrow to eat this among other things. But this pie has a really interesting history, right?
LK: Yeah, so that is a sour cherry and ricotta crostata or pie. And it's most famously baked at this 200-year-old kosher bakery called Pasticceria il Boccione.
CK That's, that's where I’m going.
LK: That’s where you got to go. And if you go, there's no signage, but you'll find it because it's right on the corner. And there's always a line of people out the door. And what's interesting about it is most crostata, in Italy, in Rome, either have a single crust or have some kind of lattice crust, but this one is actually double crusted. And the reason that is is one of the other restrictions that Roman Jews had is they were not allowed to sell red meat or dairy products to Christians. So, the Jews of Rome got around that by putting a top crust on the pie, so that you couldn't see what was inside and you couldn't see that there was a layer of ricotta inside. So that also I mean, how true these stories are, I don't know. But I love I love that thought of just the ingenuity and the kind of we're going to do it anyway spirit that pervades the Roman Jewish community.
CK: If I were going to Rome, which I am tomorrow, are there places you recommend going in Rome bakeries restaurants to eat some of this food?
LK: You're definitely right on to go to the pastry shop. Although Boccioni is known for kind of burning their pastries. They have really old ancient ovens. So, they're kind of known for this, like burned patina on top of everything. But it's still delicious. And then again in the ghetto. One of my favorite restaurants is called Catalino Astoria, and it's run by a lovely family and including the probably octogenarian grandmother Lutisia who still comes in every single day, like dressed to the nines, you know, mostly to like, sit and chat with people, but also to make sure that the chefs are doing it right. And their food is some of the best I had the best eggplant parmesan I've ever had in my life there and they have wonderful fried artichokes, and yeah, have fun.
CK: I will and now I have some dishes that I absolutely need to try and add to my list and thank you so much.
LK: Oh, thank you so much. really an honor to be with you.
CK: That was Leah Koenig. Her book is Portico Cooking and Feasting in Rome's Jewish Kitchen. Robert De Niro once said that Italy is changed but Rome is Rome. And when it comes to food, I agree the Roman menu is much less adventurous than what you would find in Paris or London. But in the old Jewish Quarter, there was more to Roman cooking than pizza, pasta and gelato. At Yotvata, the well known kosher restaurant, they serve fried artichokes that have been expertly prepared, offering thin potato chip crispy leaves, and the 200 year old bakery Pasticceria il Boccione sells mahogany colored ricotta cheese cakes with the bottom layer of wild cherries. So yeah, Rome is Rome. But there is more to Roman cuisine than first meets the eye. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time to head into the kitchen with JM Hirsch to talk about this week's recipe rigatoni alla Zozzona. JM how are you?
JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: You and I've been to Rome a few times (here and there) never together but separately, and there are three things I would say you can get really bad pasta there. It's happened to me. There are a lot of usual suspects like cacio e pepe. But what's so wonderful about Rome is there are hundreds if not 1000s of other pasta dishes that we've never heard of. Which is surprising because these are just terrific recipes. So, you came across a dirty pasta. What does that mean?
JMH: You know we go to Italy like you say and we think we know pasta and then every time we learn something new and rigatoni alla Zozzona is the classic example of this, something that of course every Roman knows all too well, but is new to us. Zozzona translates as dirty. But actually, it's kind of an antiquated translation that really means leftover, its own it is classic cucina povera where home cooks would use the bits and pieces of whatever they happen to have laying around and combine it and make it into dinner. But what's particularly interesting about this dish, is it it's using the bits and pieces kicking around that are the core ingredients of two very well-known very classic Roman pastas, carbonara and _____
CK: You say carbonara it's a creamy cheesy dish and also spicy tomato-y?
JMH: Creamy, cheesy spicy tomato-y, meaty you name it, it's in there it is actually one of the best pastas I've ever eaten. I know you know, dirty pasta. It is incredible. So, you know carbonara is of course the classic pasta with eggs, ___ increasingly pancetta that pecorino Romano, some black pepper, _____ is pretty much the same thing but throw tomatoes in instead of the eggs. Zona is the best of all of these things. It's got the eggs, it's got the tomatoes, it's got the spice and just for good measure, they throw in some spicy Italian sausage. It sounds like a lot, but it's actually so amazingly rich and wonderful and satisfying. It's got a lot going on, but it works so well. I mean, it's Carbonaro and, you can't go wrong there.
CK: Well, I was about to ask you that question, which is, is this one of those dishes that really works on location, but you get it back here and it turns out to be kind of a heavy mess. I mean, that's how I was sort of thinking,
JMH: You know what, it comes together so perfectly. And you know, there's a couple of reasons for the first and perhaps the most important of which is the creaminess of this pasta. You know, in the United States, we tend to think of creamy pasta’s as relying on cheese and eggs and frankly fat for that creaminess. But as we know from our many trips to Italy, really the creaminess comes from the starchy pasta cooking water that binds everything together enriches it thickens it and that is absolutely the case here you have a spare amount of fat you have a spare amount of cheese, you have a spare amount of eggs. And really what you're getting is this emulsification from the starchy cooking water of the pasta and that's tying that all together and just making this lovely rich sauce that yet is not heavy.
CK: So, no cream, but pasta water that starchy sort of fills in for that, which is a you know, like cacio e Pepe. It's a classic Italian technique.
JMH: Correct. And it ties all of this stuff together so that you get away with using less of them. So yeah, there is meat in it and yes, there is cheese and eggs, but you don't need as much as you think to get that kind of creamy impact.
CK: JM thank you yet another pasta dish. I'd never heard of rigatoni alla zozzona, or dirty pasta. Thank you.
JMH: Thank you. You can get the recipe for rigatoni alla zozzona at Milk Street Radio.com.
CK: I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Coming up, find out what it takes to impress the world's best pizza makers that's up after the break. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some wisdom from Italian cooking expert, Viola Betony, who's here to tell us about a surprising way to use one of her very favorite ingredients balsamic vinegar.
Viola Betony: My first core memory of balsamic vinegar dates back to when I was barely a grade school child. I was in Bologna with one of my sisters and both of my parents. And my sister and I were left for lunch in the hotel's restaurant in the hands of some very skilled and delightful waiters, who at some point during the meal, brought out these tiny little bottles, and just started dropping something that looked like beautiful brown silk onto our food. And my mouth was just completely engaged. But it wasn't just my mouth, it was also my nose, and it was also the back of my throat and just that wonderful, sweet, soft acidity that you get from true traditional balsamic vinegar. And since that trip, it was always a staple in our house. So, here's my secret tip for balsamic, you can actually add it to your cocktail. I love it with Prosecco with gin or even just in some fizzy water. And of course, to spruce it up you can always put in a lot of fruit. Berries are great in the spring and summer, but you could also do pears in the winter, some orange around Christmas time. There is lots of fun that you can have with a Prosecco cocktail.
CK: That was Viola Betony. She's an Italian cooking teacher. Her latest book is Italy by Ingredient. You're listening to Milk Street Radio right now food writer Matt Golding is here to tell us about a quest that took him to Italy. He woke up one day intent on pursuing a new dream. It's something that takes literally decades to master, but he was determined to do it in just two weeks. He worked so hard; he could barely lift his arms at the end of each day. But none of this effort would matter if he couldn't convince an elite group of experts to let him join their ranks. Matt wanted to make pizza. And to do that, of course, he had to go to Naples. Matt, welcome back to Milk Street.
Matt Golding: Chris, man. Excellent as always to be talking with you.
CK: I love chatting with you. I love spending some time with you in Bologna a few years ago,
MG: Man, when can we go back? That was a special run.
CK: Yeah. So, from Bologna, we're today heading to Naples.
MG: That's right. You know, I had actually thought about giving up this whole writing gig and becoming a professional pizza maker. I was obsessed with pizza. I love the idea of having a really small set of variables. Or at least that's what I thought at the time. You know, you had dough, you had sauce, you had cheese and you add heat, and that through your own blood, sweat and tears, you would coerce that into alchemic expressions of delicious food, and I signed up to take what is essentially the official pizza making course from what's called the AVPN the associates Gianni Versace pizza Napoletana. You know, I jokingly call them the pizza police. That's probably a step too far. They're not going to fine you if you don't adhere to their principles. But if you want to be certified as an official Neapolitan pizzaiolo you go through their courses.
CK: So, paint the picture is this in some glorious archetypal building in Naples? Is it stuffed in a basement ?
MG: Definitely the later Chris, definitely the later. It was right next door to some type of glorious piece of architecture, but it was nevertheless stuffed into a basement. And you spent four or five hours a day in class, and then you spent four or five hours a day making pizza. And you eventually move out of the classroom into an apprenticeship at a local pizzeria. Which is both an incredibly exciting and terrifying proposition.
CK: So, the hardest part of all this is shaping the dough. I have 100 theories about this, but you actually probably know the answer. So, I'll ask you. So, if you're talking to someone who has not had a lot of success in shaping dough, what would you tell them that you found in this course that would help them do it right?
MG: I mean, in my case, it was just repetition. At first, it felt like the dough would not bend to my will. And the professor would come in and take that same dough, and with three flicks of the wrist would have this beautiful, perfect circle, you know, and in the case of Neapolitan pizza, because it's so thin, it's all the more important to be precise. You know, they one of their bylaws is something like there may be no variance greater than point 2.5 centimeters from crust to the center of the pizza.
CK: My God. Is the flour enables you think, different than what you get here and therefore critical to success and two is there a hydration level, the weight of the water to the weight of the flour, is that something that's stipulated by that local group?
MG: Is the flour special? Well, by some measures, it's special. It's caputo. Caputo is a brand name that's made there in Naples right there in the city has been around for a very long time, you can get it available in the US. But if the argument is, you know pizzas this way in Naples because of the flour and because of the water, that old New York, New York City bagel trope, which I think has been disproven a million times over. I would say that's, that's also not the case in Naples. But what you do you have, of course, is an abundance of extraordinary mozzarella producers. And of course, you have the famous and Marzano tomatoes that are grown right there in the volcanic soil of Vesuvius. And so, I think it's funny here in the States, you oftentimes hear about people's recipe for pizza sauce. There's not a pizza that I've tasted in Naples really anywhere in Italy, I would be willing to say that is actually a recipe. It is just a can of whole peeled tomatoes, the highest possible quality with extra virgin olive oil and a generous amount of salt. That is it.
CK: So, I still have some questions. So, is this sort of a medium hydrate? Is this like a 65% or 60% hydration?
MG: Lower. It's about 50%. hydration.
CK: Oh, so it's really low. It's really.
MG: It's really quite low, which is crazy when you compare that to some of the I think some of the great pizzerias in the States and other places, including in Italy, of course, are doing really high hydration doughs up to 70 or 80%. That will sit for three or four days. You know because it's a relatively short fermentation between eight and 24 hours. And because it then goes into an oven that's very, very hot, about 500 degrees Celsius up to about 900,000 degrees Fahrenheit, you know you have that characteristic kind of blistered leopard spotted crust called the _____, which rises and has this beautiful volume to have in the middle, you have a very soupy center.
CK: Well, that I was going to say that because when I went there, I was shocked because the first thing I noticed is everyone had a knife and fork
MG: No, no way you're picking up that piece of pizza eating it.
CK: No, No. And then the center was soggy. And it tasted great. But I'm going like, wait a minute, this is like, something's wrong here. And then I realized that that nobody cared that it was soggy in the center. It's just what the deal is, as an Italian chef, or, you know, pizza cook. How would they think about the center being soggy, that's just the style. It's not a fault of any kind.
MG: It's not it is indeed the style. In fact, it is kind of written into the bylaws of the AVPN that that that a Neapolitan pizza should be soft and fragrant. And this is a quote directly from their guidelines book. That is the style, and you learn it and you learn how to turn out dough over and over and over again. And then what this all leads up to at the very end of this course is your final exam is making two pizzas. You make the pizza marinara, and you make the Margarita, and you do this in front of a body of pizza luminaries. Not one of them under the age of 80. Each one of them is you know 80 to 90. So, you're talking 400 years of sort of pizza experience accumulated at this table and I will never get this image out of my head. But here I've done I've padded out my pizza. I've begun to sauce it and you got that move where you take it with your fingertips from a well flowered board onto the pizza peel, peel, right? And as I'm moving, it just gets hot, one little piece in the middle of it gets caught and it tears, that huge hole and there goes my dreams of becoming a pizzaiolo. And I'm, you know, trying not to show how how affected I am by this. But clearly, this was a big moment and one of the oldest guys, in fact, the real capo of this group stood up and said, you know, this guy deserves another chance. And they all kind of nodded in agreement, and I went back to work, and I banged out my last two pizzas, and they're passable.
CK: I assume you still make pizza occasionally at home these days. Have you changed your mind about style that as you're making the same pizza you were taught in class? Or have you moved on
MG: Sometimes I will. I don't have a pizza oven. But I have a really big grill. And I do a version of grilled pizza that I really love. And so, you know, I take some of the things that I learned from there. I have Nguni on the way and when that shows up, I'll probably go back to my old textbooks and dust them off and see if I can't put out a couple of margaritas that don't stick to the board.
CK: Matt, thank you a pleasure. As always, I hope to catch up with you in Italy soon.
MG: Always fun and Chris, thank you for the time.
CK: That was Matt Goulding. His book about Italy is Pasta Pane Vino. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about Milk Street at 177 Milk Street.com. There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe to all live stream cooking classes, free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. You can also learn about our latest cookbook Milk Street Noodles. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and kitchen questions and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.