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Stanley Tucci shares his life through food—on- and off-screen. He takes us behind the scenes of “Big Night” and “Julie & Julia,” reveals why catering on an Italian movie set is surprisingly bad and recounts dining disasters with Meryl Streep. Plus, Dr. Jennifer Mathews uncovers the secret history of chewing gum; Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette reveal the origin of the couch potato; and we whip up plush yogurt flatbreads from Crete.
Questions in this episode:
"I cook for a family of five, but it seems like every recipe I come across makes four servings. So, I end up doubling most recipes. Do you have any tips for determining which recipes will easily double and which will not?"
"About ten years ago, I had this cookie that was more like a truffle. I’ve never had anything like it since. I’m hoping you can help me solve this mystery."
"I was at my local grocery store looking at their case of fresh fish, as well as their frozen fish. I remembered hearing that most fresh fish we buy is frozen at some point and then defrosted. Is there any benefit to buying fresh fish then?"
"My husband loves to end his day with an Old Fashioned. He’s always on the hunt for the best recipe, and since I know Chris is a big fan of an Old Fashioned, I’d like to hear his take."
"I have been using 0000 flour from Argentina (yes, four zeros!), but I want to find a domestic equivalent. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this because it has been very challenging trying to compare international flour grading systems."
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Stanley Tucci is known for bridging food and film. He played Julia Child’s husband Paul in Julia and Julia, and also directed and starred in Big Night, which follows two brothers trying to save their Italian restaurant. His latest venture is a food travel show set in Italy. Today, he tells us about his gustatory adventures on an off the screen. And why Italians don't do takeout.
Stanley Tucci: They don't do that. They cook or they go out. Like, oh, I'll order that pasta in. If you do that, by the time the pasta gets to you, it's gross. You know, Italians are very much about respecting the process of cooking and respecting that it needs to be eaten like when it's cooked.
CK: Also coming up, we whip up olive oil yogurt flatbreads from Crete, and Grant Barnett and Martha Barnette revealed the origin of the couch potato. The first is my interview with anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Matthews, about the ancient history of chewing gum. Jennifer, welcome to milk Street.
Jennifer Matthews: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: Chicle the chewing gum of the Americas. What is chicle?
JM: So chicle is a natural latex that comes from what's known as the chicle sapodilla tree and it is a defensive mechanism of the tree so that if the tree is attacked by insects, or, for example, when chiilato’s, the the collectors of the chicle would cut into it with a machete, it produces this latex as a kind of protection factor. And that is the ingredient that people have used to chew on for 1000s of years. And it is what made chewing gum in the late 19th century and into the mid 20th century.
CK: Yeah, it's really interesting. I mean, I never I kind of knew it was derived from a natural substance, but a natural substance that had been used for millennia by people who are well aware of its benefits long before we figured it out.
JM: Right. Exactly. I mean, we know that the ancient Aztecs use it, the ancient Maya used it. They use it for things like cleaning their teeth for refreshing their breath. They used it to fill in their teeth when they had cavities so, this is something that they recognized it had usefulness, way before any of us did.
CK: Now, you mentioned in your book that the Aztecs also had social connotations around chicle.
JM: Yeah, sure. And again, we have to take this with a grain of salt. This is the way in which the Spanish talk about the Aztecs we have to recognize that it's through that lens. But, you know, the Aztecs did have a lot of social rules about who could do what, and with chewing gum it was only allowed for very old women and very young children to chew chicle in public. If you were a man chewing it in public, you were considered to be homosexual. If you were a female tuning in, in public, you were considered a prostitute. It was actually a marker of prostitution. And they talked about prostitutes walking down on the marketplace, clacking their gum, like castanets.
CK: So was the original gum that was chewed, let's say by the Aztecs just pure chicle. And what would that be like? And or did they flavor it or do something to it?
JM: There was no flavor to it. And it's just kind of a gray rubbery substance. I've actually chewed it straight off of the tree. And it really does taste kind of rubbery. But it's very satisfying to chew it.
CK: So, chicle comes from Mexico to the US. I guess there was a guy called Lopez who wanted to develop chicle as an alternative to rubber. Right? Is that right?
JM: Correct. Yeah, it was the former president of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, and he had been president 11 different times. He's, of course, probably best known in the US for his role in The Battle of the Alamo. But he was, you know, a rather notorious historical figure within Mexico and the Americas. And he had lived his life in exile and many different occasions. And towards the end of his life, he ends up in Staten Island. And he is trying to figure out a way to get himself back into power. And so it was not long after rubber had been vulcanized by a Good Year. And he was trying to find the next rubber and he had chicle as a kid in Veracruz and he was looking for an inventor in the United States, who could try to create something out of it like rubber. And he ends up meeting a guy by the name of Thomas Adams who was an amateur inventor and Adams and his sons spent about a year trying to create rubber out of this and it's just not the right consistency it won't vulcanize the way that rubber does. And so Lopez de Santa Ana returns to Mexico penniless and dies a pauper. And in the meantime, the Addams Family are going crazy because they've spent 1000s of dollars of their own money trying to create this next great invention. And the father Thomas Adams happens to go into a confectionary store. And here's a little girl asking for paraffin wax gum, and it suddenly dawns on him. Well, if you could use paraffin wax, surely you could use chicle. And so, he runs home, and he tells his son, we're going to make chewing gum out of this. And they make these really kind of gray unappealing looking balls with no flavor. And take them back to the the confectionary store, and they sold out immediately. And they realized we have something here. And the rest is history, they ended up becoming one of the great chewing gum kings in the late 19th century.
CK: So, these original gums weren't sweet. And then eventually, Chiclets were invented by the Fleer brothers, but that was the first time they actually put a sweet candy coating around the gum.
JM: Correct. They borrowed the idea from Jordan Almonds, and I, part of the concept was that this would actually allow them to keep the gum longer store it longer, because it would have the protective coating on it. And that became a huge hit. Because it did have a sweeter flavor.
CK: Then by the early 50s, this all changes, right? Because now synthetic alternatives to the the organic, the real thing are invented, right?
JM: Correct because chewing gum becomes so popular that they can't produce enough chiple. And so, the Wrigley Company decides that they're going to look for alternatives that will work. And so they start to produce synthetics.
CK: So how soon does the natural market collapse? I think you said by the 80s 1980s. It was completely gone.
JM: Yeah, it starts to decline in the 60s and 70s. And really by the 80s, other than a very small amount of collecting. It's completely collapsed.
CK: So, given what's going on now, in terms of organics, farm to table, you know, fair trade. Is there any kind of rejuvenation of this trade where people want a natural chewing gum, not a synthetic one?
JM: Absolutely. And there's a number of small companies that are doing boutique chewing gum with chicle-based gum. For example, Glee gum out of Rhode Island is one that that you can find in most places, natural markets, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's etc. often carries it. I've become a big fan of the natural base chewing gum, and I really appreciate it because I recognize that this is what my grandma would have been chewing for example.
CK: Jennifer, thank you. Now I want to go and get some bubble gum. Thanks for joining me.
JM: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
CK: That was Dr. Jennifer Matthews. Her book is Chicle the Chewing Gum of the Americas, from the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley. Now, it's time for my co-host, Sara Moulton, and I to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is the author of Home Cooking 101 also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.Okay, Sara, let's open up the phone lines.
Sara Moulton: I'm ready. Welcome to Milk Street, who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Megan. And I'm from Houston, Texas.
SM: Hi, Megan, how can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I cook for what I consider to be an average sized family of five. And that does include two teenage boys so frequently when I look for new recipes, they all state that they feed four. So, I'm always having to double the recipe. So, do you have any tips or rule of thumb for how to double effectively and how to know if a recipe will double well?
SM: I think most recipes double pretty well not baking recipes, savory recipes. If there are ingredients in there that you know like chilies, you might want to sort of cut back a little bit on that just to make sure that you're not killing the family with too much heat. Mostly you can double Chris, what is your opinion about that?
CK: Well, I mean the two ways to think about this one is which recipes double well and the other way to look at is which recipes are good to be made in bulk right for reuse. So, I mean when I cook, I always double my batch of rice, I double my batch of beans, I double my batch of grains, because all those things can be easily repurposed
SM: and freeze well
CK: If I roast a chicken, I roast two chickens instead of one chicken or grill two chickens instead of one. Taco fillings, for example, are a great way to use leftovers. And so, if I'm going to cook beef or pork for that, I'll do like five pounds instead of two or three pounds, right? Because there's not much more time in an Instant pot or wherever you're going to cook it. Big protein, rice, grains, beans, those are all things which are easily repurposed and easily cooked in double or triple amounts. And you can just use them any way you want. At least you have basic foods that can be seasoned differently with different sauces or accompaniments. So, you don't have to eat the same thing twice. It's one way to think about cooking a lot of things one time.
Caller: Well with an instapot do you think you have to adjust your cooking time when cooking larger batches? Like I have a 12 Quart instapot. When I attack a recipe, I tend to add a couple of minutes. Do you think that's the right choice?
CK: Yeah, if you're going to do five pounds of chicken parts instead of two pounds, normally you might be 20 minutes right in the Instant Pot or something like that. You can add to increase that time, probably to 30 minutes.
Caller: Yeah, well, I'm just trying to figure out I get bored with the same recipe.
SM: Oh, don't we all
Caller: Casserole’s and chili's feed crowds but you get sick of that and want to try something new.
CK: Well, if you beefed up your pantry, you just sort of the Milk Street thing, which is you have some different spices you have, you know, pomegranate molasses, you have gochujang, you have chili sauce, you have these other things. Oyster sauce, that's really the way to take a basic ingredient and about two seconds change the flavor profile. So, if you think of it that way, you can do a stir fry just that different spices, you can do whatever
SM: and get someone else the rest of your family to start cooking. Why don't you have a couple nights where you're off duty and let them do some of the work.
Caller: I'm trying to get there. I'm trying to get there with my children. So
SM: Just go on strike. Just go on strike.
CK: That’s when they come home with a bucket of KFC.
SM: Yeah, oh dear
CK: Thank you very much for calling I hope that’s helpful
SM: We're rooting for you Megan. So, we really are.
Caller: Okay. thank you.
CK: Take care.
SM: Bye. You know, cooking dinner every night will really kill it for you. You know, just having to get dinner on the table. You know, after you've worked a long day. It's just it's a shame.
CK: Well, I think it's interesting that quote, unquote, in the old days, leftovers, I mean, were critical to all of this, right? I mean, nobody threw anything out. And today it’s like, almost every night you have to
SM: reinvent the wheel.
CK: Yeah, that's insane. Yeah, I mean, that's just as who can do that seven nights a week.
SM: Yeah, I agree. Alright, moving on. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Catherine.
SM: Hi, Catherine. Where are you calling from?
Caller: Columbus, Ohio.
SM: What is your question?
Caller: All right. So about 10 years ago, I had this amazing, quote unquote, cookie, it was more like a truffle. And I have never been able to find a recipe or a cookie that does it any justice. So I was hoping you guys could solve the mystery for me.
SM: Can you give me a few more details who gave you what was the texture?
Caller: A boss of mine brought it in and his neighbor made it she moved away that very day. I know she was from Israel. It was a very melt in your mouth kind of chocolate truffle. It had some kind of boozy cherry in it. There was some coconut. It had a bit of like a almost a graham cracker crumble inside. Really interesting. And it was a kind of like dusted and cocoa powder all over.
SM: Huh well, that sounds like there is an Israeli cookie that is actually not a cookie. It's not baked. You take a basic butter cookie, and you grind it up. And then you combine it with melted butter and cocoa, and sugar and dairy and some sort of flavoring. It could be boozy. It could be like it sounds like maybe that you had some cherry liquor and yours. And then you roll it into balls. Was it round? Or was it flattened? was like a truffle you said
Caller: Kind of in between Yeah. Uh huh.
SM: And then you roll it into, it could be chopped candy. It could be you said cocoa it was on the outside of it too. Or it could be like crushed chocolate candy or caramel. Does that sound like what it might have been?
Caller: It could have been yeah; it definitely had all the facets that you described just to have a name?
CK: Yeah, I can't pronounce it something like Kaduri Shoko Lad
SM: does that ring any bells?
Caller: It does not, I have not come across that out. So I will check that out.
SM: It would be a fun thing to say to do with kids, little kids because you need to make the mixture you don't use the oven. You have to melt the butter, but you could even do that in the microwave. (Right) Easy to mix and roll and then customize. But at any rate, Chris, do you have any thoughts about this?
CK: I've never heard of this. I've never made it. The thing I like about it is the combination of the dairy, the ground up biscuit, you know, which is kind of cool the melted butter, the coconut. It's really, really an interesting combination. I think we need to go into the kitchen and make these immediately,
Caller: Oh, yes that would be great.
CK: Thanks for mentioning it. Yeah that’s a new one on me.
Caller: Well, that's awesome. Great.
CK: Catherine. Thank you.
SM: Thank you.
Caller: Thank you so much. All right, take care. Bye
SM: Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio, looking for culinary inspiration. Well just give us a ring anytime. Our number is 855-426-984 one more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Brian from New York.
SM: Hi, Brian, how can we help you today?
Caller: I was shopping for fish last week in my local Whole Foods. And I was looking at their large display of ostensibly fresh fish that’s laid out over ice. And then next to it, I noticed a freezer full of frozen fish and frozen seafood. And I remember hearing some statistic years ago that something like 90 something percent of the fish that you see in a retail environment is actually frozen at some point prior to arriving and then defrosted and presented as fresh. And I was just thinking like, does it make sense to buy fresh fish? Or is the frozen? Is it better to buy frozen fish? I don't know.
SM: Well, you bring up a very important point. A lot of fishes actually flash frozen at sea. And in that sense, you know, then it's pretty darn fresh because it's flash frozen right away. But you don't really know is the problem and 85% of all fish that we get has been imported. So, it probably has been frozen. Certainly, with the fresh you can smell it and look at it. It shouldn't really smell like anything. I don't know I'm sure Chris has an opinion here.
CK: I’m brimming with opinions.
SM: I know. I can see.
CK: Never buy your fish in a supermarket. Please. I've never had a good experience with that. I think that's dicey to the only test that makes any difference, I think forget about the smell because they can spray it with stuff. And yeah, you can look and see if you know the fish sitting in a pool of water. That's not a good thing to see.
SM: It should be on ice
CK: Yeah, you need to, if you can, stick your index finger into it and see what happens. The fish bounces back. You know, like a layer cake that's perfectly baked fine. But if there's a depression there, that means it's not fresh. And that's the only test. I think that really is helpful.
SM: I don't think all supermarkets are the same. I mean, there's some other very high-end good supermarkets.
CK: Yeah, if you go to Whole Foods and you have a good experience with the fish, fine. Let me just ask you've had good experience at Whole Foods?
Caller: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think their fish is really good quality indicates sort of where it comes from and stuff like that.
CK: Yeah. Well, okay. Well, I just want to point out Sara just stuck her tongue out of me. So. Radio is not a visual medium. Thank you. So, I want to point that out,
SM: Okay, thank you, Brian. You just gave me one thank you
CK: Brian take care. Bye. Thank you.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. up next I'm chatting with Stanley Tucci. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio, I'm your host Christopher Kimball.
Movie clip: Risotto costs us a lot. And it takes you a long time to make. I mean, you have to work so hard to make, you know. And then we have to charge more. So, I think take it away. Maybe instead we're good to put Yes. Well yeah, I was thinking what do they call it? you know is a casa de Makati now is a hot dog. HOT DOG HOT DOG hot dogs. I think people would like that.
CK: That was a clip from the movie Big Night. Stanley Tucci his character Secondo was trying to cut down on costs at his failing restaurant, while his brother Primo wants to maintain the integrity of their authentic menu. In his new memoir Taste, Tucci reveals he was inspired to write the movie to show how food is often used to express emotion. Stanley, welcome to Milk Street.
Stanley Tucci: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
CK: In Big Night, one of my favorite movies, the last scene, which is now iconic, your character is making eggs in the morning for his brother, and also the busboy in the restaurant. So, the big dinner did not go as planned. And there's a lot of tension in the room. So, here's this scene, it's five minutes long. And it's almost completely silent. I just watched it again yesterday, tears came to my eyes. And I think because you perfectly represented why I love cooking, and why I got into this business. But since you co-wrote the film and starred in it, maybe you could talk about that scene from a food point of view and what it means to you.
ST: (Um) yeah, so when we wrote the scene, it was just sort of test in a way to see if, if you've come to know characters well, throughout a film, we should be able at the end, to know them so well that we don't even have to hear them talk. To tell a story, you can tell a story 1000 ways you can tell it with words, you can tell it with movement, you can tell it with a look. And that is sort of the beauty of cinema is that you know that those images tell us so much and the space around people and the way people move through a space is as important as as the words.
CK: On the other hand, since I'm a food guy, I'm watching to make this thing. And I'm going like, gee, that looks like a burners really on high and it's an aluminum pan, those eggs are going to stick. So, when you flipped it, which by the way was masterful. How come the eggs didn't stick?
ST: The first pan I used wasn't working and it was sticking, and I was panicked. You know because you couldn't it was a period film, right? So, you couldn't have a nonstick pan or something. So, I just happened to grab that pan and give it a try. And it worked. There was quite a bit of oil in there. But also, the harder that is, the less it's going to stick.
CK: See, I watch Big Night and I learn how to cook. So, you grew up in upstate New York and Katonah, but both of your parents had families that had deep roots in southern Italy.
ST: Yes, yes. Yes, exactly.
CK: So, I think it was your grandmother Concetta who came over when she was three years old. And you write about her sub-basement kitchen in your book.
ST: Yeah, it was really, yeah, it was great. It was just you know, it's just this great basement where there was a workshop and there was a stove down there. And that's where my grandfather made wine. And that's where they stored, you know, whatever they canned or bottled that year. And that's where she did a lot of extra cooking.
CK: From what I can tell from your book, you absolutely have strong opinions about Italian food. So so let's talk about garlic. So, like I've been on this crusade, you can tell how excited my life is this is my crusade. I'm just totally against mincing it or mashing garlic. Like you slice it, maybe smash a clove put in the olive oil, take it
ST: Absolutely like they do. In certain dishes, you can do that like in our Raghu one of the only times it calls for sort of like a minced garlic or if we make a bread crumb mixture with parsley, a little bit of garlic. And you're going to put that over over like a bluefish or in in mushrooms. There you do it, but you have to you have to make sure that it isn't too much, it has to be the right amount otherwise, and this is a line at the very beginning of big night where the brother’s chopping garlic
Movie clip: Not to fine. Sometimes you cut it too fine you taste the garlic
CK: You're you're a big fan of getting combinations, right. Like you're keen on which pasta shape to use with the Ragu for example. I think your quote in the book was the combination of star pasta and me Ragu is heresy.
ST: Yeah, I think it's respectful to tradition. And also, those rules are there because things taste better that way.
CK: And then you will say never put a meatball in the pasta bowl.
ST: Yes, that was the way I was brought up. You just didn't do it. You ate the sauce with the pasta. And then you had the meatballs separately.
CK: So that's also in the first scene of Big Night, right?
CK: Your character is waiting on diners that don't understand why the spaghetti and the meatballs come separately?
Movie clip: Oh, it’s on the side of spaghetti that’s all, And I’ll eat your meatballs. I’ll have meatballs. Well, the spaghetti comes without meatballs. There are no meatballs with the spaghetti? No, sometimes spaghetti likes to be alone.
CK: So, with your new show, Searching for Italy, was there something new or different. You wanted to explain or show about Italian cooking?
ST: I wanted it to really first of all, to separate Italy region by region. Now that has been done, but on a smaller scale.
And I wanted to make sure that we were telling stories that were historical, that addressed contemporary social and political issues. But everything was done through the prism of food in order to show the, as much as you can. What's the genesis of that cuisine in any given region? And where is it now? And what's it connected to?
CK: Going back to the movie world for a moment in Julia and Julia, you played Paul Child. I knew him a little bit in his later years. He was a very, very quiet guy by that time, because Julio obviously was such a superstar and yeah, but but I gather, based upon reading a little bit about him and your role. He was quite an impressive person in his own right.
ST: Yeah, he was. It was quite interesting. I mean, he was he was a he was kind of a renaissance man. He was a photographer. He was a painter. He was an expert in in judo, he was the cultural and diplomatic liaison. He was a real gourmand, and you know that was probably maybe like the most perfect marriage ever.
Movie clip: So, there we were in China just friends having dinner and and it turned out to be Julia. It turned out to be Julia all along. Julia, you are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life. I love you, darling girl.
CK: Before you started production, you called Meryl and said let's we need to cook together. Was that just for fun? Or you thought that was helpful training for the movie?
ST: It was just helpful. I mean, I think just doing some activity that is akin to what you're going to be doing in the film or whatever it is, it can be very helpful. And she agreed and we cooked from Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and we cooked from head-to-toe Meryl made a tarte tartan and I tried to make some sort of some artichoke thing but I kind of messed it up. It wasn't very good.
CK: So, I think it was at a lunch while you were doing a press tour in France, dining with Meryl Streep. And you all decided to order the andouillette sausage, right? (Yep) Could you just talk about that? Why that did not work out.
ST: So, well. Well, it didn't work out because disgusting. And I don't know if you've ever, have you ever had it?
CK: Nope never had it
ST: Okay. Well don't. And I know there are people who probably listen to this going. He's a Philistine, you know, but I'm sorry. So, it's called andouillette and it's it's this huge sausage that is stuffed with entrails. So, it's entrails wrapped around entrails, including even the colon. So that's gross. And, uh, to us, it was horrifying.Because we both thought, and we said it out loud. We both thought. Oh, and we had well, I love Andouille sausages. So, this must be like a small version of that, right? And then later, when we weren't eating it, and the owner came over and said, how was everything you know? And we went, oh, well, you know, it's slow. It's not it's really, it's really good. It's just not what we expected. Or, you know, as I wrote the book, you know, it's just so different from others we've had which is completely It's all lies, you know, and, and he goes, yes. Would you like somebody else?
CK: You said, which surprised me that the lunches on if you're doing a movie in Italy, are just as bad as they are in the States or maybe not that bad, but pretty close. So, I was I was shocked. I thought in Italy, you would actually get decent food on set
ST: No, not really. No, because mostly everybody goes out to eat, you know, Italians don’t do takeout.
CK: That's good point.
ST: They don't do that. They cook, or they go out, like, oh, I'll order that pasta. In addition to that, by the time the pasta gets to you, it's gross. You know, Italians are very much about respecting the process of cooking and respecting that it needs to be eaten like when it's cooked.
CK: A lot of things about making a movie are not very appealing, right? The bad food in the trailer, the hours being away from home, etc. So, you love acting, right? What's what's the love part of it, that just makes it so appealing. You wouldn't want to do anything else.
ST: It's fun when you're actually doing it. It's really fun when you're acting with somebody that you admire or meeting somebody new and you're working with a wonderful director, meeting a great crew. There's this wonderful sort of conviviality, and it's quite exciting.
CK: You quoted Rilke, In Letters to a Young Poet, you said that he gives advice to a soldier who aspires to be a poet. And Rilke’s advice is paraphrasing, only if he feels that he would die. were you unable to write should he be a poet. Does that obviously have some resonance in terms of what's important to you?
ST: Yeah, because I, I felt that as an actor, and I really, when I was younger, I really felt like if I couldn't do this anymore, I would cease to exist. And I still feel that to a certain extent, but food has taken over a big part of my life. And there is no question that were I not able to eat, we're not able to cook and spend time with people, you know, through food. That I would. I wouldn't, I wouldn't want to be around necessarily.
CK: Stanley, it's been a pleasure and an honor. Thank you so much for being on Milk Street
ST: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. It's been really fun.
CK: That was Stanley Tucci. His book is Taste, My Life Through Food. You know, food and cinema are often described as art. Tucci deconstructs the famous breakfast scene in Big Night from a filmmaker’s point of view, using the diminishing distance between characters to signal a resolution of conflict. And in the kitchen chefs use compelling combinations of taste and texture to demonstrate how opposites attract. Whether food or cinema it's more craft than art, more practice than Muse more school of hard knocks, then maybe a PhD, Stanley Tucci and Julia Child may have been blessed by the muse, but only after they had really earned it. You're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with J.M. Hersh about this week's recipe. Yogurt and olive oil flatbreads. J.M. how are you?
JM Hirsh: I am great.
CK: So flat breads. I mean, there's a million flat breads out there. Many regions of the world have a whole bunch of different types. This is one you came across in Crete recently, which is actually a little bit different, it uses yogurt and olive oil.
JM: Yeah, you know, we've had flat breads all over the world, as you say. But this one I was really impressed with. You know, I was in Crete working with a chef Mariana ____who grew up in Crete. She works in London now, but she was kind of taking me on a tour of all like the culinary highs of the island. And this flatbread was absolutely one of them. We're in this kind of mountaintop little village and we were working with a local chef, and he was showing off all his stews, and Marianna was making her version of souvlaki which is a pork dish that is just outrageously good. Well, we needed something to sop all that up with and eat it and so she decided to bang out her yogurt and olive oil flatbreads, and because of that yogurt in it, it created such a tender, moist crumb to the flat breads and they came together so easily I couldn't believe it.
CK: So, some flat breads have no leavening some have chemical leavening some have yeast. This is a yeasted flatbread?
JM: It's a yeasted flatbread, but boy, it takes no time at all, you know, she whipped up this dough in a matter of minutes, threw a towel over it, set it aside while we did a bunch of other stuff and I think like 20 minutes later or so we came back to it. It was nice and doubled. rolled it out. We cooked it over hot coals outside and gosh it was so good
CK: So, for those of us who don't have the hot coals outside that you could just throw it in a cast iron skillet, right?
JM: I mean if you must, yeah, you can do it in a skillet. And then of course, you know, you finish it off with a bit of olive oil and some za’atar and we'd like to throw some ground sumac and oregano. The Cretins love their dried oregano, they use it on everything. Throw that on top and frankly, as much as I loved her souvlaki
I didn't need anything else to go on this bread. I just ate it by itself.
CK: I've made her souvlaki which is a deconstructed souvlaki right it's
JM: Yeah, you know, it goes back to when she was a kid and her mom while taking her shopping would then take her out for souvlaki and the souvlaki is served in a flatbread, you know with all sorts of toppings and stuff on it. Well, it would drive her mother nuts, but she would sit there and deconstruct for souvlaki taking it apart on her plate you know and eating just one piece the salad part of it and you know the yogurt part and the meat part and the bread part all on their own. And today the way she makes souvlaki is in this kind of deconstructed way that she liked as a child, so she doesn't have to take it apart anymore.
CK: JM thank you a particularly rich, soft and flavorful, flat breads made with yogurt and olive oil. Thank you
JM: You can get this recipe for yogurt and olive oil flatbreads at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette explain the origins of the term couch potato we'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to Milk Street Radio right now. Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Mallory from Red Oak, Texas.
SM How can we help you today?
Caller: My husband likes to end his day with an old fashion. And he's kind of always on the hunt for the best recipe. And I know Chris has previously mentioned that he also likes to enjoy an old fashion in the evening. And we were just kind of wondering what your favorite recipe is.
CK: You came to the right place. First of all, I'm really persnickety about everything but about this, like it has to be done just right. So, here's the recipe, an ounce of bourbon, an ounce and a half of rye, it's really important to mix bourbon or rye. Rye as you know, spicy on it offsets the sweetness, so that's really good. I use a dash of Angostura. And then I use a dash of something else orange bitters have actually tried chocolate bitters, which is great cardamom. Add another flavor. The other thing is dashes depends on the bottle. You know, some dashes are not the same as others. So, you have to kind of figure that out on your own. I take a Boston shaker I take the small cup, I put one cube of pure cane sugar or demerara sugar in it not white sugar. I put the dashes of the bitters in that I had a just a splash of water like no more than a tablespoon and I muddle it, right. (Okay) in the big shaker. I use very large ice cubes because if you use the ones that come out of your freezer drawer there, they'll just melt too fast. So that's important. Okay, add the liquor. Then put the bust and shaker together. You don't want to shake it too much like you would with a normal drink that you shake. I'd say 10 to 15 shakes, pop it open and strain it into a double old fashion glass. I like to use medium cubes. Now, you know, I like to use medium glass. I don't want it to melt. I mean, I watch people drink and after half an hour's it’s just water. I think a cocktail should be consumed fairly quickly. You know no more than 10 minutes because after that, things start to go south. The last thing I'll mention is I think it's important to slightly dilute it because over 85% proof, you only taste the alcohol, you can't taste the other flavors. A bartender once told me that so a little bit of dilution is helpful to really experience all the flavors in the drink. And also, I like it really cold. (Okay) don't put in those super sweet, nasty cherries. No fruit, please. No fruit at all.
CK: A little orange peel if you like but don't get me a slice of orange.
SM: But Chris, I'm intrigued by your size of ice cubes. Where do you find the ice cube trays for these different sizes of ice cubes? I thought it was one size fits all here.
CK: Oh, no, no, no, Sara, there's a jillion choices out there. You can get round ice cubes and big ice cubes. I use two sizes. I use medium size and large size large size for the shaking or stirring and the medium size for the glass.
Caller: What bourbon or rye. Is there a specific one that you use or
CK: Of course, there is. High West makes a double rye, which I love. There's a bunch of bourbons. I like Buffalo Trace is pretty good. There's the the one that comes in that very long tall neck bottle begins with the W
Caller: Is it Weller (Yes) yeah, okay.
CK: You got more than you bargained for.
Caller: No, this was awesome.
CK: Well, you know, we'd like to know if the two of you like, I hope you like the recipe.
SM: Yeah, let Chris know.
CK: Let me know.
Caller: We will let you know. Thank you so much.
CK: Take care.
Caller: You too. Bye. Bye.
CK: This is Milk Street radio. If you have a kitchen mystery that needs solving, please give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Anthony. I'm calling from Atlanta, Georgia.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: I am calling because I have a question about flour. I use a flour from Argentina that I can get here locally. And I want to try to find a domestic equivalent to it. And it's been very difficult because there's not a lot of research that I can find to acquaint them because they're all different grading systems. But it is a four zero flour.
CK: I thought that that had something to do with the protein content in the flour. And I was told it’s just a matter of how refined the flour is, right? So, my understanding in Italian terms with zeros is that like a double zero Italian flour. It's just a highly refined flour. It's very, very sifted, it's very fine. And they use that for pasta making.
Caller: I kind of discovered that the number of zeros at least, the grading system that they're using in Argentina is not really related to that Italian grading system. There's somewhat overlapping in terms of the fineness I think like you're saying, but I did discover that it's more like a pastry flour in terms of protein content, like maybe 9-ish give or take. And then I also found out that the flour is probably from some blogs and forums, I read that it's probably coming out a much lower extractions. So, it's the very purist part of the endosperm you know, mostly starts. So that's kind of where I fell in the market of you know, pastry flour, but I was wondering if all purpose would have been fine too. And you know, just couldn't quite make a good match so.
CK: What are you using the flour for?
Caller: Well, my girlfriend, she's from Argentina. And she makes up the Alfajores which are a pastry that are so delicious. a sandwich cookie that are a dulce de leche so subtle that cherry and the cookies that she makes uses that flour,
CK: You know what a King Arthur Flour is going to be close to 12% all-purpose gluten protein, Gold Medal etc. is going to be 10 to 11 It's a little lower. I would think for a cookie, you could get away with just an all like a Gold Medal Pillsbury flour, 10 and a half percent. That's not like you're trying to do a cake or something. You know, like a Southern white cake. I mean, you could buy pastry flour, and give that a shot. But I think for a cookie even that a very delicate cookie, I think a low protein all-purpose flour would be fine. I mean, Sara what do you think?
SM: Yeah, I sort of agree. I mean, but I was going ask you, there you are in Georgia. Are you familiar with the White Lily flour? (Right) that has a lower protein content might even be around 9%. So that might
Caller: That might be a good option
CK: Yeah, that's a good point. We'd be glad to do a taste test. Oh, absolutely. Your taste testers. yeah
Caller: She would be happy to send them to you. And I'm happy to do the work. I am a food scientist and I do product development for a bakery company here in Georgia. And so I've got all the tools at my disposal. (Wow) I was going to say I tried to do as much research as I had available to me within my working space, but I really just wanted to reach out to you guys to get some other perspective because I know you guys have your headspace in a lot of different bakeries and cooking parts of the world
CK: Yeah, it's just the the problem is flours from different places. You know, it's hard to know because all the wheats are different anyway send us three cookies. Okay, one for each test or six
SM: Yeah, please, Anthony. We can't wait when Sara.
CK: Yes. All right.
SM: Take care. Oh, good. All right. Thanks, Anthony. Bye bye
CK: Next up, it's Grant Barret and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. Grant and Martha, what's going on this week?
Martha Barnette: Chris, this week we have potatoes on our mind
Grant Barrett: We’re doing the mash.
MB: You know what's interesting about the potato is that the potato early on had a bit of an identity problem. You know, it wasn't introduced into Europe until the mid 1500s by Spaniards who'd been traveling in Latin America and the Caribbean. And the Spanish had picked up this word that sounded like patata or batata that originated apparently with the Taino people in what is now Haiti. And the English picked this word up as potato, but they initially applied the word potato to the tuber that we know as the sweet potato. So, it's gone through some different permutations over the centuries.
GB: Yes, and in Spanish still, there's some differentiation where you might find in some Spanish speaking countries depending on the dialect, but batata with the B is still often the sweet potato and Papa or patata is the other kind of potato and of course, there are many varieties. But Papa the pa pa is actually from Quechua, the language was still widely spoken in South America.
CK: In Portuguese in Macau, isn't there a sweet potato pudding called batata?
GB: There may very well be and I would not be surprised because the words spread throughout the world. You know, when this particular foodstuff was first introduced, everybody immediately recognized its value. And the word or some modifications of it tended to travel with it. Although there's a strange thing that happened in Europe, where instead of taking the Spanish word that the Spanish had picked up in the Caribbean, they all decided on some form of Earth Apple, you probably know that the French call it the pomme de terre. But the French weren't the only one, the Dutch and of course Afrikaans.
CK: So, wait, wait, wait, where did the earth apple? Where did that concept come from?
MB: Ah, well, Chris it’s a great example of how often in language if we see something that we've never seen before we reach for something familiar to name it, I always like to mention the word porpoise which comes from the Latin porculus which means pig fish, literally, you know, you don't, you don't know what that particular animal is in the water that that looks sort of like a pig and sort of like a fish. And that's what happened with the potato. The expression pomme de terre in French comes from the Latin pomme, which means fruit and later it meant specifically apple. And there are even German versions of this eerdapple, which means earth apple,
GB: Germans did a weird thing. So, the eerdapple that Martha brought up is the old word for it, and it's still in some dialect use now, today, in German, they use Kartoffel, which strangely comes from the Italian word truffle, truffle, this is the fungae, you know. And that's because they both grow in the ground, and some Danish and Norwegian and Russian and Polish and Romanian, and Icelandic all have a form of this word from the Italian word kartoffelo which itself comes from Latin words meaning tuber, of course, the English speakers in the United Kingdom and in North America had no problem with potatoes, which is why there are slang words and expressions just littered in the language things like your potato trap is your mouth and your potato bag is your stomach. And you might say get your potato grabbers off my food, meaning get your hands off my food. In professional wrestling if you potato someone it means you accidentally hurt them. Yeah, and then in the internet, even there's potato quality, which you talk about with really bad images, stuff that's shared so much that it's really jagged and pixelated. The joke is that the image is so bad it looks like it was taken with a potato instead of a camera. And Martha we just passed a couple years ago an anniversary of couch potato right?
MB: We did. It's been in the English language for 40 years now. It showed up in print originally in 1978. As far as we can tell, although it's probably older of course it's it's kind of self-explanatory. You know, you're just sitting on the couch immobile as a potato
CK: That one, I get that.
MB: You got that one.
GB: You know, we think Chris that you're a little bit of a big potato yourself. Have you ever heard anyone called the big potato?
CK: Big Cheese but not a big potato, what's the big potato?
GB: It's a big cheese. Actually, if you're a big potato, you're no small potatoes.
MB: Right, there's a story about a farmer who saved himself the trouble and expense of hand sorting his potatoes by loading them all into a wagon and then he takes the long rough road into town and what happens is the little potatoes as you can imagine sift to the bottom and the biggest one’s shake out on top. So the expression when the going is tough, the big potatoes rise to the top is an illustration of rising to the occasion.
GB: And one last thing before we go you know, we don't have this in United States, but I think we should the British, and people in Chile and Spain call holes in socks or hose like pantyhose a potato.
GB: un agujero en los calcetines in Chile. You think about a round heel or a knee showing through a hole, it kind of looks like a potato sticking out.
CK: That's weird.
GB: You don't have a potato in your socks?
MB: Chris, clearly, you'd never wore pantyhose in junior high because I had plenty of potatoes coming out of my socks.
CK: True. I did not. I’ve led a sheltered life. Grant and Martha Thank you. I'm going to go fry some earth apples, and I'll let you know how it turns out.
MB: It sounds good.
GB: You’re the big potato Chris. Thanks for having us on.
MB: Thanks Chris
GB: Take care. Bye.
CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. That's it for this week's show. If you tune in too late or want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street com there you can find all of our recipes. Take a free online cooking class and order our latest cookbook Milk Street Vegetables. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison. Producers Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky, production assistant, Amelia McGuire, and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe additional music by George Brandl Egloff Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX