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Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis tells us about the importance of moderation, her hatred of cauliflower rice, and her initial reluctance to go on TV. Plus, we hear about how a beer archeologist revives ales from antiquity, discover how a wine opener can be a symbol of your mortality and learn to make a recipe for the Venetian dish of rice and peas known as risi e bisi.
Questions in this Episode:
”My husband recently bought an outdoor pizza oven. As a result, our family has been eating a lot of pizza for dinner. Do you have any suggestions for gourmet or unique pizza recipes? What about any good pizza cookbooks?“
“I am an orchestra conductor and just finished my doctoral degree, writing a dissertation about a Suite assembled by Gustav Mahler. In one of the major biographies of Mahler, they give a recipe for his favorite dessert: Marillenknödel, Austrian apricot dumplings. I'd love to get some help with the recipe.”
“I make a tonic from ground ginger root starting with about 2 pounds of ginger root. When I get done with the ginger tonic, I have a cup or two of finely ground ginger root. Do you have any good ideas of what to do with the ground ginger root that I assume is much less flavorful than before I blended and extracted some of its spicy ginger-ness?”
CK: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Giada de Laurentiis has been a staple of the Food Network for nearly 20 years. Starting with Everyday Italian and now with the Emmy winning Giana Entertains her new book Eat Better Feel Better, is a guide to eating simpler and healthier without a recipe for cauliflower rice.
Giada de Laurentiis: Everybody says to me, well, why don't you have cauliflower rice in your cookbook like, because I hate it. I don't like cauliflower rice, ok, leave me alone
CK: Also coming up, Adam Gopnik tells us how a wine opener his son bought him reminded him he's not aging as well as his wine. But first it’s my interview with Travis Rupp. He's a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Colorado Boulder, and also a beer archaeologist. Instead of bones Travis excavates, ancient beers and then recreates them. He spearheaded an ales of antiquity beer series for Avery Brewing Company, which included brews from ancient Egypt and the Revolutionary War. Travis, welcome to Milk Street.
Travis Rupp: Thank you, Chris. Pleasure to be here,
CK: I'm going to use your own words against you at the beginning quote, “I was starting to get really frustrated because almost everyone starts in the 12th century with Belgian breweries, even though we know that history of beer dates way farther back”. So, you're a beer nerd. I mean, you're you take this history seriously.
TR: Yes, I do. I certainly do. I, you know, kind of ventured into the topic, the exploration almost a decade ago. And I don't know, there were just a lot of stones that hadn't been turned, especially when you get back further than the monastic tradition. And so, for me to get started, I typically do a lot of on the groundwork, visiting archaeological sites looking at ancient artifacts. And we're often looking for very specific markers that indicate that beer was being produced.
CK: Could you take an example of one particular beer now you worked with Avery Brewing Company to do ales of antiquity (Yes) So pick one of those beers (sure) and try to trace it back to what was the process by which it got you to something in a bottle?
TR: Sure. So yeah, I did reconstruct this beer from ancient Mycenaean culture dating to approximately 1350 BCE or so. First off, what set me on the path was there was a lot, as is the case with a lot of academics, you know, somebody will make an assertion, six, seven decades ago, and it just sticks. And one of the statements that I found very odd was that Greeks did not produce beer, that they only ever consumed wine, and mead. And I found that to be a hard pill to swallow simply because beer evidence exists in every culture that surrounds them. So, I went there, and on a plane, literally flying from Turkey to Athens, I was reading some excavation reports from the 1960s of a location called Akrotiri and lo and behold, right in the record, the early archaeologist who found the location had referenced, finding these vessels that had what he called a perfectly ground flour and I was like, oh, my God, this is this is spent grain leftover from the brewing process. And from there it it kind of goes into trying to figure out the process. And the process of recreating a beer is usually the most difficult part of it.
CK: You say that you're working on a project in Stockholm, looking to revive a strain of yeast from a shipwreck (yes) so how, you know, this is like the the dinosaur movie, how do you revive a strain of yeast from a shipwreck?
TR: So yeah, so how we revive it. Yeast can lay dormant for a really, really long period of time. And so, the idea would be to extract these vessels, we actually know that on the shipwreck that I've been exploring in Stockholm, there were something like 150 180 casks that were on board when it sank. And when all that material is brought back up, it's still contained the remnants of the beer inside. And so, we can actually scientifically analyze and actually extract that material from the vessel. Now it's it's a hit or miss really, because we got to hope that the yeast cells are still viable enough to actually reproduce. And then we can apply the conditions of brewing on top of them where they can consume the sugars that obviously they convert to alcohol.
CK: Okay, so you developed a bunch of these beers. Nester’s cup what great names Nursia, Beersheba, yeah. And Benedictus how would you compare them to what people drink today were they similar or not?
TR: Some of the styles are still being produced. For example, the Viking ale was based on an ancient style called a sahti and sahti’s are still produced today in Finland and Sweden. George Washington Porter, of course, porter is still a very common style but one thing that's really an interesting detail of beer produced from the 15th 16th century all the way to the 19th century is it was produced an oak, you know, it was fermented and oak and stored in oak. And so that's where you get some of the overlap in modern beer production today is like barrel aged porters, the IPA I did, we recreated a version of the original IPA we did a 18th century India Pale Ale. Didn't taste anything like IPAs do today
CK: Yeah, I was going to ask you that because you wanted to go discover its origins. And so, what was it like compared to an IPA today?
TR: Yeah, so that project was by far the most difficult one I've done. And a lot of people are surprised when I say that, because you know, you would think a an Egyptian beer from 1800 BCE would be the most difficult, right? But it wasn't it the reason why the IPA was so hard was not finding the recipe. The recipe was well recorded, but it was recreating the process because a to brew a beer that was using water that had the same chemistry as the Thames. So, I had to replicate the water chemistry
CK: That must have added a lot of extra flavor there.
TR: Oh, it did. Yeah. I mean, there was a lot of, you know, you had a lot more calcium and sulfates in the waters. But also, that beer was dry hopped, and they sailed it to India so, I had to recreate that process. And we did it but it involved a lot of fluctuations in temperature. And we had to oscillate and shake the barrels to mimic water transport
CK: Couldn’t you just put in a truck and drive it down to Buenos Aires and back. I mean, wouldn't you get there?
TR: Yeah, that's what we should have done. We actually rolled them around the brewery. I mean, each one of those barrels weighs 600 pounds, we're rolling them around on the ground, fluctuated the temperature between 40 and about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just that's just a nightmare in terms of brewing. I mean, that's exactly what you don't do to beer. But we did all those things to it, because that's what what happened to it on its journey. And it was surprisingly quite palatable when it was done. It was really good. And it was nothing like a modern IPA.
CK: Producing some of these beers like the chicha had unintended consequences. You write that chicha calls for chewed corn partially fermented in spit. (Yes). So how did that go over at the brewery?
TR: Yeah, I'd get all of my colleagues together on the brew deck one day, and we're just chewing corn like crazy, and spitting it into a vat for fermentation. We were going to mash it and boil it, so it wasn't dangerous to the public. But what I did not anticipate was that modern brewing equipment is simply not built to process corn. And so, everything was going great, everything was fine. And then it turned into polenta in the tank. And nothing came out not a drop of liquid.
CK: So now I have to ask the obvious question. What civilization produced the best beer? I mean, you you've tasted a lot of them, which was the one you thought was the best?
TR: Yes, for me, of all of the all of the ills of antiquity I recreated my favorite was George Washington Porter. And I would probably say the ancient Egyptian beer. The Khonsu Im-Heb, which I named after a brewer, who we know by name is his tomb was found in the Valley of the Kings, there was a nice light sour ale and I can see why people would want to be paid and that after hours and hours and hours working on a pyramid or you know, kind of that getting your hands dirty blue collar labor, and what it is you want to drink at the end of the day.
CK: So, you travel around, you're an archaeologist, you try to understand how people made beer or come up with recipes. But what has it told you about those civilizations?
TR: Oh, I mean, one thing that has bothered me a lot. And a lot of the scholarship is this idea that ancient peoples did not care about flavor. And I think that is just a completely obtuse statement because it's very clear that flavor was key to them, that they chose their ingredients very meticulously. I think we often sit, you know, on our little pedestal in the modern era thinking that because we can develop such fine cuisine, and it is an art that it couldn't have been an art back then. And I just don't think that's true. And I also love it as a historian in general, because it's so much fun to recount history through the lens of beer. It creates kind of a tangibility to history that I don't think you can necessarily get from just doing lectures on mosaics or something like that.
CK: Travis, thank you so much for joining us.
TR: Oh, absolutely Chris.
CK: That was Travis Rupp. He's a beer archaeologist and a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Colorado Boulder. Now it's time for my co-host Sara Moulton and I to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101, also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: Okay, so Chris, I have a question for you before we get started, what is your splurge? What would you spend money on in an ingredient?
CK: I'd hire a cook. I don’t know
SM: okay but no I like the way you talk hire a cook
CK: You know, one of my favorite books was the old Rex Stout Nero Wolfe mysteries.
SM: Yes, those were great
CK: I loved those and the thing I loved was Nero Wolfe was a gromand, I guess you'd have to say, yes. And he had his chef right in the townhouse on the East 30s in New York. And he would go around and get the pheasants from this place, and something else in that place and the very best chickens. And he would spend hours talking the chef about the menu and the whole thing. I mean, that's obviously a ridiculous lifestyle that nobody lives anymore. But the notion of having that much time and attention spent on the ingredients in the food, in an abstract sense, does appeal to me, right, because you could really get the experience you want with food. My reality is so far from that, that you know when I daydream, I sort of daydream about Nero Wolf and his cook. That would be my splurge, but it's not something I will be able to do.
SM: Well, you’ve got to dream. All right. Let's take some calls. Welcome to Milk Street, who’s calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Michelle Brophy from Cleveland, Ohio.
SM: Hi, Michelle, how can we help you today?
Caller: My husband has been really making pizza’s a great deal over the last couple of years. And he started out with a pizza stone. And then most recently, he's actually invested in an outdoor pizza oven that's making pizzas like every 10 minutes. And so, I was just wondering if you guys had any really good ideas on, you know, some different types of toppings. Do you have any good suggestions and any good books to read on pizza?
SM: There's a couple of good books. There's one by Marc Vetri called Mastering Pizza. And then there's one by Chris Bianco, the book is called Bianco. And those are two very creative cookbooks. But I think back to my days at Gourmet and one of my favorite was this one we made with potatoes, very thinly sliced and bacon, and gruyere and rosemary. And that was really good. I also think about wild mushrooms. Another one would be bacon, egg and cheese. Why not?
Caller: Yeah, that sounds good.
SM: You know, I think it's important and a lot of people make this mistake when they're making pizza at home is they put on too many toppings and then it gets all soggy and too much cheese. I mean, you want that crust to keep its integrity, but I'm sure Chris has lots of ideas. Chris?
CK: I do have an outdoor pizza oven, and you're not going to have to worry about soggy crust in that thing. I cooked my first pizza under two minutes. I think the oven was a little hot, but that solves the problem so you can put whatever you want on top and the crust come out great. Barbuto, Jonathan Waxman's restaurant down in the Meatpacking District, he just came out with a book. He's got a ton of great pizzas in there. So, I highly recommend that book for simple Italian, but he's got great, interesting pizzas, the roasted mushroom pizza with fontina and scallions from Milk Street that shows up in our kitchen a lot and is one of my favorite pizzas of all time. And lastly, I often make a pizza that's essentially just bread, you know, I use olive oil, maybe I've put some garlic in the olive oil, maybe some herbs, you know, something very simple. Slice it up and eat it as an appetizer or the tiny bit of cheese on it maybe I just keep it really simple. And that's really nice with a glass of wine before dinner. So sometimes you don't have to put hardly anything on it. And it just tastes that wonderful pizza. But those outdoor pizza ovens are complete game changers. Man, when you get that thing cranked up the crust is as good as anything you can find in a restaurant, I think I mean, do you agree?
Caller: Yes, I totally agree. Thank you for all of the information that you provided. So, we're definitely going to do all of those things that you recommended
CK: One last thing before you go just make sure your pizza dough is 75 degrees. If you want a pizza that really bubbles up and has a nice chew to it. Make sure that it's not like 60 or 65 degrees when you roll it out.
Caller: That's very helpful. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
CK: Thanks for calling.
SM: Bye bye.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street Who's calling?
Caller: This is Steven from Long Beach, Calif
SM: Hi, Steven, how can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I am a musician. I'm a pianist and conductor. I just finished a doctorate and wrote my dissertation on Gustaf Mahler. And as you can imagine, I read a lot about him. And there's this huge, long biography that offers a recipe for his favorite dessert from a Tyrolean inn in Austria. So, I thought I would call in and ask about it because I had a question about one of the ingredients. The first one is a kilogram of mealy potatoes. But I just wanted to ask if you could give some clarification about what type of potatoes, I might be able to find here. That would replicate that.
SM: A mealy potato is a baking potato, a baking potato, the most famous would be the Idaho. They're the ones with the tougher skins. They're not waxy, there mealy yeah, and they're high in starch, and they sort of fall apart and they absorb ingredients like crazy. So that would be what they were referring to. And I'm sure you can find baking potatoes in California, tons. (Sure) But you know what, I'm sure Chris wants to weigh in on this one, because I think you might have some point of reference here.
CK: Yeah, that's a recipe actually I've had in Salzburg, Marillenknödel. Do you want to just explain for people what this recipe is?
Caller: Sure. You take some potatoes and make a dough, I guess, to put around apricots. Its little apricot dumplings for you stuff a sugar cube in the middle of a pit of apricot and then wrap this around them and then poach them in water. And then there's melted butter and sugar and cinnamon. And that's the basics of the recipe.
CK: It's not an easy dessert. But it is extraordinary.
Caller: Well, I'm looking forward to making it when we have a forgotten season.
SM: Chris, I think you need to recreate this in the magazine. I think we all need to have this recipe.
CK: Yeah, it's a bit of a project recipe. But I don't know maybe
SM: Well, then I'm all the more impressed with our caller. Because not only can he play piano and conduct and do a dissertation on Mahler, but he can also clearly bake. Wow.
CK: I guess if Mahler liked it. It's good enough for me right. Thank you so much.
Caller: Thank you both. I really appreciate it.
CK: and let us know what happens with that yeah.
SM: Yeah, that was a fun question. All right. Thank you.
Caller: Take care. Thank you. Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are ready to take your calls so just give us a ring anytime. That number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843. Or just email us at questions at Milkstreetradio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Donna from Surprise, Arizona.
SM: Surprise, Arizona?
Caller: I know it's the gift that keeps giving.
SM: Oh, really? I should say so. And great. How can we help you today?
Caller: I have this tonic that I make that's made out of fresh limes and a pound of fresh ginger that you peel. And then you blend three times with water. And then you sweeten it to whatever level you have. But then I'm left with all this finely ground ginger that has been leached of a lot of its potency. But you know ginger is really expensive and so like rather than just put it in my composter, which is what I do right now, I was wondering if you could think of something I could make out of this ginger powder that I have I was thinking you know, could I actually make it into something like ginger snaps or gingerbread or something like that?
SM: I wonder if you could make a ginger syrup out of it. Combine it with equal parts sugar and water. Make it sugar syrup, then add the ginger solids to it and leave it in the fridge for a couple of days. And then strain out the, you know you're still going to have the ginger solids unless you just want to straight up eat them. You know they're going to end up in the compost sooner or later but at least you could get round two out of it. And then you'd have a nice ginger syrup that would because of all the sugar in it probably last for quite a while in the fridge.
Caller: What would I do with that?
SM: Ginger syrup you can add to drinks. You could add to tea you could add to lemonade,
Caller: anything you'd use simple sugar in
SM: Yeah, a flavored syrup too. Sure. It probably doesn't have that much flavor for ginger tea because that was going to be my other suggestion is to start it in cold water and bring it up to a simmer and simmer it for a while on top of the stove for ginger tea or a ginger liquid that you could actually strain and freeze. Sure, but I'm sure Chris has some sort of creative idea.
CK: I think the syrup’s a good idea. I'd put that in smoothies. I mean that would be the natural place to put it
Caller: Oh, that’s true, my husband makes smoothies every day.
CK: Yeah, well that would be great. The other thing you might think about is putting those solids in if you're poaching chicken breasts if you're poaching you know fish, for example like salmon. If you're poaching vegetables or steaming, you could add it for steaming and poaching to add flavor and it's not going to overpower because you've gotten a lot of the flavor out of it already. It would be subtle. Something subtle.
Caller: That’s another great idea
SM: I like that one.
CK: Especially if you have a bamboo steamer for example, you know
Caller: Well, those are all great ideas. I'm definitely going to give them a try. I especially like that idea of using it when I'm poaching chicken or fish. That could be really nice.
SM: It could, yeah
CK: Then you'll have to open a restaurant. It will be so good
SM: Donna’s Ginger restaurant or not?
CK: Or not. Donna, thank you so much.
SM: Yes. Thank you
Caller: I really appreciate those suggestions. Thank you. Bye, bye.
CK: That's a happy person. Yeah, she was bright and convivial out of the gate. I know. Just like me, right?
No, not really. No not at all. You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next I'm chatting with Food Network host Giada de Laurentiis. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Food Network's Giada de Laurentiis. Her latest book, Eat Better Feel Better as a guide for how to strike a balance between eating well and staying healthy. Giada, welcome to Milk Street.
Giada de Laurentiis: Hey, thanks. Thanks for having me.
CK: Let's do a little family history first. And then we'll get to your new book, which I love. I didn't know I knew your grandfather was Dino di Laurentiis. I didn't know that he was the son of an owner of a pasta factory outside of Naples. That's pretty cool.
GL: Yes, so his parents, really his mother owned a pasta factory. And they actually lived and when I say factory, I should say it's more like a like a townhouse. And on the top floor, they make pasta. And they dry it on the roofs because that's what what made this area outside of Naples called toto nunziata so popular, it was the way that the winds off the Mediterranean blow. And that is the salt air and the warmth that actually dries the pasta and gave it that texture, that sort of like grippy texture the sauce can stick to. So that's what it was famous for. And so, they had that business for many years until World War Two. And then unfortunately, Naples got heavily bombed, and a lot of those factories were bombed, and basically went out of business. But yes, that is the beginning days of my grandfather's love for Italian food and all things pasta.
CK: So, I didn't know this either. A lot of things I didn't know but your grandmother, his wife was Silvana Mangano, who was an actress of course, she was in Death in Venice. (Yep) Which was a great movie. And she was in Dune. (Yep) That was cool and then she was Cerce in the Ulysses with Kirk Douglas.
GL: Yep, that was a big movie.
CK: I looked her up and she had an enormous number of movies to her credit.
GL: She did, and she was Miss Rome. So, she was Miss Rome when my grandfather met her. He was he was smart. You know, he married a beautiful, talented actress slash model. And already a celebrity in in Rome and built a career based on it because really, my grandfather wanted to be an actor. That was really the reason he left Naples. Yeah, he wanted to be an actor, so he left Naples. And he tried with very little money to go to Rome and become an actor. The problem was, he was short and, you know, not Clark Gable. So, he didn't quite fit the part of the day, which was a tall, handsome man. So, he realized early on, okay, that's not going to work. And he figured out how to marry a beautiful woman and create movies together where, you know, he could produce, and she would act. And I don't know, the money just, you know, came rolling in because he kept it in house.
CK: I guess there was some thought you would become an actress or work in movies. And you just said, you hated it.
GL: Well, what happened was nobody in my family went to college. I mean, my grandfather barely finished elementary school, right? So, his mind was that all that stuff, school is sort of a waste of time, he believed hard work, and some luck. And that's really what was going to get you there. And so, I after high school before going to college, was its sort of required from my family at the time, at least, when my grandfather was alive, that you work on a movie set, you work on a film. And for most of my family, they found what they were passionate about in the movie business, and they sort of skipped college and went straight into the movie business. So, I, I tried my hand at a million different things, acting being one of them. I didn't like any of it. And I wasn't comfortable. I was shy. I don't know. It just wasn't my thing. I loved food. And so, I went out on my own and I went to college number one, and then I went to cooking school in Paris.
CK: The Food Network comes to you and you said no, and I love this. You said, quote, I have short arms, I'm going to look like an idiot because I can't move. They wanted you to wear button down shirts like Martha Stewart. So, and you also said you wanted to film in LA not in New York. So, it took them a while to talk you into this?
GL: Yes. So, I was working in LA as an assistant food stylist. I was also at the same time working in kitchens, I worked for Wolfgang Puck, I worked at the Ritz Carlton for a French chef, I was doing that simultaneously. I just wasn't making any money and my parents were a little over supporting me and helping me. So, I took these odd jobs and I really enjoyed it. It was very creative. It brought me back to being in Paris, you know where it was, everything was very artistic. Anyhow, I met some friends and at one point after 911, I was asked by Food & Wine magazine to bring my family together. So, I did a photo shoot with my family, my grandfather included. And he was getting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars that year. So, I did sort of an Oscar Sunday brunch with my family. And that's where when that was published, that's where Food Network first, you know, knew who I was. So, they wanted to find people, which they ended up finding also Rachel at the same time, and Ina, people who could speak to a different audience to women who didn't seem as intimidating and Italian food was popular. So, they wanted to find someone who had that voice. And that's really where it first started. And was I uncomfortable? Yes. I remember telling the EP at the time. You know, my families in the movie business. And I didn't make it being an actress. I didn't like it. So why would I like this, it just doesn't make sense to me. In my mind, I was in a different path. And so, after a lot of probing, I finally put myself my brother who’s now passed, but at the time was really good. You know, he was also on movie sets. And he knew how to work a camera and he shot a little video, you know, a little cooking demo. And we happened to put like lifestyle stuff in it and put music to it. I handed it in and that's where Everyday Italian was born.
CK: Eat Better Feel Better. So okay, when I first picked it up going like, okay, here's another gorgeous, wealthy successful person in LA, telling me about, you know, how to be healthy and not drink and everything else. And but this has nothing to do with my life. And then I started looking at the recipes and going like, these are actually pretty interesting recipes. So how do you respond to the you know, that?
GL: Yeah, well, first of all, I would say I am not telling anybody how to do anything. I am simply saying, I've been asked a lot in my 20 years doing this because I'm an Italian chef and I am breaking the stereotype of what people think an Italian chef should look like. Right? So, I thought, okay, I'm now 50 and I've been on a journey to figure this food relationship out like many people, and I am sharing my personal journey, which does not I've always said does not work on everybody. We are so intricate. But could there be some seeds in there that could help somebody else? Maybe, you know, at least my publisher thought so. So, I have never thought of a diet. I think I've tried to live my life in moderation where I eat a little bit of everything, but I don't eat a lot If anything, that's always been my motto. So how do we eat moderation and feel good? Because as we get older, that gets tougher. We're just not good detoxifiers. So really, this book is my journey of how to get my gut health back. My gut was in bad shape. And I think it was from years of eating probably too much of things that my system could not detox.
CK: But you said over time, you started having inflammation or digestive problems.
GL: Yeah. Which is, Chris, by the way, not a sexy thing to talk about for a person like myself. Like if you read the introduction, which is half the book (yeah) It's not a sexy conversation.
CK: So okay, so there's one thing in the book, though, limit your alcohol to two servings per week.
GL: Do you mean like you drink more than that?
CK; More than two servings a week? Yeah.
GL: Yes well, I don't.
GL: I used to drink more. Yes. I can't. You know, if you ask a lot of women at my age, they will tell you that alcohol is very difficult to to break down anymore. We have a really hard time it's really affects us and in a way that it never did when we were younger. I've always since I was young, put ice in my wine.
CK: You know what you you this is very strange, because you sound like my wife, Melissa. She says all the time, she just can't drink as much as she used to it really, she can't sleep. And once in a while she does put ice in her wine. Maybe you guys are separated at birth or something I don’t know. And Giada, by the way, her father is a second-generation Italian so maybe you guys are
GL: And Chris, when when I will tell you that what the first time I ever said that to anybody outside of my family they were like, you’re an Italian chef, how the hell can you put ice in your wife, my mother is 71. She still has a glass of wine or two every single night, but she puts ice in it.
CK: Now let's talk about food. One of my just hobby horses is all these people who have salad dressings, they had to be three parts oil to one part vinegar, four parts wherever you have to make an emulsion. And you do what I do, which a lot of people do, you have some lemon juice and some olive oil, some salt, and you don't worry about it. And it's not three to one or two to one and whatever. You just you just put in the bowl. Right?
GL: Yeah, but you know, I think that a lot of chefs do that because well, first of all, that's how they were trained right? That's number one. Number two, a lot of them think of an a restaurant, well, you kind of have to stick to some kind of recipe because how are you going to have enough for everyone coming in, right and how you going to teach the young kid that works for you how to make a salad dressing, and how to make sure that it tastes the same every time you make it right. So, they have to do that. But I grew up with my mom just threw some lemon juice, some olive oil, salt, and sometimes pepper but not usually, and called it a day and shook it up in a jar. And that was it. She didn't even use a whisk and whisk things. My mom was so basic. And I think that that's the way I grew up eating. And I started to realize that many of the things that I learned in cooking school and that we still do in the restaurant business doesn't need to be that complicated at home, it can be so simple to eat clean and well. And that's really what I was hoping that people would get from this book is that this is really doable. It's really simple, simple stuff. You don't need 20 different ingredients.
CK: Green Bean fries.
GL: Oh yeah, that's just so I can get my daughter to eat something green that and the crispy broccoli. They're not really fries fries, in the sense of what we think of a deep fried. They're more of a shallow pan fry. But they're quite delicious. And right out of the pan right after you fry them you top them with a little bit of some flake salt, and they're sort of a treat.
CK: You write that cauliflower is having its you know, Hollywood moment and of course at Milk Street we've seen that as well everyone has. What is it about cauliflower, it doesn't really have that much flavor compared to like broccoli, is it just because it's so neutral? That it can do anything with it, is that it?
GL: Yes, yes, I think it is much more neutral than broccoli. I think that a lot of kids eat it because it's so much neutral and it’s versatile, like right now cauliflower rice is having its heyday. I wish it would go away soon because it's gross to me but
CK: But there you go. Now see finally, you told the truth. (Yes) I love it
GL: Yes, I did. That's the thing right now that's just everywhere. And it just I'm just everybody says to me, well, why don't you have cauliflower rice in your in your cookbook? Like, because I hate it. I don't like cauliflower rice. Okay, leave me alone
CK: Stop talking about it. So, I've always wondered, you know, here in America, people, and my wife goes on, you know the special diets and the cleansing diet and everything else and
GL: This book is for your wife, not you Chris
CK: Yeah, it is definitely. So, and you have this book Eat Better Feel Better. Does this you know if you go to Italy now maybe, you know, I don't have close friends there and so they wouldn't talk to me about it. But I don't notice that people are running around talking about stomach inflammation and digestive problems. And I mean, they're they seem to be okay with the parmesan and the prosciutto and everything else is this something that that also is a problem in Italy?
GL: They don't talk about this stuff the way Americans talk stuff, although yesterday I processed food, of course they do. Genetically modified yeah, a little bit. But they still have very organic foods. They haven't tortured the soil, like we have. And they still eat very locally, and they still eat very seasonally. And I mean, listen, people talk about all the time how our food is just, there's no nutrients in it anymore, because our soil has no nutrients in it anymore. So why do we have more digestive problems? That's why,
CK: What are two of the three things that are really on your regular rotation for you?
GL: Amalfi chicken, my lemon and Amalfi chicken, all the roasted vegetables, brown rice and lentils batch cooked, I cool them I put them in a container, and I put them in the fridge so that I can make a salad, or I can make a stir fry or I can do many different things with those ingredients. So, when I'm thinking of dinner, I don't have to be like, Oh, man, I didn't cook the brown rice. So now I can't make this fried rice dish or my green rice or whatever.
CK: Is this food gig which you've been on for a long-time gig is kind of a strange description. But is this something 20 years from now? You just love it so much this will continue or is there something else you haven't done you want to do?
GL: I've kind of come to understand that I love my Italian culture, even though I tried to run from it early on. And I've come full circle and so, in a perfect world, Chris, I would buy a vineyard in the south of Italy. Turn it into some kind of bed and breakfast and spend half the year there. But you know, like you said earlier, Chris, life doesn't always go the way we hope it does. So, whatever comes my way, it'll be part of my journey. Hopefully, it'll be somewhat good. And maybe I'll end up there someday.
CK: How boring would it be if everything you thought comes true, right? I mean, you’d probably be miserable.
GL: I don't know. Can I try it first and come back and tell you later that’s actually the case? I'm not sure that's true. I don’t know
CK: I really like boring and successful for a few years.
GL: I'd like to go through it and do all the things I ever want to check off that bucket list and then I'll come back and report and tell you if I'm miserable because of it. I don't know.
CK: Giada, it's been a pleasure meeting you here on Milk Street you'll have to come back.
GL: Thanks for having me.
CK: That was Giada de Laurentiis her latest book is Eat Better Feel Better My Recipes for Wellness and Healing Inside and Out. Many years ago, I was friends with Dr. Andy Wild the well-known guru of wellness and he told me the following story. He had a patient an older man who had cancer. He asked his then doctor whether he should give up smoking and the answer was no. It wouldn't make any difference. But when Andy was asked the same question, he said, absolutely give it up. And that's the difference between wellness and medicine. One is about taking charge of your health and the other is just about treating illness. And that's a pretty healthy difference. You're listening to Milk Street Radio it's time to chat with JM Hersh about this week's recipe Venetian rice and peas or risi e bisi. JM, how are you?
JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: I've been to Venice a couple times, but I never had rice and peas. I didn't even know that was a Venetian dish.
JMH: It is it's actually you know, a fine example of cucina povera, very simple cooking, which much of the cooking of the Veneto region actually is, and I was introduced to a lot of it by a home cook Michela Taska, who lives on a farm in Piombino Dese, which is about 45 minutes northwest of Venice, actually. And she introduced me to like really simple basic cooking that despite its simplicity has tons of flavor and the risi e bisi. or rice and peas is a great example. You know, you think how good can a plate of rice and peas can just be but it's actually quite amazing.
CK: So, is this just risotto with some peas thrown in or is this something else altogether?
JMH: Well, yes and no. You know, the way that Michela explained it to me is that risi e bisi is halfway between a soup and a risotto. It's not as loose as a soup, but it's not as thick as a risotto and it is quite simply rice cooked until it's nice and starchy and thick and creamy, with peas added to it. However, she makes an important difference, she makes the broth a vegetable broth to cook the rice. But now when we think of making vegetable broth, we think of simmering vegetables in water and then scooping them out and throwing them away thinking that they've done their job. She actually purees those vegetables, including some of the peas into the water, creating kind of a thick, delicious, fresh vegetable broth that she then uses to cook the rice
CK: Now, when I see a recipe for vegetable broth I get the chicken stock out. But I have to say in this case, this is actually intriguing.
JMH: Well, you know, the reason you reach for the chicken broth is because it has a lot more flavor than your typical vegetable broth, because we I think erroneously scoop out the vegetables and throw them away. What Michela was showing me is that those vegetables add both body and flavor to the finished dish. And it was really phenomenal.
CK: So, is this a basic risotto method or is the method different?
JMH: It is actually very close to a risotto method, you know, you you toast some rice in the skillet, and she adds a little bit of pancetta and some fennel seed. And then she starts ladling in this very rich thick broth that she has made. And she keeps ladling it in until the rice is cooked. It's nice and plump and starchy. And then she adds more peas whole peas right at the very end and you add them at the end in order to preserve both their color and their kind of fresh flavors. You don't want to overcook them. And that's it, you stir together, and it's done. And it really it tasted so creamy and rich and yet so light and fresh at the same time. Just a really amazing and yet really simple dish.
CK: And I just have to say when we made it in the kitchen, it has an almost emerald, green hue to it right it's it's quite striking.
JMH: Yes, exactly. Well, because you know when you're making that broth, you're pureeing carrot, yes, onion, but also celery and fennel seeds and some of those peas right into the broth itself. So, it's getting this gorgeous green glow into the broth and then to the finished dish
CK: It looks good, and it tastes good it’s a two for. JM thank you so much. Risi e bisi Venetian rice and peas. Thank you.
JMH: Thank you.
You can get this recipe for Venetian rice and peas at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up Adam Gopnik talks about how the wine opener his son gave him may have been a subtle message about aging. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio right now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
Caller: Hi, this is Kim from Cincinnati, Ohio. When you're preparing your grocery list, make sure that you do all your conversions from top down before you get to the grocery especially if you're doubling or tripling your recipe to make sure that you have the adequate amount of ingredients to make that recipe. Bon Appetit.
CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip on Milk Street Radio please go to 177MilkStreet.com slash radio tips next up IT staff writer for The New Yorker Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?
Adam Gopnik: I am about as well as can be hoped for Chris I am brooding on the relationships between fathers’ sons and food and wine, a subject as you can imagine, very dear to my heart.
CK: Well, since I still have a young son, three of those things are fine. It's just the wine that I have to leave out.
AG: Well, my son is older now is old enough, in fact to finally made the Florida call. Do you know what the Florida call is Chris? (No) It's the moment when you get the call to remind him, you might just as well be an aged person in Florida. My son called the other day to say, dad, he's very, very polite. He said dad, are you aware that you just subscribed to Netflix? And I said, yeah, we wanted to watch something. He said, dad, that's on your basic cable subscription. We took care of that about six months ago, you don't remember, and I said, Oh, did we really? That’s great. And he said, yeah, he said, and I've noticed, you've been subscribing to all of these video services that we’re already subscribed to. So, dad you know what might be a good idea before you sign up for anything, you call me first to check and just make sure that you don't already have it. And I realized with a clinch of the heart, that this was exactly the same phone call I had made to my grandmother's some 30 years ago to say, hey, Gram, you know what, when you're calling us long distance, you don't have to call the operator, you can just dial the area code and the number, and we'll go through it's a really? No, no, I need to call the operator and say, No, Gram, it's really okay. That's what I call the Florida call.
CK: Well, yeah, you realize that you and I are probably one step away from the home, right?
AG: Exactly. One step away from the home. And the telltale sign is when (a) tech is way over your head, simple, obvious tech and (b) your kids condescend to you to try and get you through this difficult passage. Well, Luke made this my son Luke have made this phone call to me and I felt crushed by it. But then my spirits were uniquely lifted by the gift he gave me not long after, I should explain that he grew up, of course, in a household where food meant a lot, and where his parents opened as I suspect you do, or at least drank from a bottle of wine pretty much every night at dinner. And he developed as he got older, a much more refined taste for wine than I did. And at one point was working as a kind of junior sommelier at a couple of restaurants and I thought that was great. And I encouraged him because his other passion in life was philosophy, to write a book someday called the philosophical sommelier, where he would talk about all of the issues of taste and judgment that a wine expert confronts but talk about them in an especially philosophical way. And he gave me the long steady, opaque look that our kids give us when we give them a great idea and then went on his way and is now doing his PhD in philosophy of a very different kind. Well, as a gift, he gave me the single most exquisite gift I've ever been given. It is a kind of corkscrew, and I'm one of those people who's got just an insane range of corkscrews, none of which really work well. But Luke got me a new kind, which doesn't involve actually removing the cork from the bottle. It inserts, the most delicate of needles is like something you would use in brain surgery, through the cork, you then inject gas, don't ask me what kind of gas it is, I'm going to say argon, but I have no idea. And then you very, very delicately through the same brain surgery mechanism, pour through a tiny spout, a little bit of wine. And as Luke pointed out to me, this means that you can open a bottle of very good wine and make it stretch for days, weeks, even months at a time. And I realized as he gave me this gift that he was sending me two messages, one that I should buy better wine. That is, as a wine canoiser as we say in our family, I was failing and secondly, I should drink less of it.
CK: Yes, I think that was the point.
AG: Yes, exactly. But instead of telling me this in the spirit of the Florida phone call, he was doing it by giving me a gift that would enable me to do it for myself. And it occurred to me, Chris, you and I, whenever we have these conversations, that the underlying premise, the foundation of it is that the ways that we eat, and drink are not just ways to eat and drink. But they're kind of compressed dramatizations of the passages of time of family of love of life,
CK: Or it's it's how to deliver the message in a way that is obtuse but gets through.
AG: Yes, exactly, exactly.
CK: I have that device. I got it a couple years ago. The problem is, and you will find this that you will still want to finish the whole bottle. (Yes) And so, the idea of having a third of a bottle left, at some point gets annoying, and you'll just rip the cork out and drink the rest of it.
AG: Well, we found that already because out of my enormous esteem for his intelligence and his compassion, I used it but of course all you end up doing is dribbling an entire bottle of wine through the spout of it because if the wine is good, you want to share it that's the primary function of wine is not to save it. But when we were done with that very good bottle and I should add that my tastes in wine tend to run towards the sweet Oregon Pinot Noir’s or burgundy if I could ever afford them. His are much more austere and run to the ___ and malbec end. When we finally finished a wonderful bottle of Cornos, there, the bottle was standing, completely empty, and yet, with a cork still intact, and I looked at that impossible bottle with all the wine drawn out, and yet the perfection of the bottle still undamaged. And I realized that's the perfect symbolic image of a good relationship between father and son. I wanted him so much to write that book, the philosophical sommelier, and instead, he has become the philosophical sommelier because what gift could a wine lover get that was more deeply philosophical than that.
CK: Once again, Adam, you plumb the depths of philosophical relationships and families. Thank you so much.
AG: Pleasure to talk.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker. You know, Adam realizes that he is indeed aging, his son is giving him subtle advice about drinking too much bad wine. And the same thing happened to me a few years ago, my then 25-year-old daughter Caroline, gave me very good advice over lunch. Now, I've always liked telling people what to do, and now they're doing it back to me. And you thought that you were going to grow old gracefully. If you tuned in too late, just want to listen again you can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast Spotify, wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177Milk Street.com there you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season ever television show or order our latest cookbook Cook ish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177 milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimbell's Milk Street Radio was produced by Milk Street in association with GBH. Executive Producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison. Producers Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky, production help by Debby Paddock. Additional editing Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme Music by to Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX