Recipes from South Korea


So, I'm sure that North Korea is a lovely place to live and work, but I have to say, I really found the differences between North Korean food and the stuff served just to the south to be quite telling. North Korean food: a little bland, and, dare I say, sort of, um, oppressed. South Korean food, on the other hand ... huge difference.

Of course, it was only one meal. Maybe I got the most flavorful thing on South Korea's menu, and the least flavorful thing on North Korea's. Maybe it was just bad luck. But I sure did like my South Korean meal.

Gyeonghoeru Pavillion, Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul, South Korea.
Photo by Scott Rotzoll.
Let's start, as usual, with a little bit of background about South Korea. First and foremost, it is not North Korea. As you know--because you memorized the facts from my post about North Korea, right?--North and South Korea were once a part of the same nation, right up until the end of World War II when it was divided into Soviet and US occupied regions. This eventually led to the Korean War in 1950. After that ended in 1953, the two nations sort of went their separate ways, with South Korea prospering and North Korea, not really. In fact South Korea became so prosperous that despite its relatively small size it is the eighth largest country in the world for international trade, has the highest human development index in East Asia and in terms of wages also has Asia's highest income. In fact, pick an index--education, healthcare, job security, tolerance and inclusion--and South Korea is always close to the top. And also, the food is awesome.

I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I've eaten at some Korean places but don't recall what I really thought of it. The stuff I made was fabulous. I am told that South Korean cuisine is actually quite diverse from province to province, so my generalizations are probably not fair. On paper, South Korean ingredients are similar to what you might find anywhere else in Asia--noodles, rice, vegetables, meat and tofu. On the plate, well, yum. Here's what I made (all these recipes came from Easy Korean Food):

Korean fried chicken
  • 2 lbs chicken drumsticks
  • 5 tbsp of soy sauce
For the batter:
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup water
For the sauce:
  • 3 tbsp catsup
  • 1 tbsp Gochujang*
  • 1 tbsp sugar
Bokkeum bap
  • 3 1/2 oz spam, cubed**
  • 3 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1/2 carrot, cubed
  • 1/2 zucchini, cubed
  • 1 mushroom, cubed
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
Kimchi
  • 2 large Napa cabbages, cut into chunks
  • 8 oz rock salt
  • Water
For the sauce:
  • 10 tbsp fish sauce
  • 10 tbsp ground red pepper***
  • 1 onion
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 Asian pear
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • small piece of ginger
  • 4 green onions, sliced fine
Spicy Cucumber
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground red pepper
* Gochujang is a Korean hot sauce. It's yummy. Buy some.

** Sorry food purists, spam is indeed a popular ingredient in South Korea. In fact, South Korean spam is actually made with better quality ingredients than American spam, so I guess you could call it "gourmet spam." Its presence in this recipe didn't actually surprise me because I've seen a lot of fried rice recipes that include it.

*** 10 tbsp red pepper is a TON. You don't have to use this much, I didn't. I used maybe half and it was still almost inedibly spicy.

Do the kimchi first, because that takes a few hours. If you're really ambitious, you could do it a few days or a week in advance to give it time to start fermenting. I did mine on meal day. Here's how:

Combine the cabbage and the salt and cover with water. Let soak for four to five hours (one recipe said one to two hours, if you're in a time crunch).

Meanwhile, put all the ingredients for the sauce except for the green onions into a blender. Pulse until fine, then remove from the blender and add the green onions.

 At the end of the soaking time, drain the water. Rinse the cabbage in a sieve, then mix with the sauce. You can serve kimchi fresh or you can let it ferment in the fridge for six to 12 months. There's so much salt and spice in this stuff that trust me, no harmful bacteria is going to touch it.

Now let's do the chicken. First lightly spray a roasting pan, and put the drumsticks into it. Pour the soy sauce over them and roast at 425 degrees for 45 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the drumstick reads 175 degrees. Remove and let cool for five or 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the flour with the cornstarch, baking powder and salt and pepper. Add about a half cup of water to the mix, then add more as necessary to make your batter a bit thicker than a pancake batter.

In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients.

This is Gochujang. Put it on everything.
Heat about an inch of oil in a large pan (you can use more, I just don't like to throw out oil) until bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon. Pat the chicken with a paper towel to help absorb some of the excess oil. Dip each drumstick into the batter. Drop the chicken into the oil and deep fry on both sides until golden brown. Just do a few at a time and take care not to let them stick to each other. Drain on paper towels and serve with the sauce.

Now for the rice. This recipe calls for boiling, which is easy. When it's al dente, drain and set aside.

Simple ingredients, yay!

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a wok or other large pan and add the vegetables and spam. Add a pinch of salt and let cook until the vegetables and spam are just starting to brown.

Now add the cooked rice and stir in the soy sauce. Let cook for another three to five minutes and serve.

So while the chicken is roasting and/or the rice is cooking, you can make the cucumbers because they are ridiculously easy. Just put everything in a bowl and mix. Done!


Here's what we thought: Martin said, "These are the best drumsticks I've ever had!" Which coming from him is huge, because he really dislikes meat on the bone. But I had to agree that they were pretty I danged tasty drumsticks. They came out really crispy and the sauce, oh my. It was a little fruity and just spicy enough without being overwhelming.

Now the kimchi was actually a bit overwhelming. This was the first time I've had it but Martin has eaten it a few times, and didn't like it this time, either. It was kind if over the top spicy, even though I didn't use as much red pepper as it called for. It was also really salty. I think I would have liked to let it ferment for a while to see what that did to the flavors, but Martin was pretty adamant that we wouldn't ever eat it, so it got tossed. The cucumbers were also quite spicy but the fire was a really good combo with the mellow cucumbers. And I liked the rice, spam and all. With all that spicy food the salt in the spam was kind of needed to help cool things down.

If you're a fan of spicy foods, make this meal. Maybe skip the kimchi, unless you've already got a taste for it (I hear it's an acquired one). It's a lot if work for something you might end up not liking. But that chicken, yum. Already looking forward to making it again.

Oh and you know, you could substitute diced ham for the spam. I won't tell.
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Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, Italy


I've done a few of the major Italian culinary regions so far, and I don't think any of them have really wowed me. Until this time!

I gotta say, I was thrilled with Emilia-Romagna, Italy. And the best part was, it was super-simple. My favorite blog meals are the ones that come together fast and taste delicious, which doesn't seem to happen a lot with traditional recipes.

Anyway, about Emilia-Romagna--it's located just below the cuff of the boot, and it's one of the wealthiest provinces anywhere in Europe. It has the third highest per capita GDP in Italy, and its capital city has one of the nation's highest quality of life indices. Combine that with good food, and maybe I want to move there.
The capital city is Bologna, which as you probably know is pronounced "baloney." Now if you grew up in the 70s and 80s like I did you probably got baloney sandwiches in your school lunchbox, and that's probably what you think of whenever you hear the word "Bologna." I'm sure you can still get baloney, but frankly I wouldn't ever feed it to my children, because ew. Since you're probably curious, though, the baloney that we know and don't like very much is based on Italian mortadella sausage, which does come from Bologna, but it is not the same thing. The Italian version contains visible chunks of lard, while USDA regulations require American manufacturers to grind up all the lard. Though I'm not sure one is a whole lot better than the other, really.

 Ponte a Fiumalbo, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
Photo by  Giuseppe Moscato.

Besides being the homeland for that stuff that was once in every American kid's lunch box, Emilia-Romagna is also home to the world's oldest university. Plus it's a culinary center, and also the place where they make Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Ducatis and a bunch of other fancy cars I never heard of but will probably be familiar to you if you know something about cars.

As far as the food is concerned, this is where pretty much every Italian dish you like comes from. Lasagna, tortellini, polenta and Parmigiano Reggiano all come from here, and this is where basalmic vinegar is made, too. Of course, it's exactly the popularity of all these dishes and ingredients that makes it hard to choose a menu from this place, because so many non-Italians or people from elsewhere in Italy have adopted and adapted these recipes. So it's difficult to know what's truly regional and what isn't. Because of this, I went for some of the lesser known recipes, and here they are (these recipes all come from Emilia Romagna Turismo)

Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms
  • 10 oz tagliatelle egg noodles
  • 14 oz porcini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed slightly with the back if a knife
  • parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper
Ricotta bread
  • 8 cups flour type “00” (it's OK to substitute all-purpose)
  • 1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 4 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp refined sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
For dessert:

Ciambella
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 packet of yeast for desserts
  • Rind of 1 lemon, grated
So first a disclaimer: I was so sure I could get porcini mushrooms at the co-op that I went to Safeway and bought everything else I needed for the meal, and then learned afterwards that I could not in fact get porcinis at the co-op, or anywhere else in town. So after a little probing I learned that criminis can be used when porcinis are out of season, though one source suggested adding a little truffle oil to simulate that characteristic earthiness that porcinis have. Which was an idea I loved, because it just so happened that I had a bottle of truffle oil in my cabinet that I'd been dying to use and hadn't yet found a recipe for.

So to make this, first tidy up the mushrooms by scraping them with a knife (don't get water on them, because that's not allowed). Then thinly slice them and set aside. Now heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic.

When the garlic starts to turn a light golden color, add the mushrooms along with the salt and pepper. Sauté for 10 minutes or until soft.

Now take the garlic out of the pan, provided you can identify it, and and add the parsley and the butter.
Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in salted water according to the package directions. When al dente, add to the pan with the mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn off the burner. If you're using truffle oil too, this is where you would add it--after the flame is off. A little goes a long way (I used maybe a teaspoon though I didn't measure it). Oh and I can't believe I'm going to say this, but don't put any cheese on this pasta because then you won't be able to taste the mushrooms.

Now for the bread, which is my new favorite way to use ricotta cheese:

First proof the yeast in warm milk until frothy, then add it to the the rest of the ingredients.

Knead and let rise in a warm place. OK the recipe said 10 minutes, which seemed crazy because why would you even bother to use yeast if you aren't going to let it rise? So maybe my bread wasn't exactly correct, because I let it rise for more like an hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until you hear a hollow sound when you thump on it.
And finally, the cake. Beat the eggs together with the sugar in one bowl, and in another bowl beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Now add the milk and oil to the yolks, and sift in the flour. Finally, add the lemon rind and blend.

 
Fold the egg whites in gently and pour into a buttered/floured cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 I sprinkled powdered sugar over mine.
It's OK, that's what the picture showed.
So the first time I ever had truffle oil was at a gourmet pizza place in Sacramento a few months ago. Ever since then, I've been pining for food made with truffle oil because it's exotic and earthy and really, really tasty. Now, I know this is a variation on the recipe and not in the original recipe but damn, it was good. If you can't do the porcinis I highly recommend the crimini/truffle oil combo, because yum. I could eat this every day and probably not ever get sick of it.

My oldest son, who is a gourmet at heart, also liked the pasta though he still can't bring himself to try a mushroom. The rest of the kids, well, I don't think any of them even tasted it. The bread on the other hand, I'm sure you can guess what happened to that. Five minutes equals gone. And the cake was a hit too, because what cake isn't? Well, there was that one from Iraq, but I'm not sure that was really a cake.

Next week: South Korea
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Recipes from North Korea


My kids went back to school this week, so yay. Not because I didn't enjoy having them home (I did) but because now I'm really hoping I will have enough time to keep up with the work I get paid for and the work I don't get paid for (this blog). 

Anyway this week we are  in the world's most scary place, I mean the world's most wonderful place. Because if you say anything bad about this place, the person who is currently in control of it starts whining--I mean legitimately complaining--to the United Nations that you have committed an act of war. So let me just begin this entry by saying, North Korean food is fabulous and not at all bland or boring.


OK, so about North Korea, it's a magical land full of unicorns and fairies. Super macho, manly fairies and unicorns that have nuclear launch capabilities. You may know it as that country that the US got involved with in 1945, back when we were sort of irrationally afraid of communism. We occupied the south, Russia occupied the north, and five years later both sides started fighting each other. Technically, the two nations are still at war since no one actually got around to signing a peace treaty, and each one thinks it is the legitimate government of the entire region.

Pyongyang, Arirang, North Korea (Mass Games). Photo by (stephan).
North Korea is the most militarized nation in the world, with a total of nine and a half million military personnel, which includes an active duty army of 1.21 million, the fourth largest in the world. Oh, and it is led by a person who is not at all crazy.

I got all of this week's recipes from the North Korean government's online recipe website (no, really!) which I'm not going to link to because frankly, I don't want my website linking to it. Evidently, North Korea launched the site a couple of years ago for "housewives' convenience." How thoughtful. If you're interested, The Guardian has published a link to it here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/22/north-korea-launches-cooking-website


North Korean food is less spicy than South Korean food, which doesn't necessarily mean it's boring or tasteless ;). Most of the recipes I found seemed very simple, and the meal didn't take a lot of time to put together, so that was a definite plus. Here's what I made:

Beef Stir
  • 2 lbs beef, sliced
  • 3/4 small onion, sliced
  • 1 /2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Bibimbap shrimp
  • 3 3/4 cup cooked rice
  • 10 1/2 oz prawns
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 a small onion, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium potato, sliced
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch pepper
And that was all, because I was kind of feeling like I wanted a slow week, and frankly I didn't find any recipes that qualified as Must-Make.

Again, these recipes are really simple, so no need to wait until you have half a day to make them. Starting with the beef:

First whisk the soy sauce together with the spices. Add the vegetables to a hot pan and stir fry until the softened. Add the beef and fry quickly on both sides until brown.

Pour the soy sauce mixture over and stir until well-incorporated. That's it!

Now for the rice:

Boil the rice and drain. Set aside. Now place the shrimp in boiling water until just pink. Remove and set aside. In the same pot, add the potatoes and onions and let cook until just soft.

Transfer to a pan and stir fry with the oil, peas, rice and shrimp. Season with salt and pepper and serve. 

That's all there is to it. See? Simple. And very simple-tasting too, which is fine if that's what you like. All joking aside, it was OK and perfectly edible, but I was left wanting a little bit more. So I added soy sauce.

Next week: Emilia-Romagna, Italy
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Recipes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, Pakistan


So last week, we took off for the coast on Wednesday morning. I had my blog all lined up and ready to post on Friday night, and then we got home on Friday night and I ... forgot. In fact, I forgot all the way up until Tuesday, and by then I was like, I might as well just skip the week and post it on Thursday. So that's what I'm doing. :)

Anyway, I have a new arch nemesis. Before, it was fufu. Before that, it was shrimp paste, but shrimp paste and I have developed an understanding. I don't look at it directly or inhale in its presence, and it can be in my food in small quantities. As for fufu, well, I'm just not going to make it anymore because you can't develop an understanding with something you don't understand.

This week I've met a new rival, and its name is Seekh Kebab. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the flavor of Seekh Kebab, it's the implementation. I'm fairly sure this recipe was designed just to make people crazy.

Seekh Kebab is a favorite food of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in Pakistan. FATA stands for "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" and is one of those places where they will stone women to death for heinous crimes like possessing cellphones. Abbottabad is in Khyber Paktunkhwa, which you may know as the town that sheltered Osama bin Laden until he was killed in a US operation in 2011. So I think it's fair to say it's not really a very friendly place, hence recipes like Seekh Kebab.

No one goes to these places, and no one takes photographs.
This shot of Ilyassi Mosque in Abbottabad was the best I could find.
Photo by Shahzada Hatim.

I really don't know what to say about either one of these places, because while I hate to criticize entire regions Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have really got some problems. Now, I know that plenty of good people are born in bad places, so I don't mean to toss a blanket insult at anyone, but when you're talking about a place where women are legally permitted to vote but are threatened with violence if they do, well, what more can you add really. Besides all that stuff about stoning.


So I chose three recipes this week and just about put myself off of blogging in the process. Here they are:

Seekh Kebab
(from BBC food)
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cardamom pod, seeds only
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 large handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Besan (chickpea flour) as needed
Kabali Pulao
(from Hala Pakistan)
  • 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/8 tsp saffron
Burrani
(from The Afghan Forum, which I know isn't Pakistani, but I believe it is the same recipe)
  • 3 cups flour 
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 3 large potatoes*
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil (more if needed)
* 3 large potatoes was way too much for the amount of dough this made. Try three small to medium sized potatoes instead.

OK let's start with the Seekh Kebab and get that over with.

First, soak eight wooden skewers in cold water for about 10 minutes. Now put all the ingredients except the besan into a food processor and pulse until combined. I have a feeling this is really where I went wrong. When you put ground lamb into a food processor you get mush.

This is what happens when you put ground lamb in a food processor.

Here's what I think you should do instead: put everything but the lamb meat and the besan in the food processor and pulse until you get a paste. Then transfer to a bowl with the lamb and mix with your hands. Add besan as needed to help bind the ingredients together.

Now shape the meat into cylinders around the skewers. Grill the kebabs 3 to 4 minutes on all sides until done.

Anyway, here's what happened to me: my mixture came out of the food processor a liquified mess. I could not have shaped the stuff into anything but a wet splat, let alone made them actually stay on a skewer long enough to cook. So I dumped a ton of besan into my mixture (which was not actually an ingredient in the BBC recipe, I only found out it was an option while desperately trying to save what I'd already done to my ingredients). In the end I got something I could shape, but there was no way I was going to get it to stick to a skewer. So I made meatballs out of mine and cooked them under the broiler. It worked, but it wasn't exactly kebabs.

I had better luck with the rice: first rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then soak in fresh water for 30 minutes or more.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Fry the onions in 1 tbsp of the oil until brown. Remove and place in a blender. Grind to a paste and set aside.

Now add the beef (I actually used ground lamb in mine, which was overkill with the kebabs but I was having a bad day and I really didn't want to have to defrost hamburger). Anyway brown the meat and then pour in a cup of water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer until tender.

Remove the meat from the broth and set aside. Put the onion paste into the broth and mix well.

Now heat another tablespoon of oil in a small pan and add the carrots. Saute until lightly browned, then add the raisins. Remove from the oil when the raisins start to swell.

Boil the water with the salt. Drain the rice and add to the boiling water. Parboil for three minutes, then drain and transfer to a casserole dish. Sprinkle with the garam masala and saffron.

Pour 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp of the beef broth and onion mixture over the rice. Now put the meat on one side of the casserole and the carrots and raisins on the other. 
Pour the rest of the cooking oil over and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

When done, remove the beef and carrot/raisin mixture. Fluff the rice and transfer to a platter. Top with the meat and garnish with the carrots and raisins.

Now on to the burrani. First mix the flour, water yeast and salt together and let rise for an hour. Roll the dough into small balls (they should fit in your palm) and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and fry the onions in oil until lightly browned. Mix the onions and potatoes together and add the coriander, salt and pepper and red pepper to taste.

Flatten the dough balls and roll to about the thickness of a tortilla. Spread the potato mixture over half the circle and fold over like a calzone. 

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a frying pan and fry the bread on both sides until golden.

OK so here's what we thought. The kebabs tasted like kebabs that had too much flour in them, because they were, you know, kebabs with too much flour in them. Definitely do not put this mixture in a food processor, it is a very bad idea. Not sure what the authors of the original recipe were thinking, unless they weren't starting with ground lamb. Once all that flour had been added the texture was really pasty and not very nice, but the flavor was good. Really good, in fact. But the experience of making them was so negative that I'm not sure I would personally go back and try it again, even though I'm pretty sure I know what went wrong.

If the name Kabali Pulao sounds familiar to you, it's because I made a version of it waaay back in Afghanistan, in the very early days of this blog. This version is really similar to the one I made back then, with slightly different ingredients and a different technique. In my defense, I tried to find a rice dish that was wholly Pakistani but I was running out of time, as I always seem to be doing these days. Anyway this was good, and after eating it I decided once and for all to never again boil basmati rice because the oven method results in infinitely better texture.

The bread was, of course, my kids' favorite part of the meal, which surprised me a little because although they are fiends for bread they aren't that crazy about mashed potatoes, especially when they have spices in them. But fried bread, you know, you really can't go wrong. This is something I would make again, if I can block the whole kebab experience out of my head.

Next week: North Korea
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Recipes from Campania, Italy


We were due to stop in another region of Pakistan this week, but it seemed like it was a little too soon after the last Pakistani meal I cooked. Hey, do you think people in Pakistan ever say things like, "Do you feel like Pakistani food tonight?" "Nah, we just had Pakistani food a couple of weeks ago ..."

So anyway I decided now was as good a time as any to go backwards in the alphabet to Italy, which I decided kind of late in the game that I should be tackling in regions instead of as a whole. This week it's going to be the region of Campania, which is in southern Italy, east of the Mediterranean Sea.

Positano, Campania, Italy. Photo by Kevin Rechts.

There are 5.8 million people crammed into this small region of Italy, which is just over 5,000 square miles. You can hardly blame them, though, because Campania is 5,000 square miles of culture, food, architecture, music and sites of great historical significance. Pompeii is in Campania; so is Naples and the island of Capri. This is where I would go if I was to ever visit Italy, which less face it probably ain't gonna happen since $1k for a single plane ticket seems pretty beyond what I could ever afford, let's forget about the other five I would need to buy.


So at least I'm visiting it in the Travel by Stove way, which is almost as good. Not really, but, you know. The food from this part of Italy is pretty classic Italian as we Americans know it--in fact, this is the region where spaghetti was born, and, yes, pizza. Pizza comes from the city of Naples and is the main dish I decided to make this week, because I felt like after all those fish curries and lamb curries and chicken curries I've been doing lately I kind of needed to throw my kids a bone.

And here are the recipes:

Pizza Margherita alla Napoletana
(from Cooking with Nonna)

For the dough:
  • 3 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
For the topping:
  • 1 medium-sized fresh mozzarella ball, sliced thin
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Oregano

On the side:

Cauliflower, Olive and Caper Salad
(from e-rcps.com)
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • 2 lbs cauliflower
  • 3/4 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives (I used Kalamata)
  • 1/3 cup capers, rinsed and dried
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/2 cup vinegar-packed red peppers packed, rinsed and julienned
  • 8 anchovies, drained and chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
For dessert, because who can resist a cheesecake?

Ricotta Cheesecake
(also from Cooking with Nonna)

For the crust:
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 /4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • flour as needed
For the filling:
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tbsp orange zest
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
OK, first make some pizza dough! I always do bread of any kind in my bread machine, but here's how to do it the old fashioned way:

First dissolve the yeast in warm water and let stand until frothy. Meanwhile, Put the flour in a bowl and make a Vesuvius style hole in the center of it. When the yeast us ready, pour that into the well, then add the rest of the dough ingredients. Knead until you get a nice, smooth, elastic ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for two hours.

Now preheat your oven to 350 degrees and roll the dough out to a 12 to 14 inch circle.

You may have to stretch the dough a bit to get it to the right shape and size--pizza dough can be uncooperative. Now place the dough on a pizza stone (we have one of those wire mesh thingies). Spread the marinara sauce over the dough and top with the mozzarella slices.

 Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the basil and oregano.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown.

Now for the salad:

Boil some water with a tablespoon of salt. Add the cauliflower and reduce heat to medium. Simmer to 15 minutes, then remove and drain. Your cauliflower should be tender-crisp.

When the cauliflower is cool, break it into florets, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the olives, capers, red peppers and anchovies.


 Toss gently, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

 Now for the cheesecake:

First make the crust. With your electric mixer, blend the egg with the milk, butter, sugar and baking powder.


Remove from the mixer and gradually add the flour. Work the dough with your hands until it is stiff, adding flower as necessary.

Now flatten the dough with your hand and then use a rolling pin to make a circle about 15 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then butter a springform pan and sprinkle with flour. Now transfer the dough to the pan, letting the extra hang over the edge.

Mine isn't really hanging over the edge.

Now go back to your mixer and add all the filling ingredients. Pour into the pan and cut off the excess dough around the rim, leaving about a half inch above the filling. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Do you remember how I said, "Who can resist a cheesecake? Well, me! Apparently. I didn't like the cheesecake. I found the texture way too grainy, which is my experience with pretty much anything that has ricotta cheese in it, though I don't mind it in things like lasagna. Sadly no one really liked it, though we all really wanted to. This is honestly the first time in my life I've ever done anything so blasphemous as throw out perfectly good cheesecake, but I did. Oh well.

The pizza was much better than the cheesecake, but it could have used some more time in the oven. My crust wasn't golden enough, and therefore not really crispy enough either. I also thought it was a bit bland--the crust, that is. More salt would have been a good plan. I did love the simplicity of the recipe, and with good marinara sauce this is definitely a keeper. Makes a great switch from your run of the mill pepperoni that we always eat at my house.

I really liked the cauliflower salad but I was the only one. With those anchovies and olives and pickled peppers it tasted really not very much like the things that most Americans eat, so my kids were not impressed. I think Martin ate a little but being an olive hater was also not impressed. More for me. :)

I'm going to have to remake that pizza I think. Can anyone recommend a great prepared marinara? The one I used was good, but this pizza is really all about the sauce and it needs a mind-blowing one. I know, I should make it from scratch but because of that job thingie I have, blog night has become the sole evening where I do actual, real cooking anymore. Stupid job.

Next week: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, Pakistan
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