Monthly Archives: January 2011

“Indian Peas” from Ancient Rome

PISUM INDICUM. Pisum coques. cum despumaverit, porrum et coriandrum concidis et mittis in caccabum ut ferveat. et accipies sepias minutas, sic quomodo sunt cum atramento suo, ut simul coquantur. Adicies oleum, liquamen et vinum, fasciculum porri et coriandri. facies ut coquantur. cum coctum fuerit, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, carei modicum, suffundis ius de suo sibi, vino et passo temperabis. sepias minutatim concidis et in pisum mittis. Piper asparges ­et inferes.

– Apicius, De Re Coquinaria V.iii.3

I’m honestly really not sure what makes these peas “Indian.”  As a purely historical matter, there was trade between Rome and India (I’m lazy – if you want more info, check out this reputably-researched and -sourced Wikipedia article).  The weird thing about this dish, though, is that it really isn’t very different from other dishes in Apicius’s collection: the typical Roman flavor profile is based heavily on leeks, cumin, coriander, sweet wine, pepper, garum, and garlic.  These Indian peas have a good number of those ingredients, and not a ton of others.  But then, I don’t know what 4th century Indian cooking was like – or what regions the Romans dealt with.  I’m guessing they weren’t bringing takeout containers of chicken tikka masala back to Italy, though.  Anyone know more about ancient cooking on the subcontinent?

Anyway, just a few things about Roman cooking.  First, I always grind my spices by hand when I do it, to give the right taste and texture.  Here are my cumin, coriander, oregano, peppercorns, and anise (I substituted the last for lovage, which I don’t have).

The final dish turned out beautifully: fresh, a little sweet, a little spicy, and very different from most flavor profiles we usually deal with.  Sadly, this post is in memoriam of both peas and bowl, because I’m a huge spaz and dropped my dinner when the FreshDirect delivery guy rang the bell.  On the positive side: it was a cheap, healthy, and easy meal, and I’m sure I’ll try it again.  And perhaps even foist it on friends as part of a Roman banquet…

Indian Peas (Serves 2)
1/2 lb. squid, cleaned and sliced into rings
2 c. peas, fresh or frozen
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced crosswise
1/2 tsp. peppercorns
1/2 tsp. whole cumin
1/2 tsp. whole anise seed
1/2 tsp. whole coriander
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 c. white cooking wine**
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. nuoc nam (fish sauce)

1. Grind all the spices together. Boil the squid for 40 minuted, until tender, and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the leeks. Toss the peas in when they start to soften, and mix in the the spices, then pour over the wine, honey, and fish sauce. Add the squid and cook for 5 minutes, until most of the liquid is boiled off.

**The original recipe calls for sweet wine, but a light cooking wine mixed with honey worked well as a substitute.

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Filed under Fish, Uncategorized

“Indian Peas” from Ancient Rome

PISUM INDICUM. Pisum coques. cum despumaverit, porrum et coriandrum concidis et mittis in caccabum ut ferveat. et accipies sepias minutas, sic quomodo sunt cum atramento suo, ut simul coquantur. Adicies oleum, liquamen et vinum, fasciculum porri et coriandri. facies ut coquantur. cum coctum fuerit, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, carei modicum, suffundis ius de suo sibi, vino et passo temperabis. sepias minutatim concidis et in pisum mittis. Piper asparges ­et inferes.

– Apicius, De Re Coquinaria V.iii.3

I’m honestly really not sure what makes these peas “Indian.”  As a purely historical matter, there was trade between Rome and India (I’m lazy – if you want more info, check out this reputably-researched and -sourced Wikipedia article).  The weird thing about this dish, though, is that it really isn’t very different from other dishes in Apicius’s collection: the typical Roman flavor profile is based heavily on leeks, cumin, coriander, sweet wine, pepper, garum, and garlic.  These Indian peas have a good number of those ingredients, and not a ton of others.  But then, I don’t know what 4th century Indian cooking was like – or what regions the Romans dealt with.  I’m guessing they weren’t bringing takeout containers of chicken tikka masala back to Italy, though.  Anyone know more about ancient cooking on the subcontinent?

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Sunday Tips: New Years Resolution

The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost.  I mean fragments of time as well as materials.  Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be; and whatever the size of a family, every member should be employed either in earning or saving money. – Mrs. Child, The American Frugal Housewife

I’m not big on new years retrospectives or resolutions: I find it counterproductive to make grand decisions which I’ll inevitably not live up to – instead I’ve been trying to take on bite-sized resolutions all through the year.  But maybe the idea of taking on small resolutions is itself a big resolution…Ack!  Well, before I get tangled up in philosophical conundra, I’ll get back to the original reason for this post: my current mini-resolution is to post more, and to restart my “Sunday Tips” section.  My mom gave my a copy of The American Frugal Housewife, from which the above quote is taken, for Christmas (along with a couple of other books which will probably show up soon).  This book was published in 1833 by Mrs. Child:

This lady looks like she means business, doesn’t she?  Well, she did: in addition to publishing books on housekeeping she was an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.  Go Mrs. Child!  I think she’s awesome, so I’ll be taking regular Sunday posts from her book.  We can all do with a little more frugality these days – even if we stop short of making our own soap.

People these days have far more crap, generally, than they did in Mrs. Child’s day; if we take her at her word on saving things we’ll all wind up on Hoarders.  One of general ambitions in life is to never show up in TLC reality television, so I’m taking a less-than-literal approach to this.  I really, really, do love her discussion of efficiency and time-saving, though.  I always wonder, given the number of technological shortcuts we have available to us, how efficient and useful it is to concentrate on the labor-intensive DIY-type reuse projects Mrs. Child suggests.  Any thoughts?  I’m hoping to explore this more – and maybe do some math and experiments – as I go through her book.

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Oh Crepe!

Like many New York residents, I’m completely obsessed with brunch.  There are so many amazing options in this city that I don’t usually make my own.  Everything is closed on New Years Day, however, and I wanted something eggy – and a little hair of the dog – so I pulled out my roommate’s crepe maker (the big flat non-stick plug-in kind) and whipped up some batter and a Bloody Mary.  Crepes are an amazing brunch option: you can easily make them ahead, and slip them between layers of wax paper for reheating later.  Recipes for crepes pop up all over my cook book collection, but I chose to go with a trusted source: the Joy of Cooking.  I had a few people over and we took a DIY approach to fillings, cobbling together various combinations of jam, cheese, and chutney.  The crepes were tasty and the company was lovely: a great start to 2011!

Crepe Batter (Makes 4 12-inch crepes, or 8-10 6-inch crepes)
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. lukewarm water
2 eggs
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tbsp. sugar (for sweet crepes)

1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a food processor, blender, or mixer with whisk attachment. Let stand at room temperature for an hour.
2. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and grease lightly with butter or vegetable oil. Pour in about 3 tbsp. of batter (for a 6-inch skillet) and turn the skillet to distribute the batter across the surface. Cook for about 20 seconds on each side until the crepe is golden in places.
3. Serve immediately with filling of choice** or set crepes aside on a cookie tray, separated by layers of wax paper. They can be kept for a couple of days in the fridge.

** More posts to come on the subject of fillings! We tried: jam, grated pecorino with parsley, apple butter, homemade chunky chutney…

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Stuffed Mushrooms

My grandmother used to make stuffed mushrooms all the time for parties. I loved them (still do) and learned how to make them by watching her cook – the measurements for the recipe below are ones I figured out working backwards while cooking by my usual “eyeballing” method. Because I associated stuffed mushrooms so strongly with my grandma, I assumed they were a family thing. When I started looking through old cook books, though, I discovered stuffed mushroom recipes all over the place. The 50s and 60s were all about cute little canapes and hors d’oeuvres, and stuffed mushrooms were apparently a classic and a favorite. I still love my grandma’s recipe, though – it’s just a simple breadcrumb stuffing, but it’s tasty and has a great texture.   The cheese is my addition: it gives a great umami punch. These mushrooms work as either an appetizer or a vegetable side dish. So…both family-vintage and vintage-vintage…here they are:



Stuffed Mushrooms (Serves 6)

2 10-oz. packages white mushrooms
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, plus extra for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently pull out mushroom stems, leaving caps intact. Set the caps aside and mince the stems.
2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the garlic; cook 30 seconds or so until it becomes fragrant. Add the parsley and mushroom stems and cook for about 3-4 minutes until they soften and cook down. Toss in the breadcrumbs; remove from heat and add the grated cheese.
3. Grease a pan big enough to hold the mushroom caps (I used a 10-inch Corningware). Overstuff the mushroom caps with the breadcrumb mixture and place stuffing-up in the pan. Drizzle olive oil over (or spray with an oil mister) and grate a little cheese on top.
4. Bake about 30 minutes until the stuffing starts to brown on top.

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Bourbon Balls, Redux

Just made these again – a seriously adult version with Valrhona cocoa, toasted almonds, and Bulleit bourbon.  Welcome to 2011!

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