Meal 122: New Zealand

A little over two years ago, when our now-good-friend Deena did an NPR piece about United Noshes, someone in New Zealand noticed and I did a phone interview on Radio NZ. I promised that when we got to their country, I'd get back in touch. And I did! We did a fun bit where they had listeners send in advice through social media of what to cook, which we chatted through live on the radio. So what do Kiwis eat? Well, lamb, of course, since that's what they raise a ton of for wool and meat alike. Otherwise it's in large part based on traditional English foods like sweet and savory pastries, with a growing influence of fresher Mediterranean flavors, blended with some indigenous influences like sweet potato.

Joining us on a cold winter's night for a taste of the other hemisphere were Estel, Sarah, Laura, Patrick, Kal, Julie, Levi, Martha, Karen, and Red. (Oh, and Reba!)

Kiwi dip

While we Americans love our convenience, one thing we really haven't gotten into is canned milk products, so we suffer the inconvenience of a perishable product as the base for our otherwise dead-simple French onion dip (recipe: mix one packet of onion mix into sour cream; serve). Well, Kiwis have no such aversion, and their reward is no temporal constraint on their ability to whip up the equivalent dip, using a can of what they call reduced cream and what we can find in the States in Hispanic markets or supermarket aisles as media crema. They even gussy it up a bit with a dash of malt vinegar, but since any self-respecting NZer would have that on hand anyway, the extra effort is still less.

It's really tasty. Eat with thick or wavy potato chips, or veggies if you want to pretend you're being at least a little healthy.

Along with the dip, we had ray oysters on the halfshell. They were in homage to, but certainly no replica of, Bluff oysters, a particular species that's found at the southern tip of the South Island. Equally fatty, but much classier.

Mince and cheese pie Recipe

One Radio NZ listener wrote in that the national dish is really a "$2 mince and cheese pie from the dairy," which in American English means "$1.40 ground beef and cheese hot pocket from the convenience store." So I made one! The all-butter puff pastry crust probably made this a bit fancier than the grab-n-go version, and of course as a whole pie the crust-to-filling ratio was surely off, but otherwise I think this turned out to be a fairly accurate and tasty replica. Speaking of, "tasty cheese" is apparently what Aussies and Kiwis call what we'd think of as sharp cheddar cheese, to the extent that you can refer to "tasty and crackers" and people will apparently know what you mean.

Watties sauce | Recipes

It seems that Watties is to NZ what Heinz is to the US, the universal tomato condiment. Watties is apparently a little runnier, a little sweeter, and a little more spiced — it's known as tomato sauce, not ketchup. Not finding any here, I made my own, with frozen pureed tomatoes from last year's harvest. The recipe I followed had a shocking amount of allspice, so I cut back quite a bit and even then it was pretty strong. It was pretty good, but unless you have a strong reason to recreate the flavor of the original (like, if you have an around-the-world cooking project or are really trying to impress a Kiwi), you may as well just make do with ketchup.

Lamb with mint sauce | Recipe for mint sauce

There's about seven sheep for every New Zealander — and that's down from twenty a few decades ago! — and accordingly, those Radio NZ listeners made very clear that lamb was required on our table. It seems that the classic version, fit for a feast, is a roast leg, whether in a classic austere British style, or enlivened by garlic and herbs; the latter's what I chose to do. I got a whole leg (bone in, including the shank), studded it with garlic and rosemary, and let it cook for hours. I also whipped up some mint sauce with a splash of malt vinegar, two ingredients that contrast nicely.

The lamb was good, but not great, kind of a disappointment given the quality and expense of the meat. I mean, we all enjoyed it, but I was hoping it'd be something more.

Minty peas Recipe

Mint again! Green peas, green onions, and mint made for a vibrant hint of sunnier days. Easy to throw together, tasty, and decently healthy.

Kaanga waru | Steamed sweet potato and corn pudding |Recipe

To properly represent the cuisine of the Māori, the indigenous Polynesians who predated the British, I ought to have done a hangi. But that would have required digging a pit in the yard, superheating rocks in an adjacent fire, quickly moving said rocks into the pit, lowering in sackcloth-enrobed bunch of meat plus veggies, and covering the whole thing with soil for several hours. Even if I had all the space and time, it seems that watching a few YouTube videos isn't enough, that without having learned from others you risk making a muddy, undercooked mess of it all. Time for plan B.

Several listeners suggested that our meal include kumara, which as the sound of the name suggests is also a Māori food; Americans know it as sweet potato. While kumara is quite common around NZ, this dish is Māori through and through, though the cooking technique and most of the ingredients come from the British! It's a dense loaf of shredded kumara, cornmeal, flour, sugar, milk and butter, steamed in a cheesecloth. It's dense, and it's really pretty tasty.

Pavlova | Baked meringue with fruit | Recipe

Aussies and Kiwis may argue about who owns the "pav," but history is on New Zealand's side; while it grew very popular in Australia, it first took form in Wellington during the tour of the ballerina Anna Pavlova, who was described as dancing as if she were lighter than air.

A pav is a marvel of kitchen chemistry, starting with the goop of some egg whites and ending with a magical, etherial mass that's crisp on the outside and chewy like a marshmallow on the inside, all thanks to a ton of beating and strategic addition of sugar, cornstarch, and an acid. Once the science is over, the art begins: the pavlova is a blank canvas for decoration with fruit to your heart's and eye's desire. Of course, ours had kiwifruit!

Meal 115: Montenegro

While the language, culture, and some of the food of this little seaside country are definitely Slavic, the food of Montenegro evinces a strong Italian influence. It's the consequence of centuries under Venetian rule and influence, plus the lingering effect of being a hop across the Adriatic from the boot of Italy. The result is a cuisine that is both high in milkfat but that also has a place for delicate flavors. Really, it was quite delicious. Ellenby Ellenby Ellenby Ellenby Elizabeth Elizabeth +1 Tink Tink +1 Kristin Winslow Ana DLR Ana DLR +1 Anna Marti Anna Marti +1 Anna Sagatelova

Our guests were the Ellenby family, Elizabeth, Tink, Kristin, Miguel, Ana, Anna, Anna, and friends.

Sok od Šipka | Pomegranate juice

Across much of Montenegro, wild pomegranates grow abundantly, and families press the juice and boil it down to syrup for use all year long.

Pomegranate juice is a fantastic example of the huge price differential you can find when shopping at an ethnic market. I found a three liter jar of the pure juice for $9 at the Russian market; you’d be lucky to buy a liter for that price at your local supermarket. Since it was already at drinking strength, it seemed silly to boil it down just to reconstitute it, so we enjoyed it straight.

Appetizer spread

In browsing various descriptions of Montenegrin food, just about all of them talked of a good meal starting with preserved meats and various cheeses. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find the specific meat items they called for (in particular, a local variation of prosciutto), and the descriptions of the cheeses were quite vague. So I did my best and bought some stuff that looked good from the counter of the Russian market. Surprisingly, the most popular component was a generic-looking cheese that was sliced as a wedge from a hefty round; it was kind of in the direction of a queso fresco, but a bit firmer, and a bit squeaky on the tongue.

Pogača | Rustic bread | Recipe

A rich bread for a rich meal! Note how all the liquid comes from animal products, there’s not a drop of water in the dough. With all that lactose, it’s a quick riser, so there’s not a ton of flavor development from the yeast. But this bread has a solid crumb that’s equally good with cold cuts as well as soup.

Raštan | Collards | Recipe

With all the heavy meat and dairy in the rest of the meal, thank goodness there's a common dish of greens to provide a bit of balance. I made them without the pork because we had some non-red-meat eaters, but it was still nice. I like the bit of flour in there to make it a bit saucy, too.

Brav u Mlijeku | Lamb in milk | Recipe

What a happy accident! Since I ran out of stovetop space, I put the pot of lamb chunks in a milk bath into a low oven, left it uncovered, and then kinda forgot about it until the smell was irresistible. The milk got really thick, and the lamb got really soft, so it was all one great, smooth mess of a really dense and spectacularly tasty dish. Delicious as it was, I'm not confident I actually made it Montenegrin-style — while I heard many mentions of lamb in milk, details on the preparation were few, so I turned to this recipe from nearby Italy instead. Any leads, my friends?

Riblja čorba | Fish soup | Recipe

So simple, so tasty. It hardly requires a recipe: simmer fish with some vegetables and garlic, strain it and remove fish, cook rice with olive oil in the broth, put fish back in. Despite the lack of any exotic ingredients or flavor combinations, as long as you’ve got good fish (in this case, rockfish and black cod from the farmers market), you’ve got a great soup.

Smočani kačamak | Fatty porridge | Recipe

Can’t decide between polenta and mashed potatoes? Well, how about both, mixed with a hefty dose of sour cream plus some cheese! It was really tasty and extremely unnecessary given how much other rich food we had. Everyone ate it anyway, because it’s as yummy as it sounds.

Pomegranate sorbet | Recipe

Probably the most appropriate way to enjoy Montenegro’s most representative fruit would have been to simply peel and eat, but they were out of season. Given the Italian culinary influence, I figured a sorbet would be appropriate. It’s hard to tell if this is something they’d actually eat in Montenegro, but it was a delicious and light conclusion to an otherwise heavy meal.

Meal 98: Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is one of two doubly-landlocked countries, meaning that every country it borders is also landlocked. So it was entirely unfitting, then, that we held this meal at a party house on the Oregon coast, as part of the celebrations of Laura's 30th birthday.

Sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland, the cuisine is emphatically Alpine Germanic, with dairy products dominating. While this meal wasn't as grand or as eagerly anticipated as Laura's previous birthday feasts of Canada, France, and Italy, it was surprisingly tasty and satisfying. Then again, maybe it's hard to go wrong with so much cheese, cream, and butter!

What a fun crowd for celebrating this birthday: Molly, Ellen, Bryce, Laura, Craig, Kristine, Tim, Sebastian, Chelsea, Haley, Derek, and Alondra!

Spargel vom grill | Grilled asparagus | Recipe

Asparagus is a classic spring vegetable, though I didn't manage to find the fat, white asparagus that's much more common in Europe. So we doctored up plain ol' skinny green asparagus with "spring herbs" (in this case, dandelion greens I plucked from the yardm green onions I grew over the winter, and parsley from the store), plus a smear of butter, and wrapped them in foil and grilled them. (Have you ever seen an indoor grill on a kitchen range? It was kinda weird and uneven, but it worked!) I'm a fan of asparagus, but I really liked this version: the herbs, butter, and grill-steaming all really worked nicely.

Kaninchengeschnetzeltes | Rabbit in cream sauce | Recipe

I should have realized it'd be hard to find a rabbit on Easter weekend! After calling around to a half dozen butcher shops, I found what may have been the last bunny in Portland in a Whole Foods freezer.

I'm glad I didn't have to revert to the backup plan of just using chicken, because this dish really brings out the subtly rich flavor of rabbit, especially with the tweak I made in preparation. See, the recipe calls for cooked rabbit but doesn't say how to cook it, so I browned and braised it in champagne (left over from the previous night's party!), and subsequently boiled down the braising liquid to contribute to the cream sauce.

The dish is rich, soft, creamy and meaty, so the accompaniment of a poached pear half filled with tart jam is a cleverly tart and toothsome contrast. I couldn't find cranberry preserves (other than the stuff in a can, that is), so I went with lingonberry, which was awesome. All in all, a pretty time-consuming and decadent dish, but tasty!

Käsknöpfle | Cheesy mini-dumplings | Recipe

What a crowd-pleaser! Better known by the common German word spätzle, these little squirts are halfway between dumplings and noodles, and you use a special apparatus to form little strands from a mass of dough which then fall into boiling water. It's a fair amount of work to make, but fortunately we had an enthusiastic expert on hand who'd learned to make them when living in Germany. Thanks, Ellen!

I couldn't find the traditional sura kees anywhere, nor was I successful finding advice on a substitute, partly because its English translation, "sour cheese," happens to be a marijuana strain so the search results weren't helpful. I ended up with a grab bag of Alpine cheeses: Emmental, Gruyère, and Fontina. It probably wasn't as sour as it should have been, and we may have put on too much cheese because the recipe didn't specify...nope, no such thing as too much cheese, it was fantastic. We also made one little variation on the recipe by throwing the whole mess under the broiler to brown the top a bit, and then returned to the recipe to shower the top with crispy-fried onion slices. So tasty!

Ribel | Milky cornmeal gruel | Recipe

This was supposed to be a milky, crumbly version of polenta. To keep it vegan we made it with almond milk, and in the chaos of getting ready for dinner, forgot the part about baking it. It wasn't bad, but it was just kinda like regular polenta.

Öpfelküechli | Apple fritters | Recipe

"Don't worry, everyone, I'm about to flambé." Famous last words before a splash of cognac turned into an eight-foot column of flame!

These batter-dipped apple slices were tasty enough, but frankly not worth the effort. Especially since we had no way of coring an apple that would keep it intact as rings, it was just really tedious to batter and fry every little piece — like, making a whole apple pie would have been less work. But without the righteous two-second fireball.

Meal 93: Lebanon

As I caught myself grumbling about having to clean my two food processors and the mixer with a meat-grinder attachment, I realized how it’s unlikely I’d take on this project without the aid of electric appliances. I shudder to think of how long it would have taken to mash the hummus, emulsify the garlic sauce, and grind or chop the meat with only the power of my arms. I wouldn’t have cooked nearly as many dishes if I’d had to do that!

Lebanese food is an incredibly popular cuisine. In fact, many of these dishes are extremely common throughout the Middle East, and it’s taken a lot of restraint not to make hummus and tabbouli for just about every Arab country’s meal. I was eager to throw in some variety, to explore Lebanese dishes that aren’t as familiar to our palate, but in talking with our dear friend Kate and our new friend Melia about what their Lebanese families would cook, it kept coming back to the classics. Authenticity isn't just what you make, but how much and how it's served, so we had a whole messload of mezze, sharable platters, to create a sense of abundance and a variety of flavors. (One might argue that authenticity also involves the cooking techniques, which my Cuisinart and I acknowledge but, frankly, often ignore.)

In addition to Melia, who was very generous with her time both in helping to plan the meal and also in cooking, we had her boyfriend Zef, as well as Laura, Laura (pronounced the Italian way!), Andrew, John, Alicia, Iris, Alley, Ana, Miguel, and Will.

Note: for dishes where recipes aren't linked, they were taken from a cookbook called Alice's Kitchen

Kabees | Pickles | Recipes: turnip, mixed

From what I read on multiple sites, the annual process of preserving the summertime abundance of fruits and vegetables in Lebanon, mouneh, is a cherished tradition. Naturally, then, pickled foods are commonplace on the Lebanese table, and I tried out two different recipes.

The one I was most eager to make was for turnips, stained pink by beets in the bottom of the jar, and kept crisp because rather than boiling to sterilize, I simply moved them to the fridge once they’d sat out for about a week in their vinegar brine. Sour, slightly sweet, slightly bitter, and with a dazzling color, I’d call these a big success, a great burst of flavor and crunch to accompany just about anything except dessert.

The other was a mixed quick pickle, featuring everything from cauliflower to green beans to carrots. I thought this one turned out okay, though to my taste there was too much sugar. Maybe I should have also left it on the counter to age for a few days rather than throwing it straight into the fridge.

Moutabal | Mashed eggplant dip | Recipe

Sometimes I find connections between faraway cuisines in the funniest way. While I was planning this eggplant dip, the chunkier and less creamy cousin of baba ghannoush, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I did an eggplant dip for the previous meal, Laos. But when I looked around the kitchen for a suitable vessel for mashing up the dish and logically arrived at my oversized African mortar and pestle, I realized that I’d used the exact same vessel for making an eggplant dip a few weeks prior.

Anyway, if you can get over the fact that the scraped-out innards of roasted eggplant have the appearance and texture of alien brains, you might enjoy this one as a more rustic alternative. It’s pretty simple ingredient-wise, though it does take some time to let the juice drain out of the roasted vegetable. Skip the food processor for this one, both because you don’t want a purée, and also because if you’re cooking other Lebanese dishes, that appliance is probably being put into service for another dish too.

Hummus | Chickpea-yogurt dip | Recipe

I like the Lebanese version of hummus: lower on the garlic, higher on the tahini, and a hefty dollop of yogurt to make things nice and creamy. I cooked the chickpeas from scratch, which is really very little work and just requires some advanced planning, and tastes so much better and makes an incomparably better texture, both smoother and fluffier, than if using canned. The one tweak I made to the recipe was one I learned for the Israel meal, using a bit of reserved cooking water instead of the plain warm water.


I was thinking of skipping this dish, as it’s really well known and I was trying to make a point of getting in some variety, but then I read that Lebanon takes its National Tabbouli Day really seriously, and Melia shared her family’s handwritten recipe.


A true Lebanese tabbouli should be mostly parsley, with just enough fine fine burghul wheat to hold things together, flecks of tomato for color and contrast, and oil and lemon to make it sing. A lovely, fresh contrast to all that dairy. Thanks to John for all that chopping!

Lebneh | Thickened yogurt | Recipe 

Lebneh, the simple yet incredibly addictive strained yogurt, came so close to taking off in the US. For a good while, Trader Joe’s stocked it, but unfortunately they gave it the unromantic name of “yogurt cheese.” With a name that makes it sound more like a health food than an the exotic, versatile food-with-a-story that it is, TJ’s dropped it a few years back in favor of the Greek yogurt craze that swept the nation like a very thick, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth wave.

Fortunately, lebneh is easy to make, but yet again takes some foresight: just take some thicker yogurt (Nancy’s works great, a pourable Bulgarian won’t) and strain it in cheesecloth. How long to strain is a matter of how you plan to use it: 2-8 hours to make a dip of varying thickness, or 24+ hours if you’re going to make intense, oil-preserved balls with a distinctive cheesy heft. I made both!

The dip, anointed with a pool of olive oil and a generous shower of za’atar spice blend, is just heavenly, simply scooped up with pita. Or use it as a spread in your sandwich. The balls were really thick, dry and dense enough that you could pick it up with your fingers — and remember, it’s nothing more than strained yogurt! — and hence would make for a great piece on a finger-food platter.

Toum | Garlic sauce | Recipe

If you’ve gotten kebab at a Middle Eastern restaurant, chances are it was accompanied by a pungent, unctuous snow-white sauce. It’s toum, a very close relative of mayonnaise, except instead of eggs, it’s garlic that holds oil and garlic in spreadable, well-blended suspension. So long as you’ve got a food processor, the hardest part of making this versatile, long-storing condiment is peeling all those cloves of garlic! I ended up making this with about 2/3 less oil than called for, so it was extremely strong, but still had the right texture.

Man’oushe | Za'atar flatbread | Recipe

Most spices you use a little pinch here, a dab there. Za’atar is best as a healthy dousing. This blend of thyme, sumac (a tart dried berry, apparently) and sesame seeds has a musty flavor and a fun little grit in the mouth that’s somehow excellent in large doses. There’s so many uses for it, but the most reverent presentation is mixed with olive oil as the sole topping for a flatbread.

I thought this recipe turned out great. It was quite sticky as warned, but as I kneaded and rolled, little dustings of flour helped keep everything from gluing to my work surface. I got a pizza stone and my big cast iron griddle really hot in the oven, and by gum, these things turned out just beautifully: a lightly browned crust, and a soft, dry, mild, toothsome interior providing just the right contrast to the oily, gritty, and bold topping.


I’m glad this wasn't the only bread I made, because I wasn’t too happy with these. Despite the evident care that went into a technique for using foil to get the right puffiness and avoid crisping, in the end my pita were, well, crispy and flat. It probably has something to do with the fact that a home oven just can’t achieve the blistering heat and correct humidity to make a bread that cooks almost instantly and puffs up before it can brown to make that lusciously soft, big pita like you get at a Lebanese restaurant. What I made wasn’t bad, it was just more cracker-like than a pita ought to be.

Kibbeh bil sanieh | Bulgur meat casserole | Recipe

The classic kibbeh is a torpedo-shaped ball of bulgur wheat stuffed with meat and typically fried, though many variations abound. For our Iraq meal we make a kibbeh with a shell of rice; you can also stuff it with squash, or serve it raw similar to a tartare, or, as we did, make a casserole. I chose this variation for two reasons: I’ve never had it before, and it’s way easier to bake and keep warm than batches of fried balls.

Good thing I have a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid, because the beef needed to be ground several times to be super fine. Some of that beef was then ground up further in the Cuisinart, with the soaked bulgur. That’s right, both the filling and the “crust” have meat in them! If you don’t have a grinder, make sure to go to a butcher who can do the extra grinding for you. It makes an important difference in the texture.

I thought this was really tasty, though if I do this dish again I’ll be a little more generous with the spices — this one was light and delicate, but if there’s spices in my meat, I prefer them to be bold!

Warak inab | Stuffed chard leaves

Surely you’ve heard of stuffed grape leaves, a bundle of green filled with rice, herbs, etc. But what do you do when it’s winter and the vines are bare? Well, you can either use leaves that you pickled or froze, but like an idiot, I didn’t do that even though we have a great grape vine in our new back yard. (Yes, I could buy them, but what’s the fun in that?) Or, you can substitute with a more seasonable vegetable, like chard.

What a pleasant surprise! Earthy, bitter chard, slightly toothy even after a long simmer, balances the soft, bright, lemony filling so well. Give it a shot, just prepare for it to take longer than the recipe suggests.

Shourbat adas | Lentil soup

This was nice enough, and easy to make, but didn’t quite have the sort of rich, satisfying flavor I’ve enjoyed in some lentil soups I’ve had before. Maybe it’s that it’s a vegetarian recipe, or maybe it doesn’t have enough spice (definitely could have used more cumin). Not bad, but you can probably find a better recipe somewhere. Note the dollop of garlic sauce in the foreground — that sure helped!

Sfouf | Turmeric-anise yellow cake | Recipe

How exotic and beautiful, right? Spices we rarely encounter in dessert, with rich ingredients. and a fanciful name to boot. Well, sorry to say, this was a dense, bland disappointment. More sugar and spices would have helped, but I’d also look for a recipe with a bit more leavening. Unless this is just how it’s supposed to be, and I just wasn’t in the right mainframe or something.

Muhallabieh | Rosewater pudding

Now this was a winner in my book. I love the exotic fragrance of orange blossom and rose waters, and just a little goes a long way on a bright-white canvas of milk simply thickened with cornstarch. It’s super easy to make, so long as you do it enough ahead of time to let it cool, and you don’t need much per person since just a little dish is quite satisfying.

Arak | Anise liqueur

If you like ouzo, sambuca, raki, pastis, or any of those other anise liqueurs, you might like arak. If not, you won't. Incidentally, we've got about 3/4 of a bottle of arak on hand in case anyone wants some.

Meal 81: Italy

In the estimation of many, Italy is the true heart of Western gastronomy. France gets so much of the glory, but it wasn't until Catherine de' Medici of Florence married French King Henry II and brought her chefs with her that their cuisine set on the road to such lofty achievements. A major flaw of going one-meal-per-country is that even the most culinarily interesting and diverse countries only show up once. Well, except for Italian food — thanks to the Holy See (aka Vatican City, a permanent observing state) and San Marino (a tiny but full-fledged member), we essentially get three shots at it! (Oh, I guess thanks to Monaco we'll get French food again. Score!) But even then, there's so much variety across Italy owing to a wide diversity of climates and geographies; to name just one important distinction, the North tends to use butter and the South olive oil as the cooking fat of choice.

One great thing about this project is that there's always a theme for a birthday party. Italy marks Laura's third birthday nosh, after Canada and France. In a shocking break with tradition, I'm the one who took the group photo, so Laura's included! Surrounding her are Erin, Lisa, Anna, Alicia, Jessica, Kirsty, Sarah-Doe, and Elsa. Note the utterly empty bowl that once held pesto pasta.

Antipasti | Appetizers

Our pre-dinner entertainment was tarot card readings (tarot was invented in Italy, who knew?), so we needed an appetizer that didn't require formal service. Fortunately, Italian food has perfected the art of pre-dinner nibbling with the antipasto, literally, "before the pasta." The spread gave me the opportunity to represent preserved foods from around the country.

For meats, we had San Daniele prosciutto from Friuli in the northeast, richly spiced cacciatorini salame from throughout the north and central regions, and a spreadable, fiery 'Nduja from Calabria. I can't even remember all the cheeses, but they included a fresh sheep's-milk ricotta from Lazio near Rome, a delicious, medium-flavored snacking cheese called bra from Piedmont, and a truly distinctive cheese called formaggio di fossa, so named because it's buried in a pit and allowed to anaerobically ferment for a few months, making for a really pungent, sharp, and crumbly cheese. I also roasted some eggplant, chopped it up, and doused it with olive oil, garlic, oregano and salt to make a Southern Italian salad-dip-like thing.

Pane tipo Altamura | Semolina sourdough bread | Recipe

(Sorry there's no photo. Imagine a round loaf of bread.)

I was going to make a ciabatta, until I discovered that it was invented in...1982! So I went searching for an older one, and given my love of sourdough and alternative flours, I ended up with this bread from Apulia, which is known in Italy as Puglia. (Why does English mangle it? Some Anglicizations make sense, like Florence for Firenze and Naples for Napoli. But Apulia, as well as Genoa for Genova, don't seem to add anything.)

Since Roman times, the semolina-based loaf from this particular town has received wide acclaim, and I gotta say it turned out great when I made my best imitation. Moderately spongy with medium holes, a substantial but not overwhelming tang, a bit of nuttiness from the semolina and a crispy but not overly-thick crust made this one of the favorites I've ever made. The only downside is how long it takes to make it: 40 minutes, then 2.5 hours, then 2 hours, then a relatively long bake — something that can only be made on a leisurely weekend day. This bread went great with the antipasti, and the second loaf I made held up admirably for several more days.

Aperol spritz

We're not big fans of Negronis and those other classic Italian cocktails, Laura and I find them too bitter. But this, the famous apertivo of Venice, won our vote: three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol, one part soda, with ice and a slice of orange. Aperol is indeed made of some bitter things, but it's milder and sweeter, and when paired with the dry bubbly, it's just lovely and refreshing.

Pasta fresca all'uovo con pesto alla genovese | Fresh pasta with basil pesto | Recipe

In a proper Italian meal, the primo piatto, the first plate, is generally pasta or soup. Uh, duh, pasta please.

I can't believe I'd never made pasta until now, and it was just as fun and satisfying as folks had told me it would be. With something so simple — it's just flour and eggs — the ingredients are extremely important. I used Italian Tipo 00 flour, which is milled super-fine, which helps it cook faster and also not require as much hydration (hence no added water beyond the moisture from the eggs), leading to a softer texture. The eggs came from the farmer's market. Making up the dough (pasta means paste, as in dough) was easy enough, the laborious part was cranking the sheets of dough through ever-narrower settings on the (borrowed) machine, carefully dusting each layer with flour to avoid them sticking.

Pesto means "pestle," as in the thing you use with a mortar to mash something. Fortunately, the Cuisinart has eliminated the tedium of mashing basil, garlic, grated hard cheese, pine nuts and olive oil with pieces of stone, so this classic Ligurian sauce came together in just a few minutes. Sharp from raw garlic, rich from abundant oil, and fresh and aromatic from basil, the pesto played so well against the soft, mildly eggy canvas of the fresh pasta. There was nary a noodle left after just a few minutes.

Involtini di manzo in salsa di tomate | Beef pinwheels | Recipe

In Northern Italy, meat is traditionally more abundant, and meat dishes are often straightforward hunks of flesh. In the poorer South, meat is treated as more of a luxury good, whose flavor is to be stretched by blending with complementary ingredients. Perhaps an illustration of this distinction is the two meanings of the word braciole: to northerners it'd be medium-thick slices of meat, to southerners it's meat slices pounded thin and stuffed. The latter, which is also universally known in Italy as involtini or "roll-ups," is what we had for a main course. I made it Sicilian-style with breadcrumbs, grated cheese, raisins and pine nuts (ironically, the pine nuts were far more expensive per pound than even the grass-fed beef), held together with a toothpick and browned all sides until cooked through. With the pan juices, I built up a tomato sauce, then put the involtini back in. The great thing about this dish is you can cook ahead of time, and reheat in just a few minutes. (It's also pretty yummy cold!)

Cassata ricetta mia | Sicilian layer cake, my way

A birthday party needs a cake, right? The cassata, probably Italy's most famous cake, is made with sponge cake soaked in rum, and layered with the same sort of creamy spread you find in cannoli. The recipe I found looked cool because it uses a layer of marzipan lined with chocolate to give the thing body; I half-managed to layer the pan with the rolled-out almond paste, but spreading with molten chocolate was a disaster and it all clumped up. I changed course by mushing it all into a layer of chocolatey marzipan, and used that as a layer of the filling. Another layer was sweetened ricotta cheese studded with chocolate curls. Candied fruit is a traditional part of the cake, but Laura doesn't like it, so I kept a corner clear for her. The cassata was rich and delicious, but be warned that whatever recipe you follow is going to be a whole lot of work.

Gelato di cioccolato | Chocolate gelato | Recipe

Drop the mic, put a cork in it, closing time, etc. I shall no longer search for a chocolate ice cream recipe, because there's no way anything could be better than this gem, which comes to us by way of the beloved goddess of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan.

What's all the more astonishing is that it's so rich and sumptuous, yet as a gelato contains no cream. So why's it so rich and tasty, and smoother than any frozen dessert I've ever made? Surely the blend of rich cocoa powder and melted semisweet chocolate rounds out the flavor, but the trick is in a dash of caramel that you whip up in a pan on the side and pour into the custard right as it firms up.

We went through roughly a bottle of Italian wine apiece, plus the Aperol Spritz. The recycling collectors must think we're lushes with very particular regional taste in wine.