Pollice Verso (With a Turned Thumb) by Jean Leon Gerome, 1872
I guess everyone has heard of the Paleo Diet – that’s what people ate 10,000 years ago. It’s basically meat, nuts, fruit and vegetables. There’s something a little more current, well, from about 2,000 years ago, the Gladiator Diet. It’s what Roman gladiators ate to stay in fighting condition. And surprisingly, it was almost a completely vegetarian diet.
Oat and Seed Cakes
No meat and potatoes for these guys. They ate mostly barley, beans and some pasta too, often flavored with fish sauce, trying to put on enough weight to cushion those sword and spear wounds in the arena. That wasn’t enough to strengthen their bones so they drank a sort of “sports drink,” a mix of wood and bone ash to build up calcium. They also drank goats milk and water but no wine. This combination of food and drink made them fit and tough.
String Beans a la Gladiator (based on what we know they ate and what was commonly available in Rome back then)
Boil the string beans for 5 minutes. In another pot sauté the onion in oil until soft, translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the drained, cooked string beans to the onions, add the colatura di alici and about 1/2 cup of the water you boiled the string beans in. Taste for seasoning. Colatura di Alici can be very salty and you may not need any more salt. Simmer for a few minutes and serve.
String Beans a la Gladiator
Some more information on the Gladiator Diet here –
I’ve heard it’s North African, or Middle-Eastern and it’s definitely very popular in Israel. Whatever it is, it’s a hearty breakfast, lunch or dinner. The first time I had shakshuska was in an Israeli run diner in Rockaway. I asked the waitress what it was and the way she described it sold me. It was served in a small cast iron pan right from the stove. You can’t get just anywhere so I started making it myself. This is similar to Eggs in Purgatory.
Start by frying the onion, red pepper, and chili in olive oil. Cook until edges start to turn brown. Pay attention and don’t let it burn.
Add garlic and cook for about a minute. Mix in the paprika and cumin and add the tomatoes. Simmer for about 10 minutes, check for seasoning and add the parsley.
The sauce should be thick enough to make five indentations in it using a spoon. Break an egg into each one. Cover and reduce the heat and cook it until egg are done.
2 preparation techniques – tostones with green unripened platonos and meduros for yellow/black ripe ones.
Tostones can be served along side meat like potatoes or as a snack like potato chips. They’re made from an unripe platano (plantain). That’s a type of a very hard and starchy green banana.
I learned to make them while hanging out with a Puerto Rican friend in his sister Evelyn’s kitchen. You start by cutting off the two ends and making shallow knife slits in the skin along the length of the platano. The skin is thick and hard and not easy to peal like a regular banana.
After they’re peeled, cut them into ¾ inch rounds and fry them in light oil like Wesson or Canola. Lightly brown them on both sides and remove them to drain on a paper towel. After they cool a bit, flatten them and fry them again until the edges get crisp. tostonera
Some people use a tostonera but whacking them with the bottom of a Coke bottle works just as well for this step. I thought it interesting that Evelyn used a Coke bottle to flatten her tostones and my mother used one to squash olives so she could remove the pits – a cross-cultural improvised kitchen utensil.
After the second frying, sprinkle them with salt and serve hot or room temperature.
Meduros are made in a similar way but don’t need to be flattened and fried twice. A meduro is a ripened platano. You should buy the ones that are almost black. As they ripen the starch turns to sugar so a meduro is sweet instead of savory like a tostone.
Peel them the same way and cut them into one-inch slices on a bias (diagonally). Fry them on a high heat to brown them, then lower the heat and cook until they soften. They may be sweet but they’re also served along side meat.
This is a quick sauce and should be ready in about the time it takes to make the pasta. Don’t overcook it and keep the fresh taste of the tomatoes. Simple ingredients and yet the result is a complex flavor. Colatura di Alici is an Italian fish sauce similar to the ancient Roman and Greek garum.
Add more oil to the pan and cook the anchovies until they dissolve. Add the garlic and cook until very lightly golden. Add the chilli and cook briefly. Then add cherry tomatoes and capers.
When the pasta is almost done move it from the pot to the pan, adding a bit of the pasta water to the sauce. Mix the pasta with the sauce adding water from the pot as necessary.
When almost done, add the colatura di alici, breadcrumbs, and chopped parsley and blend. Taste for seasoning. Anchovies and colature di alici can be salty and you may not need any more salt. No cheese on this one.
If you have lots of cherry or grape tomatoes to cut in half, here’s a simple and quick way to do it instead of cutting them one at a time.
(sorry about the siren in the background – we live in New York City and didn’t notice)
If you cook, you know how important sharp knives are. They just seem to glide through whatever you’re cutting and make everything easier. You can sharpen them yourself using different types of sharpening stones or you can have them done professionally. I’m lucky enough to be within walking distance of Del Re’s Grinding – at least every Saturday from 2 to 6 pm. That’s when he parks his van in front of Zabar’s, an Upper West Side specialty food store on Broadway near 80th Street. There’s usually a line and no matter how long the line is, Mr. Del Re doesn’t rush. He’s a true craftsman and he does a thorough job.
The images on his truck show all of the things he can sharpen although I don’t think many people in Manhattan have lawn mowers and hedge shears.
He parks along side of restaurants and rings the bell above his windshield to let them know he’s there.
. . . a true craftsman and he does a thorough job . . .
Put all rub ingredients in a blender and blend until it’s smooth and liquidy. Place chicken in a bowl and pour rub over it and coat thoroughly – use your hands and really rub that mix in. Cover and store in fridge overnight or at least 8 hours.
Bring the chicken to room temperature and pre-heat the oven to 450o with the rack in a low position. Place the chicken pieces skin side up in a well-oiled backing pan. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until brown. Legs and thighs need to cook a little longer than wings and breasts.
For Cuban coffee the only ingredients you’ll need are espresso and sugar. For equipment, a moka pot is preferred but any other espresso maker will do. This recipe is for two cups.
Start by putting a two-cup espresso pot on the stove.
While the coffee is brewing start making the espuma –
Add two teaspoons of sugar to a small serving pot for each cup plus one more. More sugar makes more crema. As soon as it’s brewed, add two teaspoons of coffee to the sugar and stir vigorously for a few minutes until you have a creamy café au lait colored syrup. Pour the coffee over it and stir until the espuma rises to the top.
You can simply fry Italian sausage and peppers with some onion and you’ve got Sausage and Peppers. It takes hardly any time or effort and it’s really very good just like that. But if you have a little extra time and want to make an extra effort, try it this way.
Pierce sausage skin in a few places with a fork so it doesn’t pop when they’re cooking. Fry them in oil until almost done. Remove and cut them into bite sized pieces.
Cut the onion and peppers into strips.
Fry the onions until partially cooked, add the tomato paste and blend.
Add the peppers, return the sausage, cover and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan and cook for another few minutes until blended. That’s it – done.