Recently, it was my turn to host our cookery group. We had already set the theme for “my” date before Christmas, and now it was time to see what we could do with it. The idea was to try and cook food which the ancient Romans would have eaten.
2000 years ago cookery books did not proliferate in the way they do today. BUT a collection of recipes from ancient Rome has somehow survived, and this collection is commonly known as Apicius. Here is what Wikipedia has to say: “Apicius is a collection of Roman cookery recipes, usually thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD and written in a language that is in many ways closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin. The name “Apicius” had long been associated with excessively refined love of food, from the habits of an early bearer of the name, Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet and lover of refined luxury who lived sometime in the 1st century AD, during the reign of Tiberius. He is sometimes erroneously asserted to be the author of the book that is pseudepigraphically attributed to him.” You can read the rest of the article here.
I wonder if the French word gaver (to stuff, force feed) has anything to do with Gavius?? It sounds as though he was rather fond of filling his belly! :)
Searching the net, a great many references to the Apicius texts can be found. I drew my recipes from two sources: http://www.3owls.org/sca/cook/roman.htm and http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/233472.html. There is also a very interesting site at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Apicius/home.html for those of you who would like to take it further!
For our afternoon of cooking I had chosen the following dishes:
Soft boiled eggs in pine nut sauce
Fried veal escalopes with raisins
Parsnips with coriander
You can find the recipes here. As I was preparing my shopping list, I realised that the ancient Romans must have been rather fond of pine nuts :)!!
The first dish to be prepared was the nut tart, as it needed some time in the oven, and then more time to cool! I bought almonds and pine nuts for this dish and we used vin santo, an Italian dessert wine, as the sweet wine.
The sauce for the soft-boiled eggs called for an incredible amount of pepper! Tasting the sauce before it was cooked made several of us choke, but the flavour mellowed with cooking.
The parsnips recipe required a fair amount of peeling, chopping and preparing, but relatively little cooking.
For both the veal escalope and the tuna recipes, the important part was the sauce or dressing, which was poured on after cooking the meat and fish. The tuna fish was cooked on a red-hot griddle for 30 seconds each side, and turned out perfectly pink, tender and juicy. The veal escalopes were also cooked very briefly in a hot frying pan.
The stuffed dates required two kinds of nuts – pine nuts and walnuts.
And here is what we ate:
The soft-boiled eggs were delicious. The sauce was more like a paste, and it did taste very nice, and not as peppery as we had feared earlier. The quantities given for the sauce can be halved, or the number of eggs doubled.
The sauce with the tuna was much like a Mexican salsa, and went perfectly with the fish. Definitely a recipe I would do again!
The next course was the Veal escalope with raisins. I prepared that, and I guess in my excitement I forgot to take a picture, mea culpa!! I’m not sure if it is because of the lack of photographic evidence to refresh my memory, but somehow this dish is not as memorable as some of the others. The parsnips were very tasty and eaten with the veal escalopes…
Next came the nut tart – it turned out to be a fairly dense confection, not overly sweet, but very nutty! I would reduce the quantity of nuts if I were to cook this again. The recipe hinted at its being a kind of flan, and it wasn’t really very flan like. Nobody disliked it though, nor did any of us leave anything on our plates, so it must have been pretty tasty!
The stuffed dates came at the very end of our meal, when we all felt rather full. But we managed to try them all the same, and they were very delicious!
What an interesting afternoon we had, and what tasty food!! I am sure that we’ll be doing some more historic recipes before too long. :)