The Apicius Way

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
Roast tuna
Fried veal escalopes with raisins
Parsnips with coriander
Stuffed dates
Nut tart

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:

Soft-boiled eggs with pine nut sauce

Soft boiled eggs with pine nut sauce

 

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.

Roast Tuna

Roast Tuna

 

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…

Nut tart

Nut tart

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!

Stuffed dates

Stuffed dates

 

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. 🙂

 

 

Wisteria hysteria, flowers and restaurants

Last week I showed you a tantalizing picture of the wisteria buds, and felt a little bad that I included only the one photograph at the end of the post, so here are a few more, for all of you who enjoy the generous blooms of wisteria flowers.

Last sunday the weather was perfect for a wild flower walk, so off we set down Rue de la Digue (past La Digue) and the potagers along the road, and into the vineyards.  It’s a gentle walk, crossing the river over the ford, and past a grove of olive trees.  After a little while we decided to veer off the path and walk along the river, perhaps we’d find some wild asparagus?  No luck with the wild asparagus, but there was a discovery albeit not of the edible kind:  wild tulips!!  In all the years I’d never come across them perhaps I’d not been out at the right time, or maybe the weather had not been damp enough when it needed to be.  First there was just one lone tulip, the some still in bud, and finally there was a patch of them!  Utterly delightful!

There were other flowers too, and the Euphorbia in particular were looking very good.  The wild arum is the first one I’ve come across here too.  At the end of the walk there were a few interesting picture opportunities:

On Monday came the highlight of the week (so far): dinner at Restaurant Lo Cagarol in Aigne (we’re you can find Maison du Beaupre).  Stephanie and Christophe have been running the restaurant for the past eleven years (how time flies!) and Christophe’s touch with the food is very sure!  The four of us tried to have as many different dishes as possible, but there were firm favourites.  For starters there was Foie gras a l’ancienne, served with a jelly made from Muscat de St Jean de Minervois, Escalope de foie gras served with a creamy asparagus soup, and Gambas sauvage au curry rouge.  Both the foie gras dishes were perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the wild prawn was very tasty too!

Before the main dishes arrived, we had a Trou Occitan, a small glass of vodka with a scoop of sorbet made from Muscat de St Jean de Minervois – very much a palate cleanser and delicious!  For  main course we had Montgolfiere de St Jacques, a dish of scallops and prawns in a creamy sauce, topped with a puff pastry lid which sealed in all the flavours; Entrecote steak which was beautifully tender and cooked to perfection and Thon Albacore, which was the best tuna I’ve ever tasted, tender and succulent and in no way dry (!), the two served with mashed potatoes with olive oil and vegetable spaghetti.

Then came the cheese course, and with it something I’d not come across before:  A sorbet made with sheep’s milk (from a local farm), served with honey and crunchy nuts.  There was very little sweetness in it except for the honey, and just a hint of cheese.  Great idea!  The other   we tried was gorgonzola, served on a crouton over a puree of sun-dried tomatoes.

Dessert was obligatory, and when it’s as nice as at  Lo Cagarol one can always find room :-)!  I can’t quite remember the French names of the desserts, so here’s a description:  the first was a cigarre filled lime and cactus sorbet and fresh gariguette strawberries, topped with cream.  The second was a ganache made with Valrhona chocolate, served with fresh raspberries, and lastly there was Baba au rhum, which was served with the most divine banana ice cream – to my mind bananas and rum go really well together!
So there you have it – a fantastic meal!! If you want to try Lo Cagarol yourself be sure to book! You can find the restaurant on facebook here!  And here’s the picture gallery of all the photographs in this post.