Friday, June 10, 2011

More Farro

Today, a variation on yesterday's farro dish, puls! I think that this also was a very common dish in the ancient world, farro with onion and pancetta.
Farro With Onion and Pancetta
olive oil
1) Heat up some olive oil in a pan and saute the onion and the pancetta.
I was at the Villa Julia, the incredible Etruscan museum here in Rome, yesterday and saw pans from Etruscan kitchens that looked exactly like the one pictured above. It is so fun to see how similar ancient kitchen utensils and pans are to modern kitchen utensils and pans. Also, the most incredible vase picturing the different stages of Greek animal sacrifice is in the Villa Julia which all of you interested in ancient food must see! It is incredible, but they would not let me take pictures. 
2) Add 1 part farro to 2-3 parts water just like in yesterday's post and cook farro until done. Eat!
This would have been a common dish for the average Roman. Now, you can eat it too! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ancient and Modern Puls

"What did the archaic and republican Romans really eat," you ask? Well, a significant staple of their diet was a dish called puls, basically a porridge made of farro wheat grains. In fact, the closest thing to this today might be a 'wheatberry salad' at a place like Wholefoods. Later, the Roman diet moved away from this wheat porridge and towards bread in their diet -- but the bowl of cooked wheat, specifically the Italian produced type of wheat grain called farro, always maintained important symbolic and religious value for the Romans. Farro is still grown and eaten in the ancient way in Tuscany and is starting to become popular in American restaurants as well. Lets look at how to make this ancient Roman staple and then compare it to a modern dish I have discovered here in Rome!
Ancient Roman Puls

1) This is farro, an type of wheat. It is a 'softer' wheat grain than the bread wheat commonly used today. It is better for keeping whole and boiling than for grinding and using as flour compared to harder bread wheats.
2) I will describe the simplest possible way to make this today, and will go though different variations in later posts. For today, mix one part farro with two parts water in a pot and bring to a boil. Then, reduce to a simmer and cook until the liquid is absorbed and/or the farro has a nice al dente texture. If need be, add more water. For a more soupy farro dish, use a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of water to farro. Here it is cooking.
and here it is finished
Add some salt and it is a delicious dish! There are many ways to cook this, but this is the simplest and I believe the most common in the ancient world. And, delicious!

Now, lets look at the example of this dish I have discovered just today in Rome! My friend Daira eats for breakfast every morning a bowl of coffee and milk with toasted wheat grain cereal in it!
A bowl of cooked wheat in liquid! Just a few steps away from the ancient world here, today in Rome! So, you should eat some farro and maybe even this bizarro colazione! Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Today we look at one of the cuts from a pig that does not get normally eaten in the United States but does get eaten in Rome, both ancient Rome and modern Rome. Gianciale is a cut of meat taken from the jowl of a pig. Here is a picture:
This very fatty cut is then packed in pepper and herbs and cured. You cut it up and cook with it just like you were cooking with bacon or pancetta. It is an essential ingredient in the traditional Roman pasta dishes pasta alla carbonara and pasta all'amatriciana. Guanciale is just beautiful to cook with, it renders out this wonderful smelling liquid fat and makes whatever is cook in that fat delicious. So, go get yourself some fatty pork and cook with it! Always add some olive oil to the pan to help the guanciale cook and render out its fat better. And, the taste of olive oil and pork fat is magical! Here is another angle  of the guanciale with the skin side up.
Cooking with different animal fats was common in the ancient world. You should cook with them as well because then you will be happy because all your cooking will taste so good! Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Ancient Snack

Today we look at a wonderful, simple snack eaten in the ancient world and commonly enjoyed today - bread and salami! Both bread and salami are mentioned in Homer and then are mentioned by many other Greek and Latin authors. Not surprisingly, Rome's grocery stores today have incredibly good salami and the bakeries have great bread. Eating bread and salami together is a great snack on a hot day.
An Ancient Snack
fresh bread
1) Peel rind off salami.
2) Cut a piece of salami. Tear off a piece of bread. Eat. 
This is a simple one! You should go get some bread and salami right now and have a wonderful snack! You deserve it! Perhaps, also have a glass of beer like Kyle is having in this photo. Enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rabbit with Olive Sauce

I am in Rome staying with friends who are originally from Lucca, Daira and Giacomo. Last night we made a Luccese specialty, rabbit with olives. While I am here, I am exploring the relationship between ancient and modern Italian cuisine. This dish uses no ingredients and no techniques that the ancient Romans did not also have. So, while I have no ancient recipe in front of me, this traditional dish from Lucca is consistent with ancient Roman food. Very exciting, indeed!
Coniglio con le olive alla lucchese
1 rabbit
2 shallots
olive oil
half a lemon
white wine

1) First, get a rabbit. Then cut the rabbit into smaller pieces. You can have a butcher do this, or you can do it yourself. If you do yourself, just cut it up like you would any mammal. Separate the limbs and cut along the joints. I discarded the head due to Daira's demands. You can buy rabbit in grocery stores in Rome and it is shockingly inexpensive! Forza Roma!
2) After butchering the rabbit, chop up the shallots. Then, saute the shallots in olive oil.
3) Then add the rabbit pieces to the pot and brown all over.
4) Then, add some white wine and the juice from half a lemon (the lemon juice is the secret ingredient in the dish - do not tell Daira I told you about the secret ingredient!)
Then, add some nutmeg ...
And finally, lots of olives
5) Now, let it cook for a while, 30-45 minutes or so, until the sauce gains this wonderful, thick, velvety texture. 
6) Then serve it to your friends! 
7) Here it is close up:
Now, the rabbit and the olives are good, but the real star of this dish is the sauce. So, do get lots of fresh bread and do not forget to sop up the sauce with it, or as it is called it Italian, fare scarpetta, to make the little shoe. Which is an awesome term. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Where I've Been

So, there have not been many posts lately, I admit. But, you know, it is that time of the semester when every time I start working on recreating an ancient recipe I end up distracted in the text itself . . .
But, more posts are coming soon! I hope you are all cooking ancient foods and enjoying the arrival of Spring!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Apicius' Sauteed Leeks

The flowers are blooming, the weather is warmer, Spring is in the air and I want to eat fresh vegetables! Today we dip back into the cookbook of Apicius and look at recipe #89, tantalizingly titled "Leeks, Another Method". This dish is interesting and delicious due to olives added at the end to the sauteed leeks.
Apicius' Leeks, Another Method
4 Leeks
Olive Oil
White Wine
1) Heat a quarter cup or so of olive oil, and yes I do have a heavy hand with the olive oil bottle, over medium high heat.
2) Add the chopped leeks. Now, remember that leeks need to be thoroughly washed. Leeks briefly: where the leek turns from light green to dark green, chop there and reserve the dark parts for your stockpot. Discard the outer layer of the remaining leek and chop it widthwise into many circles. Wash all these circles as they are probably dirty. Voila, leeks ready for cooking!
3) Add a splash of white wine and some salt.
4) Add the olives. I like a mix of olives -- if you are in West Philly, Milk and Honey has wonderful olives. Take the pit out of the olives and throw them in the pan when the leeks look ready to eat. Mix up the olives into the leeks and serve. To get the pit out of the olive, I like to press the flat of my knife on the olive to crush it to make pit removal easy. Please do not slice your palm doing this. The finished dish looks like this picture.
Leeks and olives sounds strange but is delicious! Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


We go back to Cato for this recipe. The suovitaurilia was a very important sacrifice for the Romans consisting of a pig, a ram, and a bull (sus, ovis, and taurus) that was a purification ritual done for major religious events at Rome, most famously at the completion of the census every five years. Here is a picture of the relief sculpture of a suovitaurilia in the senate house in the forum at Rome.
 Appropriately enough, considering his past experience as censo, Cato, in his book on farming (De Agricultura CXLI), recommends also having a suovitaurilia to purify farmland. Now, when one reads about an ancient sacrifice it appears that some parts are grilled and some parts are boiled, depending on which parts would taste better by what method. So, to imitate this, I simmered some cuts of lamb, beef, and pork in red wine for 8 hours and I grilled some other cuts of the three animals. This recipe cooks alot of food, but I was cooking for alot of people. You should too.
2 lamb shanks
4 pounds beef short ribs
4 pounds pork roast
red wine
olive oil
4 pounds boneless pork chops
4 pounds lamb shoulder chops
4 pounds beef sirloin 
1)  Heat up some olive oil in a pot and brown the shanks while you cut up the pork roast.
2) Add the short ribs and pork roast to the pot, and add wine to cover.
3) ummm, this is too much for one pot. Put it into two pots!
4) Okay, now simmer away for 8 hours or so. After about 5 hours, I was able to combine it all into one pot. After 8 hours it is all just an amazing mixture of goodness. 
5) For the grilled part of the meal, I grilled the chops and sirloin over pretty high heat on a grill pan inside. While the ancients did have grill pans remarkably like our own, if you can grill the meats outdoors over charcoal it will be even better. I used only salt as my seasoning for all this meat, and Cato thinks that is what you should do as well.

There are sacrificial cakes that Cato specifies go with the suovitaurilia, but I will save them for a later post. Celebrate the arrival of spring and eat Suovitaurilia! Cato says that you are supposed to walk the animals around your farm and he specifies prayers to say to father Mars as you do so. Also, make a prayer with wine to Janus and Jupiter. Then, enjoy! 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Emperor Hadrian's Daily Meal

"Why did the soldiers love the emperor Hadrian so?" you might be wondering. Well, according to that late 4th century text, Historia Augusta, it is because Hadrian would live the life of the soldier when he was with the soldiers. "What did living this life consist of?" you now ask? Well, all we learn is that it consisted of eating outdoors and eating 'camp food' - bacon, cheese, and cheap wine!
Hadrian's Camp Food
Cheap wine
1) Fry up some bacon.
2) Put it on a plate with some cheese.
3) Pour a big glass of wine. This wine must come from a box or enormous jug. The specified wine in the text is posca, the worst of the worst, even worse than acetum on the ancient-crappy-wine-scale.
4) Eat and drink and feel the love of the troops for you grow and grow.

So, this is how Hadrian made the troops love him! (Uh, and according to the very next sentence it is also because Hadrian gave the soldiers lots of gifts. The author of the Historia Augusta is a wonderfully snarky devil!)
There is a true kernel of wisdom here: if you eat bacon and cheese with people while drinking wine and then give them lots of gifts, they will love you! Hooray!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Plautus' Epityra

Plautus' very funny comedy Miles Gloriosus begins with a soldier and his sidekick on stage. The soldier is bragging and the sidekick flatters him while at the same time telling the audience what a fool the soldier really is. The best line is when he says, "There is no one more full of empty boasts than this guy - but I love to eat his epityra!" See, cause this sidekick is a parasite, basically a professional dinner party attender who sucks up to people like this soldier for free food. What is this food that is worth the company of such a boor, you ask? Well, luckily for us, Cato has a recipe for it!
Cato's Epityra 
Suggested by Plautus
1 pound assorted olives
olive oil
red wine vinegar
1) Gather ingredients
2) Take the pits out of the olives and chop them up. To take pits out of olives, press an olive lightly under the flat of your knife until it bursts, so to speak. Please do not horrible slice your hand doing this. 

3) Now, add all the other ingredients! I would start with, say, 3 Tablespoons of oil and 1 Tablespoon of vinegar. In the summer I would use more vinegar and add some arugula! It would be delicious and summery. Add herbs and spices. Taste. Adjust. Delicious!
4) Make sure to stir everything up really well. I forgot to take a picture when it was all stirred up. 
5) Now eat with some bread. But be careful that your friends do not say that they cannot stand to hear you talk but they are willing to hang out with you just to eat your epityra!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Manius Curius' Turnips

According to Plutarch, Cato the Elder learned his farm-loving and luxury-hating ways from Manius Curtius who lived in a villa down the road. Cato was amazed at how this three-triumph having, Pyrrhus-out-of-Italy-driving, belligerent-tribe-subduing man lived such an impressive life of utter simplicity on his small farm. And, there is even a famous story about this man's favorite food! See, once upon a time some Rome-hatin' Samnites tried to bribe Manius Curtius with gold. And oddly they chose to try to do this while he was cooking dinner. But, this enabled Manius Curtius to point to his pot of boiling turnips and cry out, "He who is content with radishes has no need for gold!" or some such impressive phrase. He then went on about liking to defeat those who had gold rather than possess it himself, blah blah blah. What matters to us is the decisive role Manius Curtius' favorite dish plays in the story!
Manius Curtius' Turnips
1) Boil turnips until they are how you like them, 20 minutes or so.
2) Eat. 
3) Feel resistance to bribery grow in your heart.

Now, don't boil them in stock or add seasoning or anything that tastes good - this will get in the way of their bribery-resistance powers!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cato's Cakes for Religious Services

Today we go back to Cato and look at his recipe for 'libum', a sacrificial cake that was often piled up (into a pile called a 'strues') to make an offering to the gods. The recipes from Cato are often maligned, in fact, Varro (who wrote a book on agriculture around 100 years after Cato) mocked them in antiquity and the modern translator of the Loeb edition even footnotes this recipe with, "these recipes cannot be considered alluring." Well, they are all wrong! Cato, you have delicious recipes!
Cato's 'Libum' - An Ancient Roman Sacrificial Cake
15 oz Ricotta
half cup flour
1 egg
bay leaves
honey and poppy seeds (optional)
1) Gather ingredients.

2) Combine the ricotta, flour, and egg in a bowl. One could use many different cheeses for this recipe, all that is specified is that one passes the cheese through a sieve until it is homogenous. Ricotta is already homogenous and was present in antiquity and tastes really good. So, I recommend it. For the amount of flour, I follow Cato's suggestion for what to do "if you wish the cake to be more delicate." If you have no need for delicate in your life, then use one cup flour instead.
4) Mix it up!
3) Cato says to cook the cakes on a bed of leaves, so I spread some bay leaves on a baking sheet and placed each cake on a bay leaf.
4) Heat your oven up to 350 and put in your sheet pan of cakes. 
5) Remove from oven when they are starting to look golden brown and delicious.
6) Then they are ready to eat. I like to put honey and poppy seeds on them as well (kind of making them the baked version of Cato's globuli!). You can then put them on a plate:
or pile them up into a proper strues for a god:
These are really rich and good. I hope that all your sacrifices will go much better since now you will make the proper cakes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lucian's Wine Fish Tempered with Water Fish

For this recipe we turn once again to Lucian's amazing work, The True History. At book I section 7, Lucian and his shipmates land on an uncharted island and discover a river of white wine. The fish they catch in this river of wine make them so drunk when they eat them that they decide to temper these Wine Fish with fishes caught in water. See, because in the ancient world people used to temper wine with water, Lucian tempers Wine Fish with Water Fish! Lucian is funny stuff! So, inspired by Lucian's lead, we will make Wine Fish and temper them with Water Fish!
Lucian's Wine Fish Tempered with Water Fish
2 largish beautiful fish recommended for poaching to you by your local fish monger
8-10 fresh sardines
white wine
bay leaves
olive oil
1) First, prepare the Water Fish. If needed, gut and clean the sardines. If you find that off-putting, make sure to buy already cleaned sardines. Then put a wedge of lemon and some fresh or dried thyme inside the cavity of each. Rub with a little bit of olive oil and place on a pan. At this point you can turn on the broiler in your oven.
2) Now, lets get going on the Wine Fish. Place your fish in a sauce pan and cover with white wine. No water, only wine! These are fishes that live in wine and must take on a very strong wine flavor for this dish! I also threw in a few bay leaves for flavor.
3) Turn the heat up to mid high. You do not want to boil the fish. You only want to get the temperature up to around 180 degrees or so, which is around when teeny bubbles are coming to the surface. Once you get to this temperature, adjust your heat to keep the temperature at this point for about 10-15 minutes, depending upon how big your fish are.
4) While your Wine Fish is poaching, put your Water Fish under the broiler until they are cooked - which will only take 4-5 minutes.
5) Then place your broiled Water Fish on a serving platter and place your cooked Wine Fish on top!
You are now ready to eat like Lucian on his uncharted island! Just be careful not to kiss the Vine Ladies that live on the island because they will never let you go! There will be more Lucian recipes to come. In fact, at some point this semester some of my colleagues are going to help me recreate Lucian's entire battle between the Sun-ites and Moon-ites in food! Not only is that battle an incredible piece of satire about historiography - it will make an amazing banquet! I am very excited. Here is today's dish again at a different angle:
Now, be careful with this dish! Make sure everyone present tempers bites of Wine Fish with Water Fish so that everyone does not get too drunk. Fish poached in wine is wonderfully delicious and the contrast in textures with the crispy sardines will make you very happy. Don't forget to eat the cheeks, they are the best part. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Apicius' Carrots with Cumin

We go back to Apicius today and look at at his recipe #113, 'Another method for cooking carrots or parsnips.' This is a fun recipe that shows off the difficulties in using Apicius because he says to cook the carrots in 'cumin sauce', and specifies that this is the same 'cumin sauce' from the section on cabbages. But there is no 'cumin sauce' in the section on cabbages! But, however, there are some sauces that have cumin in them in the section on cabbages. If you have been reading the Apicius recipes in this blog so far you might have noticed that Apicius is crazy for cumin. You are right, he sure is!
Apicius' Carrots with Cumin
olive oil
white wine
salt and pepper
1) Heat up oil in a pan.
2) Add carrots. cook for a couple minutes and then some white wine. Depending on just how saucy you want it is how much to put in. As with all recipes from Apicius, there are no amounts specified of anything, so it is up to you to make such decisions on your own!
3) Add spices. Don't skimp on the cumin! That would make Apicius sad.
4) Simmer until carrots are done. Please do not over cook them because that is gross. Leave them with some body and eat them! The sauce is quite nice, little bit sweet from the carrots, rich from the cumin.
I forgot to take any pictures until I was done! Enjoy!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Prometheus' Roasted Fennel

So, the story goes, at least according to Hesiod, that Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it to men by hiding it in a giant fennel stalk. This makes sense because a giant fennel stalk is hollow and has these stringy things in it which can be used to keep sparks and flames alive. See, the giant fennel plant has nothing to do with what we call fennel here in the ol' USA. Ferula is the proper term for giant fennel. The Thyrsus, that big stick Dionysus and his crazed maenads carry is also a ferula. Where am I going with this? Okay, so I figure after Prometheus got punished (chained to rock, eagle eating liver) and freed (I have an earlier post on this and Hercules) he made this dish quite often.
Prometheus' Roasted Fennel
fennel bulb
olive oil
aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper or just black pepper
1) See, I figure Prometheus would want to eat this spicy, roasted fennel bulb to remember how he stole fire in fennel. So get yourself a fennel bulb. Trim off the top and bottom.
2) Then cut it into slices, put in into a bowl and toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and the spices. 
3) Then spread on a sheet pan and roast in the oven at 400 for about half an hour. Then check on it and roast it more if you need to. It will look like this when done:
I really love roasted fennel and it is easy to do and delicious. And, it takes fire to roast it and without fennel's namesake we just wouldn't have any fire at all! This dish is a celebration of fire. So, roast some fennel and be happy that ol' Mr Foresight stole us humans that fire! Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Apicius' Lamb Stew

Today we are looking at Apicius' recipe #360, "Another Stew for Lamb." I cooked this dish with lamb ribs because they are delicious and cheap. Shanks, shoulder, or even leg would work great as well. This is a great dish for a cold night because it is rich and comforting yet the strong cumin flavor still gives it a taste of the exotic.
Apicius' Lamb Stew
3 pounds lamb ribs
1 onion
salt and pepper
olive oil
red wine
parsley or cilantro
1) Heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pot. Then add lamb ribs and brown all over. 
2) Then add the onion and the parsley or cilantro. 
3) Then add spices.
4) Give a good stir and add wine. I added lots of wine because I wanted lots of juice to dip bread in or pour over some farro.
5) Then cook for hours and hours! At least 4. More if you've got the time! This dish just ends up mouthwateringly soft and rich. The long cooking really mellows out the spices and you might find you have to add more cumin and pepper to bring out the flavors later. I will warn you that this dish is rich and fatty. So fatty, in fact, that you might want to skim off some of the fat. I however think you should eat that fat and revel in its unadulterated wonderfulness. Enjoy!