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!