Eight recipes from
Around the Roman Table
Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome
In addition to a wealth of material about culinary customs and techniques in ancient Rome, Patrick Faas translated more than 150 Roman recipes and reconstructed them for the modern cook. Here are eight recipes from from the book—from salad to dessert.
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Columella's writings suggest that Roman salads were a match for our own in richness and imagination:
Addito in mortarium satureiam, mentam, rutam, coriandrum, apium, porrum sectivum, aut si non erit viridem cepam, folia latucae, folia erucae, thymum viride, vel nepetam, tum etiam viride puleium, et caseum recentem et salsum: ea omnia partier conterito, acetique piperati exiguum, permisceto. Hanc mixturam cum in catillo composurris, oleum superfundito.
Put savory in the mortar with mint, rue, coriander, parsley, sliced leek, or, if it is not available, onion, lettuce and rocket leaves, green thyme, or catmint. Also pennyroyal and salted fresh cheese. This is all crushed together. Stir in a little peppered vinegar. Put this mixture on a plate and pour oil over it. (Columella, Re Rustica, XII-lix)
A wonderful salad, unusual for the lack of salt (perhaps the cheese was salty enough), and that Columella crushes the ingredients in the mortar.
100g fresh mint (and/or pennyroyal)
Follow Columella's method for this salad using the ingredients listed.
In other salad recipes Columella adds nuts, which might not be a bad idea with this one.
Apart from lettuce and rocket many plants were eaten raw—watercress, mallow, sorrel, goosefoot, purslane, chicory, chervil, beet greens, celery, basil and many other herbs.
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Soft-Boiled Eggs in Pine-Nut Sauce
In ovis hapalis: piper, ligustcum, nucleos infusos. Suffundes mel, acetum; liquamine temperabis.
For soft-boiled eggs: pepper, soaked pine nuts. Add honey and vinegar and mix with garum. (Apicius, 329)
for 4 small eggs
200g pine nuts
Soak the pine nuts overnight in water. Then drain and grind them finely in the blender or pound them in a large mortar. Add the pepper, honey and garum. Heat the sauce in a bain-marie. Meanwhile put the eggs into a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Let them cook for 3½ minutes, then take them off the heat, plunge them into cold water and peel them carefully. The outer edge of the egg white must be firm, but it must be soft inside. Put the eggs, left whole, into a deep serving bowl and pour over the sauce. Serve.
This recipe can be adapted easily to other eggs, such as quail's eggs. In that case keep an eye on the cooking-time: a quail's egg will be firm in 1 minute.
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Lentils with Coriander
Aliter lenticulam: coquis. Cum despumaverit porrum et coriandrum viride supermittis. (Teres) coriandri semen, puleium, laseris radicem, semen mentae et rutae, suffundis acetum, adicies mel, liquamine, aceto, defrito temperabis, adicies oleum, agitabis, si quid opus fuerit, mittis. Amulo obligas, insuper oleum viride mittis, piper aspargis et inferes.
Another lentil recipe. Boil them. When they have foamed, add leeks and green coriander. [Crush] coriander seed, pennyroyal, laser root, mint seed and rue seed. Moisten with vinegar, add honey, garum, vinegar, mix in a little defrutum, add oil and stir. Add extra as required. Bind with amulum, drizzle with green oil and sprinkle with pepper. Serve. (Apicius, 192)
Wash the lentils and put them into a saucepan with 2 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil, and skim off the scum. When the water has cleared, add the leek and half of the fresh coriander. Grind the spices and the other herbs, and add them with the garum, vinegar and defrutum to the pan. Let the lentils simmer until they are almost cooked. Check the pan every now and then to ensure that the water has not evaporated. At the last minute add the olive oil, the freshly ground pepper and the remainder of the chopped coriander.
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Roast Wild Boar
Aper ita conditur: spogiatur, et sic aspergitur ei sal et cuminum frictum, et sic manet. Alia die mittitur in furnum. Cum coctus fuerit perfundutur piper tritum, condimentum aprunum, mel, liquamen, caroenum et passum.
Boar is cooked like this: sponge it clean and sprinkle with salt and roast cumin. Leave to stand. The following day, roast it in the oven. When it is done, scatter with ground pepper and pour on the juice of the boar, honey, liquamen, caroenum, and passum. (Apicius, 330)
For this you would need a very large oven, or a very small boar, but the recipe is equally successful with the boar jointed. Remove the bristles and skin, then scatter over it plenty of sea salt, crushed pepper and coarsely ground roasted cumin. Leave it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, turning it occasionally.
Wild boar can be dry, so wrap it in slices of bacon before you roast it. At the very least wrap it in pork caul. Then put it into the oven at its highest setting and allow it to brown for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4, and continue to roast for 2 hours per kg, basting regularly.
Meanwhile prepare the sauce. To make caroenum, reduce 500ml wine to 200ml. Add 2 tablespoons of honey, 100ml passum, or dessert wine, and salt or garum to taste. Take the meat out of the oven and leave it to rest while you finish the sauce. Pour off the fat from the roasting tin, then deglaze it with the wine and the honey mixture. Pour this into a saucepan, add the roasting juices, and fat to taste.
Carve the boar into thin slices at the table, and serve the sweet sauce separately.
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Until the 1980s the ostrich was considered as exotic as an elephant, but since then it has become available in supermarkets. Cooking a whole ostrich is an enormous task, but Apicius provides a recipe for ostrich:
In struthione elixo: piper, mentam, cuminum assume, apii semen, dactylos vel caryotas, mel, acetum, passum, liquamen, et oleum modice et in caccabo facies ut bulliat. Amulo obligas, et sic partes struthionis in lance perfundis, ete desuper piper aspargis. Si autem in condituram coquere volueris, alicam addis.
For boiled ostrich: pepper, mint, roast cumin, celery seed, dates or Jericho dates, honey, vinegar, passum, garum, a little oil. Put these in the pot and bring to the boil. Bind with amulum, pour over the pieces of ostrich in a serving dish and sprinkle with pepper. If you wish to cook the ostrich in the sauce, add alica. (Apicius, 212)
You may prefer to roast or fry your ostrich, rather than boil it. Whichever method you choose, this sauce goes with it well. For 500g ostrich pieces, fried or boiled, you will need:
2 teaspoon flour
Make a roux with the flour and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, add the passum, and continue to stir until the sauce is smooth. Pound together in the following order: the cumin, celery seeds, dates, garum or anchovies, peppercorns, chopped mint, the remaining olive oil, the honey, and vinegar. Add this to the thickened wine sauce. Then stir in the ostrich pieces and let them heat through in the sauce.
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Ius in cordula assa: piper, ligustcum, mentam, cepam, aceti modicum et oleum.
Sauce for roast tuna: pepper, lovage, mint, onion, a little vinegar, and oil. (Apicius, 435)
for the vinaigrette
3 tablespoons strong vinegar
Put all of the vinaigrette ingredients into a jar and shake well to blend them together.
Brush your tuna fillets with oil, pepper and salt, then grill them on one side over a hot barbecue. Turn them and brush the roasted side with the vinaigrette. Repeat. The tuna flesh should be pink inside so don't let it overcook. Serve with the remains of the vinaigrette.
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Fried Veal Escalope with Raisins
Vitella fricta: piper, ligusticum, apii semen, cuminum, origanum, cepam siccam, uvam passam, mel, acetum, vinum, liquamen, oleum, defritum.
Fried veal: pepper, lovage, celery seed, cumin, oregano, dried onion, raisins, honey, vinegar, wine garum, oil, defrutum. (Apicius, 335)
for the sauce
¼ teaspoon cumin
Pound the cumin and the celery seed in powder, then grind the peppercorns. Mix all the ingredients together and leave the raisins to macerate for at least a few hours and up to a day. Beat the veal fillets with a rolling-pin or meat-tenderizer, until they are flattened. For Roman authenticity, the escalopes should be cut into small pieces or strips after frying—they didn't use knives at table. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fry briefly on both sides in a hot pan with a little olive oil. Remove the veal from the pan. Put the sauce mixture, let it reduce, then pour it over veal and serve immediately.
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Patina versatilis vice dulcis: nucleos pineos, nuces fractas et purgatas, attorrebis eas, teres cum melle, pipere, liquamine, lacte, ovis, modico mero et oleo, versas in discum.
Try patina as dessert: roast pine nuts, peeled and chopped nuts. Add honey, pepper, garum, milk, eggs, a little undiluted wine, and oil. Pour on to a plate. (Apicius, 136)
400g crushed nuts—almonds, walnuts or pistachios
Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/Gas 9.
Place the chopped nuts and the whole pine nuts in an oven dish and roast until they have turned golden. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Mix the honey and the wine in a pan and bring to the boil, then cook until the wine has evaporated. Add the nuts and pine nuts to the honey and leave it to cool. Beat the eggs with the milk, salt or garum and pepper. Then stir the honey and nut mixture into the eggs. Oil an oven dish and pour in the nut mixture. Seal the tin with silver foil and place it in roasting tin filled about a third deep with water. Bake for about 25 minutes until the pudding is firm. Take it out and when it is cold put it into the fridge to chill. To serve, tip the tart on to a plate and pour over some boiled honey.