Historical recipe videos

“My definition of man is a cooking animal. The beasts have memory, judgement, and the faculties and passions of our minds in a certain degree; but no beast is a cook.”
― James Boswell, The Journals, 1762-95

You can find more recipe videos on my YouTube channel.

Grilled tuna from Ancient Greece

A summer BBQ recipe from Ancient Greece: Athenaus, in his Deipnosophistae from the 3rd century CE, quotes the poet Sotades about his favorite tuna recipe. And he likes to keep it simple: Wrap the tuna in fig leaves, sprinkle with marjoram and grill it. If you like, drizzle some olive oil on top after opening the packages. I served the grilled tuna with bread, cucumber salad, pearl barley and lentils, all available and commonly eaten in the Mediterranean at the time. Fun facts about the versatile fig leaves: toasted or grilled they take on a coconut-ish flavour. Shredded dried fig leaves can actually be used instead of shredded coconut. And the white sap from its stems can be used as a vegetarian rennet to make cheese, but that is a different story. 

Music: Doug Maxwell, Oud Dance (YouTube music library, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0)

Quick recipe: Pepones et melones – Ancient Roman melon salad

This is a light and fruity summer salad for hot days, originating in Ancient Rome (from the Apicius collection). 

Kykeon: Ancient Greek barley with wine

Kυκεών (kykeon) was an Ancient Greek drink based on barley, mentioned a few times in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssee, but also in other Greek written sources. It’s preparation seems to have varied quite a bit. In summary, in was a mix of a barley water, wine and herbs such as pennyroyal, sometimes honey, sometimes even grated goat cheese. Sometimes it is describes as a drink, sometimes as a food. My impression is that there were two main variations of kykeon: one, maybe the original version, more porridge-like, nourishing (here the cheese adds up nicely), and the other one a refreshing, somewhat alcoholic cocktail which, in the context of the Eleusinian Mysteries, could eventually be fortified with psychoactive substances (although this is disputed).  

Alternatively it is possible that the liquid and the more solid kykeon are two products from the same process: to prepare barley water one boils the barley, strains it and mixes the water with other ingredients. And what to do with the solids? A porridge, obviously, that could be flavored with wine, honey, herbs and cheese, too. (A little salt doesn’t hurt either.) And maybe both was called kykeon.

The chilled kykeon drink makes for a refreshing summer sundowner.

9-herb-soup for Maundy Thursday

This green soup is a Central European tradition for Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter and the day on which Christ’s Last Supper is commemorated. It consists of at least nine wild green herbs, hence its German name “Neunstärke“ (strength of nine). 

Suitable herbs are: 
wood sorrel
swiss chard
common plantain
wild mustard
wild chicory
sow thistle

I am using wild mustard, swiss chard, wild chicory, nettles, sow thistle, sorrel, wood sorrel, ribwort and chickweed. Bring it to the boil but don’t boil it too much to keep all the green goodness. The soup can be thickened with either cream or egg yolks. 

Medieval aphrodisiac carrot balls from Andalusia

The anonymous Andalusian cookbook from the 14th century „Kitab al tabikh fi’l-Maghrib wa’l-Andalus fi asr al-Muwahhidin“ praises this sweet and spicy carrot paste that is rolled into small balls as an aphrodisiac: „Eat it like a nut at meals. It benefits: it fortifies coitus and increases desire beautifully; it is admirable.“ (Translation by Charles Perry)

Baked apple from 1559

This baked apple from the Swiss “Ein schön Kochbuch” (“A Beautiful Cookbook”) from 1559 is not extremely different from today’s recipes, except for the wine and saffron. The addition of wine makes that the apple is rather cooked than fried. Sometimes it’s also nice to rediscover familiar things in historical recipes. 

Two festive shellfish dishes from Ancient Rome

There are a number of different shellfish recipes from Ancient Rome that have come down to us. I have chosen two of them, from the recipe collection of Apicius, one with oysters, the other one with mussels, that go well with the holiday season. 

Aïgo boulido

Aigo boulido, meaning “boiled water” in the Provencal language, is a very simply soup, a sop, to be precise, and part of the big Christmas Eve dinner in Provence. It consists of salted water in which aromatic herbs like sage or thyme have been boiled which is then poured over pieces of stale bread that are rubbed with fresh garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Grated cheese can be added, if you like. Simple and good, a classic poor man’s food that goes back centuries. Similar recipes can be found all over Southern Europe.

Byzantine Rose Wine

This recipe of a rose-infused wine comes to us from the 4th century CE, from a medical doctor called Oreibasios, who was the physician of the Roman-Byzantine emperor Julian the Apostate. His various recipes of infused wines that he published in his Medical Collections are destined to balance and strengthen the body. 

Sweet Punic spelt porridge according to Cato the Elder

Kind of ironic that this recipe for Punic porridge was written down by Cato the Elder, in his book “De agri cultura” (“On Farming”), the same guy who concluded all his speeches with “Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” (“Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed”, often abbreviated to “Carthago delenda est”: “Carthage must be destroyed”), to push for the Third Punic War.

Betas: Beetroots from Ancient Rome

This simple recipe from the collection of Apicius combines beetroots and leeks to a sweet and sour salad that can be eaten warm or cold. 

Exotic luxuries in ancient Rome: ostrich stew

One noteworthy issue when dealing with written historical recipes is: the further you go back in time, the less these recipes represent common people’s everyday food, because usually only extraordinary dishes were deemed worthy to be written down (with some notable exeptions, as usual). The same is true for the ancient Roman cookbook of Apicius. Most dishes were considered a gourmet treat, some of them are outright luxurious. Today I am going to cook one of these exotic luxury dishes: a sweet and sour ostrich stew. 

Ostriches were known to Romans but their meat certainly wasn’t affordable for average income households. Which is why I am proposing to pair this stew with rice, another highly priced, exotic luxury good of the time. 

While ostric meat can be found in many regions nowadays, it is by far not commonly available everywhere. Ostrich meat is a lean, red meat and for this recipe can be replaced by beef.

Apicius’ vegetable dinner

This vegetable dish, “Patella ex Olisatro”, is taken from the ancient Roman cookbook of Apicius. The nice thing about it is that you can choose the vegetables according to taste and season. But remember: In pre-Columbian times there were no tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, green beans or corn in the Old World.

You can find this and more recipes in my second historical cookbook “From Eden to Jerusalem: Recipes from the Time of the Bible”. 

Music: Mystic Force Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Dark Age pork – a recipe from the 5th century 

First of all, this dish is really tasty! My family urged me to prepare it more often. 

Vinidarius, probably a Goth living in Italy by the real name of Vinithaharjis, was the author of a small collection of cooking recipes, “Apici excerpta“, from the 5th century AD, at the transition from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages, a time that has been branded as the Dark Ages due to a decrease of written sources. This perception is not entirely correct and dates from a time when historians divided periods into good (enlightened) and bad (dark) periods, which often was simply based on the availability of sources. 

Vinidarius probably meant a whole suckling pig to be cooked that way – I’m simply using pork chops here (good quality pork from an ancient breed raised by a neighborhood farmer).

The dish’s name, porcellum oxyzomum, suggests a sour dish made with vinegar (from Greek oxys – acid), but vinegar is not mentioned in the recipe. Maybe an originally sour dish changed in the course of time, maybe oxyzomum in this specific case simply means “marinated“. 

Apulian Easter Lamb

This week, I am going to prepare a traditional southern Italian dish for Easter Sunday: “Brodetto di Pasqua“ from Puglia is an oven-baked stew that combines the symbolisms of the Easter lamb with eggs, also a Easter symbol, and the green color of fresh peas, symbolizing the arrival of spring. 

Ashishim – lentil fritters against lovesickness

A Biblical recipe and a Valentine’s special

“Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.“ 

  • Song of Songs 2:5

The New International Version Bible translates the Hebrew word ashishim as “raisins”, the King James version translates “flagons”, yet other translations use “raisin cakes”, “flagons of wine” or even “flowers”, but the Talmudic tradition identifies the word with a kind of lentil fritters with honey and even gives us cooking instructions. The Song of Songs recommends the dish as a remedy to strengthen those who are weakened from lovesickness.

You can find this recipe, among others, in my latest cookbook “From Eden to Jerusalem – 40 Recipes from the Time of the Bible“ (also available in Italian, “La Bibbia in Tavola“, and in German, “Von Eden bis Jerusalem“).

Tahiniyya – A vegetable dish from 13th century Egypt

Tahiniyya is a simple yet tasty dish on the base of carrots and leeks from the 13th century Egyptian cookbook “Kanz“. Its name derives from tahini, the sesame paste that constitutes the base of the sauce. The Atraf Tib spice mixture adds colorful flavor. I recommend to eat this dish with rice.

Kandaulos from Tarentum – A Lydian-Greek dish from Southern Italy

The Greek author Athenaeus writes in his “The Deipnosophists“ (from the 2nd/3rd century CE): “The Lydians used also to speak of a dish called kandaulos, of which there were three varieties, not one merely; so exquisitely equipped were they for luxurious indulgence. Hegesippus of Tarentum says that it was made of boiled meat, bread crumbs, Phrygian cheese, anise (or dill), and fatty broth.”

What is Phrygian cheese? Aristotle (384-322 BCE) noted in his “History of Animals“ that Phrygian cheese was made from cow or goat cheese mixed with the milk of mares and asses.

This dish is also a nice example of how connected the Mediterranean world was at the time: A Greek author from Egypt who lives in Rome describes a Lydian dish (the Lydians lived in Western Anatolia and the Eastern Aegean) in a version from a Greek author from Taranto, which is situated in Southern Italy but originally was a Greek city. 

Gustum Versatile – Ancient Roman “Paella”:

Street food from antiquity?

You might have heard of the recent discovery of the thermopolium in Pompeii by archaeologists: a street food shop with remains of duck bones, pork, goat or sheep, fish and snails still intact in its cooking pots. The combination of these ingredients might seem strange to us, but just think of paella (without the rice, though). Further analyses of the contents are not yet finished or published. What kinds of vegetables did they use?

Fortunately for us, there is an extremely similar ancient Roman dish described in Apicius’ recipe collection that we can recreate: “GUSTUM VERSATILE“ (Apicius Liber IV.V)

The dish is astonishingly tasty, especially, I think, with rice, which is historically rather incorrect: rice was known to Romans but was a highly prized exotic luxury.

Medieval cheesecake from Andalusia

This is a recipe from the 13th century Arabic cookbook “The Book of the Excellent Table Composed of the Best Foods and the Best Dishes“ by Ibn Razin al-Tujibi from Andalusia. It’s simple but very tasty.

Mustacei – Cheesy bread rolls from Ancient Rome

These delightful bread rolls are made according to a recipe by Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder), from his book De agri cultura (“About Agriculture“, around 150 BC). The fresh grape must used by Cato would have served as a leavening agent. You might have access only to packed and pasteurized grape juice, therefore we will add a little baker’s yeast to the dough. 

To say it with Cato: “Mustaceos sic facito: farinae siligineae modium unum musto conspargito; anesum, cuminum, adipis p. II, casei libram, et de virga lauri deradito, eodem addito, et ubi definxeris, lauri folia subtus addito, cum coques. 

For more information about the use of grape must as a source of wild yeast, have a look at my videos about Dry Yeast from Ancient Rome or about Roman Bread. 

Music: Mystic Force Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…

Hittite Hotpot – A Recipe from the 2nd millennium BC

The Hittites were a people that lived in the area of Anatolia and Northern Syria in the 2nd millennium BC. The Hittite empire existed from roughly 1,600-1,200 BC. (not counting the Neo-Hittite kingdoms of the early 1st century BC). Before the rediscovery of Hittite cities in what is now Turkey, Hittites were only known from the Bible. The Bible, though, is not very Hittite-friendly, although this civilization was extremely tolerant and in many ways quite advanced for its time. Given the geography, it is very likely that the Hittites in the Bible do not refer to the inhabitants of the Hittite Empire at all, but to Hurrian tribes in the Levant, which were also called Hatti. Anyway, here is the recipe of an original Hittite grain stew, translated from a cuneiform tablet from the Hittite capital Hattusa (Keilschrifttexte aus Bogazköy, 4.2 i 9-11):

It is a rather plain porridge, hence I’m suggesting you consider it a base recipe and add some herbs and spices, maybe some fried onions and garlic. The original version doesn’t even mention stock but tells us to add water only. I’ve added the stock to make the dish more palatable.

This recipe is also featured in my new, upcoming cookbook, “From Eden to Jerusalem: Recipes from the Time of the Bible“.

From Eden to Jerusalem: Recipes from the Time of the Bible

Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey are the biblical “Seven Types” that form the basis of the cuisine not only of the Holy Land but of the entire mediterranean region. Of course, the Bible is not a cookbook, but thanks to archaeological and historical findings we know quite well what was grown, hunted, bred, cooked and where and when eaten. In fact, the Bible itself gives some detailed hints on food culture.
The stories of the Bible cover not only a long period of time, but also a rather large geographical area. Therefore the historical recipes presented here originate not in the Holy Land only, but are also from Babylonia, Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome.
In this richly illustrated cookbook, I present recipes from the places and time of the Bible, offering insight into the prehistoric and early historical mediterranean diet.

Also in German: Von Eden bis Jerusalem – Rezepte aus der Zeit der Bibel

Music: Balzan Groove, Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Easy Etruscan pasta: Testaroli

This quite unusual – and easy-to-make – pasta is said to be of Etruscan origin. I am not aware of any archaeological or historical evidence to either confirm or disprove this claim, so let’s leave it there. I think we can safely assume that this is a very old way of preparing a pasta dish. It is special because the dough is first baked into a kind of crêpe (but without eggs), then sliced into pieces, and finally cooked. What sounds like double work actually simplifies the pasta shaping process quite a bit. The testaroli then are commonly served with pesto: the most common basil pesto, with or without cheese, or a rucola pesto, or whatever you feel like. Use your fantasy and availability. I prepared a basil pesto with walnuts because we have lots of walnuts at the moment.

The Etruscans were a people that lived in the approximate area of the Italian provinces of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio in the 1st millennium BC. Their rich and fascinating culture was slowly assimilated into Roman society. The Etruscan language remains somewhat of a mystery until today. 

Homemade dry yeast from Ancient Rome

Pliny the Elder (23 or 24 – 79 AD), in his “Naturalis Historia“, wrote down this recipe for a grape based dry yeast. Yeast derived from grapes is what I commonly use for baking Roman bread, now drying and storing it for the year would be fantastic. Let’s try! 

Music: Mystic Force Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…

A Medieval feast – from Baghdad to Scandinavia

In this video for the online culinary history conference “Past to Apron“ I showed, using five example dishes, the way regional cuisines from the Middle East all the way up to England influenced each other. 

Braised Fowl from Ancient Rome

Apicius proposes this preparation for different types of poultry: crane, duck, chicken or pigeon. I agree with all of these, except maybe for crane. Choose a fowl that has been bred and fed naturally and has been allowed to grow slowly.

And in this case I really prefer soy sauce over fish sauce.

Eezgii – An age-old Mongolian cheese preparation

I’m feeling experimental and very curious these days, so I have been approaching a cuisine that is quite different from what I’m usually presenting here. I have been preparing a Mongolian dinner in our yurt for some of our friends and one of the dishes I prepared was eezgii. Now, eezgii basically is boiled-down cheese curd, an unusual and original way to dry up and thus preserve cheese without pressing or even leaving it to mature (which is difficult when living a nomadic lifestyle). I think it might have been a rather early way of milk preservation, so I just had to try this one. I’ve been cheese-making for years, so the first steps were very familiar. It’s the subsequent boiling down of the curd that makes all the difference. The milk sugar caramelizes and gives the eezgii a golden hue. 

Murri – Medieval Arab “soy sauce“: an experiment

During the past month I’ve been trying to recreate this salty seasoning from the Middle Ages, in a purely experimental procedure. Murri stands in the tradition of the Roman fish sauce, but although “fish murri“ existed as well, the most common variety was made from fermented barley (not from soy beans, but the comparison gives you an idea of its procedure and use). The term “murri“, although meaning “bitter“ in Arabic, probably originates in the Greek word for brine. 

Oxygarum digestibile – Ancient Roman digestive aid

The “Oxygarum digestibile“ from Apicius’ collection of recipes is simple but good. Apart from resulting in a sauce that is great both as a dip and a marinade, it is also claimed to be an excellent digestion aid. The ingredients are fairly simple to come by, apart from the unclear identification of “Gallic silphium“. As this herb must come from the family of Apiaceae and it is supposed to help digestion, I went for wild fennel from the garden. I would propose dried dill or fennel greens as a handy substitute.

Renaissance stuffed eggplants

This recipe from 16th century Italy was written down by Bartolomeo Scappi, cook of several popes, as a lent dish, so it’s vegetarian. Although it’s not one of the prettiest dishes I ever prepared, it is very, very tasty. The fact that the eggplants are boiled in a spiced vegetable broth makes them savory and very juicy. 

Eggplants were introduced to Southern Europe from the Middle East during the Middle Ages but at first aroused suspicion in regard to their edibility. Their Italian name, “melanzana“, still reflects that prejudice: it derives from “malasana“ – meaning bad for health. By the Renaissance, though, Europeans had figured out that the eggplant is indeed a very edible and innocent vegetable.

Music: Renaissance by Audionautix, Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported— CC BY 3.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…, Music provided by FreeMusic109 https://youtube.com/FreeMusic109 and Suonatore di Liuto Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…

THRION – Stuffed fig leaves from ancient Greece

This ancient form of the well-known stuffed wine leaves is first mentioned in the ancient Greek play “The Acharnians“ by the Athenian playwright Aristophanes in the 5th century BC. There must have been plenty of versions of the stuffing – this specific one , a sweet dish with honey, is said to be a classic from Athens. 

The fig leaves are edible and the whole dish is astonishingly tasty, although I would add some more honey or, alternatively, pieces of dried fruits.

Wild foods: pickled bulbs

Remember those wild blue flowers I was showing you in the last video, the ones with the edible bulbs? They’re called muscari or grape hyacinth, and here in Puglia their bulbs are known as lampascioni (or lampagioni – depending on the region). They grow pretty much everywhere at this time of the year and I will show you how to gather, prepare and pickle them.

Wild herb foraging & crêpes

In this video we will go out into the field and forage some wild herbs and leafy greens that grow here in Italy, but also in many other places. And of those herbs we will make a tasty wild herb crêpe. 

You will also be able to get a glimpse of Luna, our dog, and our yurt. 

Easter Lamb Shank

It is an old tradition to eat lamb for Easter, as it is a symbol for Christ’s sacrifice and at the same time a continuation of the Jewish tradition of the Passover lamb. This recipe is taken from the French 13th century cookbook „Enseignements qui enseignent à apareillir toutes manières de viandes“ (in English: „Lessons which teach the preparation of all kinds of meats“). The trick is to first parboil and then roast the meat at high temperatures, combining the best results of the two cooking methods: juicy meat and a roasted crust. I can only really recommend this preparation, including the sour-peppery condiment that goes with it.

Music license: Suonatore di Liuto Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b… 

Renaissance artichokes

This week we are moving a little ahead in time: to the 16th century, the renaissance. The artichokes, according to a recipe by Bartolomeo Scappi (c. 1500 – 13 April 1577), personal chef of the popes Pius IV and Pius V, are first boiled, then fried. Scappi offers several other options for cooking artichokes, mainly involving to boil them and then stuff them with minced veal. I found this simple one more appealing. 

The original text proposes, in addition to frying the artichoke halves in fat, to douse them with lard before serving. I didn’t deem this necessary and in fact prefer to drizzle them with lemon juice, but go ahead with lard, if you like.

Make sure to use the small, purple variety of artichokes, not globe artichokes.

Bazmawurd – a sandwich from the Court of the Caliphs of Baghdad

Who wouldn’t like to show off with a sandwich or party finger food prepared according to a medieval recipe from the court of the Caliph of Baghdad? The 9th century cookbook “Kitab al-Tabikh“ (“The Book of Recipes“) makes this possible: it penned down a vast number of recipes from the Abbasid Court, listing the personal favorites of a number of caliphs, including the famed Harun ar-Rashid. 

The recipes are heavily inspired by medieval Persian cuisine, and so are the dishes’ names. They constitute the food of the rich and mighty, and thus probably are not representative of the average Middle Eastern cuisine of the Middle Ages, but that is, in fact, the case with most historical recipes. Food has been subject to social stratification for millennia.  

I have chosen this one, Bazmawurd, because of its striking simplicity and its resemblance to a contemporary chicken wrap. You could easily take this sandwich to office, or serve it, cut into pieces, at a party buffet. The amount of fresh herbs, the chopped walnuts, and not least the chopped lemon give it a special touch. 

The ideal bread for the wrap would be lavash, Persian flatbread, but tortillas would do as well. 

Fake Boar – An ancient Roman recipe

Sometimes you want to impress your neighbors in the villa next door, but you just cannot get hold of wild boar. By marinating pork chops – according to this ancient recipe – you might be able to create a fake boar dish. I’ve added the red wine to the original recipe, as I find it is absolutely necessary to create the game effect. Good quality meat, not too lean, is essential to make this work.

Mistembec – carnival fritters in honey

It is carnival, traditionally the last chance to feast and indulge before the start of lent, the fasting period before Easter. That means that in medieval times, when lent demanded abstaining from all land animal products (fish were excluded which was interpreted very freely – anything that swims or spends time in water is a fish in a way, isn’t it?), people were using up all their stocks of animal fat like lard before it might get rancid. So, anything that could be fried was fried, including these lovely little dumplings doused with honey. Similar dumplings, frittelle, are still a widely common carnival snack throughout Italy. This recipe is taken from the 14th century cookbook Liber de Coquina, but versions of it would have been common all over Europe. Their name, “mistembec“ – “messo in bocca“ / “mise en bouche“ – means “put in the mouth“. 

Of course you can equally use vegetable oil instead of lard. 

You need: 1 cup flour, 1 cup wheat starch, a cup water, baker’s yeast, lard or oil for frying and honey. 

Music: Folk Round Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…

Chicken Parthian style

Despite its name this is a dish from Ancient Rome. Parthia was a region in north-eastern Iran. The Parthian Empire constituted Rome’s big competitor in the east, and therefore maybe caused a certain fascination between awe and exoticism among Romans. Why this specific dish is considered particularly Parthian is a matter of debate, as the ingredients and the way of preparation are rather Roman and called for in many other recipes. One theory is that a specific chicken breed from Asia was asked for. 

You need: chicken pieces (legs and/or wings), oil for frying, fish sauce (or soy sauce, if you prefer), wine, ground pepper, lovage (fresh or dried), caraway, garlic 

A Viking porridge

There is very little written record about medieval Scandinavian food, but we can very well determine the kind of foods that were available from the archaeological record, as well as the cooking methods involved. Grains were surely the base of most every day dishes, predominantly barley, but also oats, wheat and rye. Fish played an important role in the Nordic diet, while meat was more expensive and hence used rather as a condiment, like bacon for example. As in many historical cuisines, fruits would have been commonly added to savoury dishes. Apart from the seasonal berries that would have been mainly apples. 

Therefore I have chosen this porridge as a showcase of everyday Viking cooking: barley porridge with bacon, onions, apples and hazelnuts (the only nut that is native to Scandinavia).

Roman roast chicken in cold sauce

Another recipe from the ancient Roman cookbook written (or at least sponsored) by Apicius (ca. 25 BCE – 42 CE), this time a cold, sweet-and-sour sauce for roast or fried chicken, ideal to pep up some chicken leftovers, to be eaten either warm or cold.

Sit felix convivium!

Itriyya – migrant noodles

Pasta is commonly associated with Italy, and indeed there are more than 300 types of pasta to be found here on the peninsula. Already the ancient Romans ate some kind of pasta – laganum – which might have been a kind of lasagne, or maybe an unleavened pie crust – that is not entirely clear. But the noodle as we know it probably came to Italy during the early Middle Ages with the Arab invasion of Sicily in the 9th century. (And not with Marco Polo from China: he stated, in fact, that Chinese noodles were as good as the ones he knew from home.) During the time of the Emirate of Sicily and the following Arabo-Norman era, the island was famous for exporting dried noodles called Itriyya to mainland Italy and other Mediterranean neighbours. In the Salento, the southern part of Puglia, “tria“, deriving from the word itriyya, is still a common pasta, usually eaten together with chickpeas. The term Itriyya is also known from medieval Middle Eastern and North African sources such as the 14th century cookbook named Kanz, or by the Jewish physician Isaac ben Solomon (in Arabic Ishaq ibn Suleiman) in Kairouan, now Tunisia, who lived approximately from 832 to 932 (yes, he apparently got really old). The recipe I am going to show you in this video is from his collection: he recommends it as a dish that is easy to digest and will help the sick regain their strength. 

This migration of recipes is another nice example of how the Mediterranean in the past used to be a uniting, and not a dividing geographical entity. (You can read more about that in the article I wrote for National Geographic Italy a few years ago.)  

By the way, the word “Itriyya“ has nothing to do with the name of the Valle d’Itria, where we are staying, although the idea would be nice. 

Lenticulam de Castaneis – Lentils with Chestnuts 

This recipe from the cookbook by Apicius (ca. 25 BCE – 42 CE) is an exemplary showcase of ancient Roman cuisine, with its classical combination of the sweet, the sour and the salty. Lentils, like kinds of pulses, were an important staple for the population of the Roman Empire, and this vegetarian dish (you can substitute the fish sauce with soy sauce if you like) would have likely been eaten by all social classes. Chestnuts played an important role in the diet of mountainous regions until the 19th century and only later became a luxury food, due to the amount of labor involved in peeling them. 

I used fresh chestnuts from our garden and spend a happy hour or so peeling them, but you should be able to find peeled chestnuts (depending on where you live) either vacuumized, frozen or in brine. 

I soaked the lentils over night in water, cooking them for about half an hour. 

The extinct spice I am mentioning, laser (no connection to the light rays), was obtained by a plant called silphium, which, again, is not identical to the modern plant species with the same name. It is not clear which family the antique silphium belonged to. Asaphoetida was recommended in antiquity as a cheaper alternative, and as this one has an aroma reminiscent of leeks and garlic, I would simply recommend one of them as a handy substitute. I went for garlic this time.

This dish should be served warm. 

Fava beans with hazelnuts – a recipe from the Middle Ages

This medieval recipe from 13th century Egypt from the book of Kanz transforms fresh Fava beans into a filling and seriously delicious salad with tahina, spices, fresh herbs and hazelnuts.

Please note that some people suffer from favism, a rare metabolism disorder causing hemolytic response to the consumption of fava beans.

Medieval cheese & wine waffles

This nice little recipe is taken from the French household guide book „Le ménagier de Paris“ from 1393. It proposes several different varieties of waffles, but I couldn’t help but trying this cheese & wine version, which is really tasty, by the way.

Conditum Paradoxum – Spiced wine from Ancient Rome

This wine-based aperitif – its name means literally “surprise spiced wine” was commonly believed to lift the spirits, open the stomach and prepare it for the meal to come. It basically is a cold mulled wine, and maybe an alternative for those who are not overly wild with the Christmas market version. Just make sure to use a good wine as a base.

In Ovis Apalis – an egg dish from ancient Rome

This egg starter from the cookbook of Ancient Roman author Apicius (1st century CE) is easy to reproduce and a makes a nice little party dish / finger food.

Medieval hummus

This medieval version of a chickpea-based hummus has been written down in Egypt under the reign of the Mamluks in the 13th century CE. It doesn’t use tahini, instead the recipe aims at a fresh, lemony zestiness and is slightly lighter than the common contemporary version.

For in-depth reading I recommend: Lilia Zaouali, Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. University of California Press, 2007.

Mersu – An Old Babylonian sweet dish

This simple but tasty (and even healthy) confection is a sweet dish made from dried fruits and nuts, reconstructed from cuneiform tablets that pinned down the shopping list for the king of Mari (now in Eastern Syria). 

Almost vegetarian sausages from Ancient Rome

This week we’ll try an unusual dish by Ancient Roman gourmet and cookbook author Apicius: egg-based sausages. I say almost vegetarian, because there’s still the issue of sausage casing and, as in virtually every Ancient Roman dish, there’s fish sauce. 

The original recipe reads: “Botellum sic facies: ex ovi vitellis coctis, nucleis pineis concisis, cepam, porrum concisum, tus crudum misces, piper minutum, et sic intestinum farcies. Adicies liquamen et vinum, et sic coques.” – „Make botellum sausages as follows: from boiled egg yolks, crushed pine nuts, onions, chopped leaks, raw incense, crushed pepper, to be stuffed into intestines. Add liquamen (fish sauce) and wine and boil them.“ 

Now, you could either boil the sausages in fish sauce and wine, which the word order might suggest, but the mixture is very dry without added liquids, so I decided to add them directly to the stuffing.

The incense is a little odd as an ingredient. There are various interpretations of it, one possibility might be young pine needles. I tried to use the real thing, in a minimal dose. Nevertheless the aroma gets a little overwhelming after several bites, so you might as well skip it and add some herbs instead, rosemary, for example. 

Zukanda – A Babylonian yoghurt soup with barley flatbread

This recipe is part of a collection of Ancient Mesopotamian recipes from the Babylonian Culinary Tablets at Yale. These cuneiform tablets list, very shortly, a number of dishes with their ingredients – without quantities, that is – and with hardly any instructions, so there is plenty of room for interpretation. I have chosen a dish from one of the Old Babylonian tablets described as “Elamite broth”, so strictly speaking it is not Babylonian but claims to be from what is now South-Western Iran. The name of the dish is given as “Zukanda”. I serve this soup with barley flatbread.

The original text reads: “Elamite broth. Meat is used. You prepare water. You add fat. Dill, wild leeks, leek and garlic bound with blood, a corresponding amount of sour milk, and more garlic. The original name is Zukanda.”

A dinner fit for a knight: Wine stewed chicken crêpes with cinnamon apples

Stuffed dormice from Ancient Rome

And if you are wondering how on earth the Romans kept their dormice: here is the answer.

Panis Romanus – Ancient Roman bread with Moretum white cheese

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