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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.
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.