Roman food was forever changed when Apicius arrived on the culinary scene – we find out who he was and what he believed, how it’s done today in and around Rome and feature mouthwatering recipes for the whole weekend.
Lazio is huge and there is simply no way one can summarise the food from from this area in one discussion! If you want diversity though, this is the place to be.
100 years AD Marcus Gavius Apicius, culinary genius and rebel, was known as a breaker of hearts and a rake! He was a contemporary of Augustus and Tiberius and was vehemently criticized and scorned by chefs and all of society but was impervious to their comments and couldn’t give a hoot. He gained fame for doing absolutely everything that wasn’t done – from insisting that animals should be fed well before slaughter to influence the taste of the meat to turning menus upside down. He made them lighter than the heavy ones of the time where tables were a stage for elaborate productions of food – we can thank him for the type of menu we use today. Unfortunately there is no original copy of his classic work and we have to be satisfied with copies of his writings made by monks through the ages that they, no doubt, altered. He had a habit of presenting a meal ex ovo usque ad malum – from the egg to the apple (the apple as dessert and the egg as starter!) For fun, I will include one dish from a typical menu of the time and adapt it only slightly by giving you the option to use chicken livers instead of sweet breads to simplify matters.
SALA CATTABIA APICIANA
Chicken salad à la Apicius
100 g veal sweetbreads, buy prepared already cooked ones from your butcher, alternatively use cleaned chicken livers
200 g skinless chicken breasts
4 slices whole wheat toast
100 g pecorino cheese, cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
White wine vinegar to taste
Maldon salt to taste
1 lemon, zest and juice
20 g butter
Butter for frying
100 ml full cream milk
1 tbsp honey
1 cucumber, finely sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
Ingredients for the sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp celery leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp lemon grass finely chopped
1 tsp mint, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander, finely chopped
2 tbsp sultanas
2 tbsp runny honey
4 tbsp white wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sauté sweetbreads or liver in hot butter and season with pepper. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces and sauté in butter until cooked but not overcooked. Check and correct seasoning. Set aside. Prepare sauce by combining all ingredients and mixing thoroughly in blender. Combine milk and honey and dip the bread into it without soaking. In a flat dish, place the cooked sweetbreads or liver on each slice together with the pecorino, pine nuts, cucumber and chopped onion. Top with the sauce and serve! Should you be unable to buy the cooked sweetbreads and need help with cooking them, drop me a line below and I’ll help.
My best friend, Alessandra, is the best cook I know. She lives in Sabaudia, the town that will always be my home and which is situated in the middle of the Circeo National Park. She lives right next to the most beautiful lake in the world, the Lago Paola (image above) – so beautiful that the ancient Romans built many holiday homes there as well as an aqueduct connecting the sea to the lake. Everything she cooks is absolutely delicious and, on top of that, she is one of those frustrating people that simply doesn’t make ‘flops’. Here is one of my favourites.
ALESSANDRA’S PASTA BROCCOLI
500 g Orriechiette (you could use another shape, but these are perfect for this)
400 g broccoli
Malden salt and freshly ground black pepper
Abundant Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Garlic – use 1 clove and chop finely
1 chili, chop finely
Boil the pasta in abundant salted water.
Boil the broccoli until just cooked but not tough.
In a pan with some olive oil, fry the garlic and the chili together and add the broccoli, incorporating it with everything else by mashing it with a fork.
Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the pan and mix through, ensuring that you incorporate it with everything in the pan. Optional (anchovies or spicy sausages can be fried quickly with the garlic and the chili for added flavour). Serve immediately with plenty of parmigiano reggiano
We move back to the city of Rome with it’s famous oven roasted lamb. The Romans have known how to prepare lamb since the first Etruscans set foot in Italy – their genetic memory strongly linked to their forefathers who, 10,000 years ago in Asia discovered that sheep not only provide warm covering but are darned good to eat! Cooking comes naturally to Italians, they don’t have to learn how to cook, they know when they are born.
ABBACCHIO AL FORNO CON PATATE
(Oven roasted lamb with potatoes)
2 kg leg of lamb
3 cloves garlic
2 large sprigs of rosemary
20 g butter
700 g potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces of your choice
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
Pre heat oven to 180 C
Make sure that the lamb is scrupulously clean, gland removed and ready to roast. Cut slits in the meat and spike with the halved cloves of garlic and the rosemary. Place in a casserole or oven dish, with potatoes and warm butter to melting point, brush over the roast, season with salt and pepper (the butter helps the salt and pepper to stick), spill the oil over both meat and potatoes and roast for about an hour. Make sure the potatoes are coated with oil and seasoning. Baste whilst cooking.
Finally, to end this menu in the true style of Apicius, a classic Roman dessert, Tiramisù, as a fitting end to this meal. This dessert belongs to all of Italy since everyone claims to have made it the first time. Piedmont insist they did because of the inclusion of finger biscuits, known as savoiardi and Lombardia says that since mascarpone was first made there, it must have originated in Lombardia. However, we in Lazio know, absolutely, that it has to be Roman simply because we do. As with most recipes in Italy there is major disagreement on how it must be made, most notably which liqueur should be used. So herewith the Roman way
200 ml heavy cream
500 g mascarpone
5 tbsp sugar
4 egg yolks
25 finger biscuits
4 tbsps very strong espresso coffee
4 tbsps Amaretto
Cocoa powder as needed
Beat the cream with 1 tbsp sugar until stiff. Whisk the egg yolks wit the rest of the sugar until creamy and using your hand held whisk on maximum speed because it’s quite tough to do. Stir in the mascarpone a little at a time and bring the speed down. Once you’ve done that, add the cream again a little bit at a time but bring the speed right down to low.
Line a flat, preferably square or rectangular, with one layer of the biscuits. Mix the espresso and the Amaretto and sprinkle over the finger biscuits, taking care not to soak them. Spread a layer of the cream over the top and then cover with the next layer of biscuits. Sprinkle with the rest of the liquid and cover with the rest of the cream mixture. Sprinkle with the cocoa powder until you have covered the top completely. Refrigerate for at least 1 ½ hours.
Bon appetito – enjoy the meal!