Selected Classical Recipes
Garum – Roman Cookery
Eggs Poached in Wine – Roman Cookery
Pastry Balls – Roman Cookery
Toronean Steak – The Classical Cookbook
GrecoRoman Pt 2.
Food programs in Museums? But Health and Safety Regulations! But constricting catering contracts! It is certainly uncommon to feature food in museum programming, but here are two fun examples that just-so-happen to fit my Classical theme:
In 2011 the Getty Villa hosted a lavish Roman Banquet, complete with a decadent array of Roman dishes. Present were Classical historian Andrew Dalby and Roman food historian and chef Sally Grainger (the duo who wrote The Classical Cookbook from which I sample,) providing context to the meal while guests enjoyed a flavourful trip back in time.
The Corinium Museum in England is currently hosting a special exhibition on Roman cuisine in partnership with the British Museum, titled “Food for Thought”. Their opening night showcased a fully laden table of Roman delights, complete with a wine expert on hand to help you pair your nibbles with your drink.
To compliment the current exhibition, they are also hosting a Roman Food Festival *this weekend*. Food historians and archaeologists will speak towards how our tastes today differ from the ancient Romans’ (which I am certainly discovering first hand, but more on that later), as well as eating and cooking practices in different Roman settlements across the Empire.
Garum (Liquamen, or *The* Roman Fish Sauce) – Roman Cookery, Mark Grant
Bassus, Country Matters
100g salted anchovies
400g sea salt
a pinch of dried oregano
1 tbsp sapa *see this post for a sapa recipe
Dissolve the (enormous amount of) salt in the water over low heat. Add the anchovies, oregano and sapa. Simmer gently for 20 minutes, and then let cool. Strain through a fine sieve, I used folded cheese cloth, and store in a jar for ready use.
Makes: about 0.75L
All Classicists will know what I am about to describe to you: an epic journey through the most pungent fish aroma to ever permeate my entire apartment and collection of belongings. Never to dissipate. I recall learning about this sauce in class and hearing my professor try to emphasize the incredible smell, but now that I have experienced making it (though only a small batch), I can begin to appreciate what it would have been like for those who worked to mass producegarum in ancient Rome.
Garum was made in many places and transported all over the Empire. The most renowned centres of production were Pompeii and Leptis Magna. Due to the number of recipes it appears in, as well as the market around it, garum is arguably one of the most important ingredients in the Roman kitchen. Indeed, I couldn’t cook many of the other recipes without it.
Eggs Poached in Wine (Oa Pnikta) – Roman Cookery, Mark Grant
Galen, On the Powers in Foods
Adapted for a smaller serving:
1/2 tsp garum (see above)
1 tbsp dry white wine
1 tbsp olive oil
Grease a ramekin with the olive oil, and crack the egg into it. Place in a bain-marie filled with boiling water. Drizzle with the wine and garum. Cover tightly, and bake at 380F for 15 minutes. Served best with soft bread and vegetables.
Makes: 1 serving
This one is delicious, but very potent. I heavily recommend pairing with a fluffy bread and fresh salad, to cut the taste (and texture) of the eggs.
It was fascinating to learn just how many different types of eggs the Romans enjoyed. Beyond our familiar chicken, they ate eggs of pheasant, geese and ostrich as well. How would they differ in taste I wonder?
Pastry Balls (Globi) – Roman Cookery, Mark Grant
Cato, On Agriculture
200g cheddar cheese
100g spelt flour
olive oil for frying
60g clear honey
1 tbsp poppy seeds
Mix the grated cheese and flour with your hands until the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the egg and knead until doughy. Break off and roll small 2cm balls. Fry in 2cm of heated oil in a heavy pan. Cook for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Drain. While cooling slightly, heat the honey until runny. Roll the fried balls in the honey to coat, and then in the poppy seeds. The recipe says to serve warm or cold, with a drink, but I recommend serving warm.
Makes: about 80 pastry balls
Grant imagines them “displayed on the counter of a Roman bar for clerks and businessmen to nibble at midday.” Inspired, I have now spent a few evenings reading up on the culture of ancient snack bars. Also interesting to note, he suggests that cheddar has the most similar taste of the modern cheese to Roman cheeses. I am curious about that. In my searches, I have not seen this elsewhere, but that also speaks to how few descriptions of taste I found, and the lack of sensual knowledge we have of the ancient world. We talk of ingredients and process and technology and economy, but the experiences of sounds and taste are much more difficult to discern and as such are not commonly discussed.
I found this recipe interesting…and surprisingly addictive. I will suggest that they need to be eaten hot, and do not keep well.
Toronaean Steak – The Classical Cookbook, Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger
4 shark or tuna steaks, each about 120g (4oz.)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chopped fresh or dry herbs
1/4 tsp salt
Brush the steaks with oil. Combine herbs, cumin, and salt in a bowl, and press onto both sides of each steak. Fry in a little oil for 6-8 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
The authors recommend serving with a fresh salad, dressed in oil, wine vinegar, and fish sauce.
The reader is told, in a humorously forceful way, exactly what they shall eat and preciously how it must be prepared. You will note, however, that no quantities are given! If the Romans didn’t leave us any ingredient amounts, how do we reconstruct these recipes?The original recipe describes shark steak (which required lengthy instructions from the authors on how to cook with shark meat), but has also been adapted into a delicious tuna steak. As suggested in the name this is a Greek recipe, dating to around 350 BCE. Cumin is the main flavour, though not native to Greece. Linear B tablets from the Mycenaean palaces of the Bronze Age record cumin listed as an item of trade, showing how far back the spice entered Greek cuisine. Torone was the centre of the region’s wine-exporting district, and had the distinct honour of being chosen by Archestratus as the one Greek city who made his dish best:
“In Torone you must buy belly steaks of the porbeagle shark. Sprinkling them with cumin and a little salt you will add nothing else, my friend….don’t mix in a splash of water with them, or wine vinegar, just pour on oil itself and dry cumin and aromatic herbs. Cook over embers, not a fierce fire, and stir frequently to take care that they do not burn.” -Archestratus 23
Next on Historic Kitchen:
Using sparse recipes, the epic stories of trial and error by dedicated food historians! And, those Romans had iron stomachs: ancient sources describe the incredible flavours in some of their more extreme dishes! (Do I dare try one?)
For a full bibliography of the books used in the Classical Journey of Historic Kitchen, see this post.