Thursday, September 30, 2010

“But what can be considered of greater authority than the senses?” -Lucretius 100-55 BC

Salve! This is Consul Spartacurtus! I am a huge fan of eating, so therefore cooking is a passion of mine. I have a great time learning about food history, and am always willing to try out new recipes. There's not much that I won't eat, unless it eats me first. I was excited to learn about this blog, and that the club is willing to eat the strange things from antiquity. Therefore, I'd like to submit my most recent classical culinary conquest to the blog.
After discussing Nathan’s dining idea at our meeting, I wanted to find some weird Roman recipes, and immediately ran to the John Peace Library and got my hands on every cookbook I could grab, where I managed to grab Apicius’ de re Coquinaria and then hustled over to the San Antonio Public Library to stock up on some more modern cookbooks. I was initially just looking for a dessert to make, but then decided to try out a whole meal based on these books I found.
Here are the books I got:
Apicius - Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome
Around the Roman Table- Patrick Faas
Dining as a Roman Emperor - How to Cook Ancient Roman Recipes Today - L’erma di Bretschneider
Art, Culture, and Cuisine - Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy- Phyllis Pray Bober
The Classical Cookbook - Andrew Dalby & Sally Grainger
The Philosopher’s Kitchen - Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook- Francine Segan

Some of these books are better than others for actual replicable recipes and how easy they are to make. I found The Philosopher’s Kitchen to have the easiest recipes, from which I picked “Grapes-and-Couscous Stuffed Chicken Breasts.”

The recipe follows:

1 T unsalted butter
1/2 c dried couscous
1.25 c green seedless grapes, halved
1 celery rib, finely minced
2 t chopped fresh parsley
1 t fresh mint
4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on
freshly milled pepper
1 1/2 c white wine
1/2 c sliced, blanched almonds
1 T chopped fresh chives

Bring the butter, 1/2t salt, and 1/2 c water to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat, and add couscous. Cover for 5 min. Then, stir in grapes, celery and herbs, and fluff with a fork.
Then, butterfly the chicken, and stuff the couscous mixture in, rolling chicken around the couscous. Lay seam-side down on greased pan, and cook @ 400F for 30 min.
Meanwhile, the wine, 3/4 c of mashed grapes and crushed almonds are added together, and boiled down in a reduction sauce. I ran this through the blender after it boiled down, and added the chives.

This dish is the second course of a summer meal described by the Greek writer, Artemidorus in the second-century B.C.

The reduction sauce turned out to be great! The whole recipe was a great success! They turned out perfectly. They held together nicely while being cut up once served, and looked beautiful coming out of the oven. Dear Reader, at this point I’d like to apologize for my neglect in not recording photographic evidence of this culinary endeavor, but I was amiss in not knowing about this very blog until after the affair was over. Ecce! The pictures included are not mine, but the ones from the cookbook.

For a vegetable, I served, “Carotae et Pastinacae” from Dining as a Roman Emperor.The recipe comes straight from Apicius’ de re Coquinaria III.XXI.1-2. I chose this dish because it uses garum, and I thought I would be negligent if I served a Roman meal without it. I detest garum. I’ve cooked with it before, and think that it is god awful. It stinks up the house, and turns good recipes awful. This was no exception. I’ve never had a recipe that made garum taste good. They used it like San Antonians use salsa. They put it on everything. To you, Reader- I challenge you to submit to this blog a good garum recipe. I don’t think it exists. I’d like to do another post solely devoted to garum. Anyhow, the carrots are sliced thin, fried briefly, and dried on a paper towel. Then I made a reduction sauce of red wine, honey, ground peppercorns, oil, and Nuoc-nam (Garum). The sauce turned out to be a gross purple mush. Prior to this, I had never tasted fried carrots. They did turn out to be pretty good, if they weren’t covered with this reduction sauce. My dinner companion and I both picked at the carrots, wishing that the sauce wasn’t there. In retrospect, it would have been nice to have put the garum sauce on the side...

I served the meal with Fratelli Brothers’ Pinot Grigio ($10- HEB), which I bought because I thought it’d pair nicely with the chicken, and it has Roman stuff on it. Really, I bought it for the label, which tells the story of Castor & Pollux. It was a good wine, but a poor pairing with the chicken, which was a bit bland for such a light bodied wine, I felt. The wine would have paired better with something spicier. This meal needed a real full bodied chardonnay. This was the opposite. At least it was able to wash the taste of garum out of my mouth.

For dessert- Lavender-Honey Apples in Puff Pastry. Also from the Philosopher’s Kitchen, this one was fairly easy. I peeled, and cored two Red Delicious apples. Then, rolled them in lavender infused honey, and then rolled the sticky mess in a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then, I wrapped the whole affair in a puff pastry, folding the edges up to the top of the apple, and poked a cinnamon stick in the top to represent the stem. This was then baked @ 400F for 25 min.

They turned out pretty well. The sugar mixture melted out of one of the pastry puffs, and proceeded to crystalize on the baking tray. (It still sits soaking in my kitchen sink as I write this...) The other one held its sugar pretty well, and looked rather pretty coming out. I stuck a mint leaf and a cinnamon stick in each one to finish the effect of the stem. They tasted like apple pie, which I’ve always considered sort of an American taste. They were sort of apple dumplings, really. I don’t really know how authentic of a recipe this is. Was cinnamon and nutmeg available to the Romans? Nescio. The author does cite Hercules’ task to bring back the Golden Apples of Hesperides, and the story of Atalanta and apples from Aphrodite.

In all, the meal was a success... I am excited to get to try out more recipes, and to have an audience to test these things out on. I hope to do many more posts! Propino tibi!

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