Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Roman Inheritance

If you look back far enough, human taste hasn't changed much and you can spot the modern in the ancient and vice versa.

Apicius refers to a collection of Roman recipes compiled somewhere in the late fourth to early fifth century. It's attributed ot Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmand who lived in the first century (and hence the collection is extraordinarily unlikely to have written by him.)

Recipe 89 goes as follows:
Coliculis conditis ut supra superfundes alicam elixam cum nucleis et uva passa; piper asparges.

Over the young cauliflower, seasoned as above, pour boiled spelt with pine nuts and raisins; sprinkle with pepper.
The "as above" refers to an earlier recipe (87) where the sauce consists of garum, olive oil, wine and cumin topped with fried leeks.

Even though the CC has translated coliculis as "cauliflower", it could equally well have been cabbage or broccoli, or even all of them (all members of the brassica family really.) There is considerable leeway here.

You can see the similarities in a classical Sicilian recipe that uses pasta instead of boiled spelt (perhaps couscous would be closer?) with cauliflower, onions (substituting for leeks), anchovies, raisins and pinenuts. The only difference is the seasoning which calls for saffron not cumin, and the tomato paste which is entirely New World for reasons explained here.

The anchovies are the exact replacement for garum which is nothing more than a fish sauce made with anchovies. The Thai nahm pla or the Filipino patis are the closest modern equivalents.

You too can eat like a Roman gourmand. Indulge!

Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies, Raisins, Pine Nuts & Saffron


2 cups rigatoni (or penne.)

1 head cauliflower (separated into medium-sized florets)
1 large red onion (chopped)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup raisins
6 anchovies (preferably salt-cured)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp saffron

olive oil

sea salt
black pepper



Toast the breadcrumbs and set aside. Toast the pine nuts until golden. Be careful not to burn them. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil at medium heat. When shimmering, add the cauliflower and fry languidly for 6-8 minutes. Add the onions and fry for a further 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, and the anchovies and fry. The anchovies will "dissolve" as they fry. Add a cup of water, the raisins, sea salt, and black pepper, and let cook at low heat.

Meanwhile make the pasta until al dente. Drain.

The cauliflower mixture should be just slightly on the wet side. If dry, add some more water.

Toss in the saffron, and the pasta, and mix thoroughly.

Serve with the roasted breadcrumbs on top, and more black pepper if you like.

No comments: