Thursday, October 6, 2011

Apicius’ Sala Cattabia Apiciana –– Chicken and Cucumber Bread Salad with Celery Seed Dressing

 I admit it. I am a pit bull about some things. Once I get an idea in my head, it’s hard to let go (just ask Dr Lostpast).

A few weeks ago, I read that a dish from Apicius’ De re Coquinaria was like pizza.  When I checked the original (I know, what a geek –– yes, I have a copy), I found the recipe had nothing to do with a pizza… it was a salad.  Once found, I loved the idea of it, made it, and loved the tastes and textures in the finished dish. Those Romans knew how to eat.

So, who was Apicius? The name probably came from 1st century Roman gourmet, Marcus Gavius Apicius.  This is a little vague because there seems to have been a famous earlier gourmet named Apicius in 90 BC and the name became more of a symbol than a real person. The word Apicius came to mean gourmet at its best and glutton at its worst. Although I read through a lot of material, it wasn’t until I found a great article by historian and chef Sally Grainger in Gastronomica that I felt a strong storyline develop. It was she who said,  “Juvenal thinks of all gourmets as Apicius…. In the A.D.120s another man with that name is credited with sending oysters to Trajan.  Clearly, he has this name because he likes food, it is used as a cognomen, a nickname that someone acquires after displaying a particular attribute.”

Apicius’ food advice was mentioned in Pliny, Seneca and Tacitus and there was even a work (now lost) called On the Luxury of Apicius by a Greek named Apion. There was a kind of cheesecake named for him and he supposedly had a school for cooks. Word was his meals were so remarkable that the Imperial government gave him money to entertain foreign dignitaries for them.

Grainger noted Seneca deplored such a lifestyle: “May the Gods and Goddesses ruin those whose greed crosses even the boundaries of our invidious empire.  They wish produce to be caught beyond the Phasis [ends of the earth] to equip their pretentious cook-shops!”  Further, Seneca was horrified that Apicius celebration of cooking was more respected than philosophy, “Apicius, whom we remember well, he who proclaimed the science of the cook shop and afflicted a generation with his doctrine in the city from which philosophers were ordered to leave as though the corrupters of youth.”

Fresco from Pompei

Legend has it that Apicius traveled to Africa when he heard they had the finest giant shrimp known to man… shrimp of the gods.  When he arrived, the fisherman brought him their finest specimens but none came up to Apicius’ standards and he turned around to go back home, never setting food in Africa after months of travel because he was bitterly disappointed that he had not found the ne plus ultra of shrimp. They were still out there somewhere.

A favorite of mine, scraps on the floor, Triclinium [dining room] mosaic, Pompei

There is another legend that he committed suicide when he thought his millions could run out and he might starve (or at least not be able to indulge his appetites)… of course there was one last banquet before he made his final exit (that must have been some party).

Some writers claimed he had spent 100 million sestertii on his dining.  Who can separate fact from fiction at this point?

9th century copy of de re Coquinaria in NYC

All this leads up to a revelation. The book that has been attributed to Apicius for over a millennium –– was not written by him –– it probably wasn’t even written by one person. The 2 oldest Fulda 10 chapter versions (2 copies made at the Fulda Monastery in Germany that now rest in the Vatican and New York City) show that it was written in many different styles of Latin–– perhaps written or dictated by slave-cooks, certainly not written by a great nobleman (the Romans, unlike the Greeks and their mageiroi [master chefs], placed no honor on the cooking profession). Grainger said: “The words reek of soot, grease, and kitchen smells, and the recipes are clearly meant to be cooked, not read”.  Grainger believes this was written by generations of cooks and passed on as the recipes reflect styles of different eras.  

At some point a scribe took all the bits and pieces and made it into a whole, tidied-up work. I have now seen a few English cookery books that have been written and passed on over hundreds of years so this seems very plausible.

There seems to have been at least a few versions of Apician manuscripts.  The 8th century Excerpta Apicii by Vindarius has only 30 recipes –– none of which are in the Fulda versions, leading to the belief that there was once a much larger collection than the 10 chapters in the Fulda manuscripts or that there were other Apician recipe collections.

Front page of Vatican copy of Apicius, 9th century

It is believed that because the manuscripts were headed API CAE that they became Apici Caeli [Caelius Apicius]–– and that they were first collected in the 4th or 5th century AD (this is thought because they were mentioned in other materials… no originals date from that period). The title, De re Coquinaria, is a Renaissance addition. That’s not to say that the dishes hadn’t crossed Imperial Roman tables at one time or another or even had a place at an Apician banquet… there are tantalizing hints in Roman writing of the 1st century that Apicius did have a recipe book.  The 5th century scribes may have faithfully copied 400 year old writings that are now lost.  

There was something of a blackout on food writing after the end of the Roman Empire –– a fact I discovered looking for recipes from the Dark Ages (a very cool book by Anthimus in the 6th century is pretty much the next thing and the recipes are definitely related to those in Apicius).

Mosaic from a villa at Tor Marancia, 2nd c.CE

We may never know the truth about the collection. Attaching a famous name to an anonymous manuscript would certainly lend it credibility and enhance its chances for immortality.

This recipe, ancient Roman or not, is delicious.  The aspic addition is excellent and refreshing and the dressing is superb.  I used Apicius, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome as my source and also found Sally Grainger’s The Classical Cookbook  terribly interesting and well-researched. 

For a little fun, also from Grainger’s book, a recipe for sweet spiced wine, Conditum Paradoxum to begin your Roman meal.

The Recipe:

Aliter sala cattabia Apiciana: adicies in mortario apii semen, puleium aridum, mentam aridam, gingiber, coriandrum viridem, uvam passam enucleatam, mel, acetum, oleum et vinum. conteres. adicies in caccabulo panis Picentini frustra, interpones pulpas pulli, glandulas haedinas, caseum Vestinum, nucleos pineos, cucumeres, cepas aridas minute concisas. ius supra perfundes. insuper nivem sub hora asparges et inferes.

A very loose translation:

Put in the mortar celery seed, dry pennyroyal, dry mint, ginger, fresh coriander, seedless raisins, honey, vinegar, oil and wine and bruise them.  Place 3 pieces of Picentian bread [a spelt bread] in a mold, interlined with pieces of cooked Chicken, Sweetbreads, Cheese, Pignoli nuts, cucumbers [pickled] finely chopped dry onions [shallots] covering the whole with jellied broth.  Bury the mold in snow up to the rim, unmold and sprinkle with dressing.

Sala Cattabia Apiciana for 2

For the Dressing:

1 tsp celery seeds
1 T of fresh pennyroyal or 1 t dry *
1 T fresh mint or 1 t dry
1 t grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp coriander seed
2 T raisins
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp vinegar
3-4 T olive oil
1 T white wine

For the Salad:

2 slices whole grain crustless bread cut into pieces to fit the 1 c ramekin
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded
small piece fried sweetbreads (lamb or veal), sliced (optional)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, planed in paper thin slices
2 T pine nuts, chopped
1/2 medium cucumber, finely sliced
1 shallot or small onion, finely sliced

2 cup strong chicken stock, clarified
2 t gelatin

Herbs, greens, celery tops (only the tops were used) for accompaniments.

2 -1 c ramekins, oiled

Begin with the dressing. Pound together the celery seeds, pennyroyal, mint, ginger and coriander seeds in a mortar. Combine with the raisins then moisten with the honey, vinegar and white wine. Whisk in the olive oil and set aside, OR, throw everything in a blender and give it a whir.

Take ¼ c of the stock and add the gelatin,  Stir to dissolve.  Heat the rest of the stock and add the gelatin stock.  Whisk to blend then cool somewhat.

Place the bread in the mold, then the parmesan, pinenuts, chicken and sweetbreads then cucumbers and onions.  Pour the stock over all.  If the stock is not beginning to pool at the top after ¾ has been put in, chill and then add the rest after ½ an hour. Refrigerate for an hour or so… the idea is to have the gorgeous look of old glass on the top…

Or, what I did…

Put ¼ cup of stock in the bottom of a ramekin and freeze until jellied. Place a layer of onions on the stock, then cucumbers, chicken, sweetbreads, pinenuts and parmesan.  Pour ½ cup of stock over each mold.  Place the bread on top and pour the rest of the stock over it.  Refrigerate for an hour or so.

Un-mold and serve with the dressing and accompaniments.

* if you don’t have pennyroyal, use all mint… but pennyroyal grows like a weed and is delicious!!

4th century Roman Cage Cup, Cologne

Conditum Paradoxum

Conditum paradoxum: conditi paradoxi compositio: mellis pondo XV in aeneum vas mittuntur, praemissi[s] vini sextariis duobus, ut in cocturam mellis vinum decoquas. Quod igni lento et aridis lignis calefactum, commotum ferula dum coquitur, si effervere coeperit, vini rore compescitur, praeter quod subtracto igni in se redit. Cum perfrixerit, rursus accenditur. Hoc secundo ac tertio fiet, ac tum demum remotum a foco postridie despumatur. Tum [mittis] piperis uncias IV iam triti, masticis scripulos II, folii et croci dragmas singulas, dactylorum ossibus torridis quinque, isdemque dactylis vino mollitis, intercedente prius suffusione vini de suo modo ac numero, ut tritura lenis habeatur. His omnibus paratis supermittis vini lenis sextarios XVIII. Carbones perfecto aderunt duo milia.

The loose translation
The composition of this excellent spiced wine is as follows. Into a bronze bowl put 6 sextarii1 of honey and 2 sextarii of wine; heat on a slow fire, constantly stirring the mixture with a whip. At the boiling point add a dash of cold wine, retire from stove and skim. Repeat this twice or three times, let it rest till the next day, and skim again. Then add 4 ounces of crushed pepper,2 3 scruples of mastich, a drachm each of nard or laurel leaves and saffron, 5 drachms of roasted date stones crushed and previously soaked in wine to soften them. When this is properly done add 18 sextarii of light wine. To clarify it perfectly, add crushed charcoal3 twice or as often as necessary which will draw the Residue together and carefully strain or filter through the charcoal.

Conditum Paradoxum

1 c medium dry white wine
2 T honey
½ t ground pepper
1/2 bay leaf or pinch of spikenard
good pinch saffron
pinch mastic, ground

1 fresh date (I used a dried date), stone roasted for 10 minutes, crushed and soaked with flesh in  1/2 c white wine.

Put 1/2 c of wine in a saucepan with honey and bring to a boil.  Skim if necessary.  Repeat and remove from the heat.

Add seasonings to wine when hot.  When cold, add the rest of the wine and allow to stand over night.  To serve, strain through a fine sieve.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I've been fortunate to hear Grainger speak. It's fascinating the legends that emerge around so many famous figures. Did Shakepeare really write the plays? In the case of Apicius, I suspect the "written by many" theory is probably true, but it is fun to imagine an ancient gourmand who started it all! The "salad" is just exquisite!

Lori Lynn said...

Ooh is that pretty.
I like the direction: bury the mold in snow...

pam said...

I so love reading your posts!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I would have loved to seen the spread on which Apicius spent all that money! I'm sure it cost a fortune to have snow gathered delivered for the salad too.

Gorgeous photos - the salad looks so appealing!

La Table De Nana said...

I love the look:) So so could not help but feel special to be served this..

Unknown said...

You know what I love about the Romans? They would eat till they barfed, and that was totally okay. Them is my kinda people LOL!
Your dish reminds me of a jewel. If you made it smaller, I could just imagine it sitting in a ring setting. Beautiful.
*kisses* HH

Marjie said...

My dearly beloved says I'm like a pitbull, too. It's OK. We pitbulls get things done. Good for you, researching those ancient recipes. I have hundreds and more hundreds of old books, and I'd be looking that reference up, too, if I had the book. These look like good dishes!

Eat. Drink. Love said...

I absolutely love your posts.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

How fascinating and what a shame that there was that black hole in food writing. I wonder what we missed out on. I had a dish called Peking-Aylesbury Duck “Apicius” and it was delicious! :)

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

OH, this is so earthy and fabulous, as ONLY YOU can BRING TO US! Imagine dearest, what these ancient people ate, how they prepared their food, how they sat or rather, reclined at table!!! We have a joke here at RABBIT HILL (where I live). We have many bunnies who come during the lazy days of summer. They eat our grass for they do NOT like what is in my garden (thank the gods!) yet they enjoy laying down and eating as they lay there...I call them ROMAN RABBITS because I can see them eating little clusters of grapes, thinking they own the place! Oh the delights of ancient cuisine; but I find here that the delicacies are the mindset and resources that tell us so much about this fertile and beautiful land. THANK YOU for visiting me and yes, I have no family near or far...all gone. But my friends both near and far mean the world to me.

Merci pour ton amitié, Anita

Barbara said...

I do love having a "pit bull" as a friend. :) You do all the work, we reap all the benefits!

This jewel-like salad is certainly chock full (and no doubt you used sweetbreads too) of unusual and fabulous ingredients. Your idea of onions first makes such a lovely presentation when turned out. The entire thing is a looking-glass into a salad. Each element is there to for us to see. A work of art, but I'd love a taste.
Using bread is interesting, isn't it? Of course we see bread salads all the time, but in an aspic? Very unusual, Deana.

Magic of Spice said...

Absolutely stunning salad! So interesting to read about the history, I especially enjoyed the translation filtration process for this drink. Amazing read :)

Tasty Trix said...

I did not know that Apicius was a persona rather than an individual - at least I don't think I did! - but it makes perfect sense. I have tried a couple of Roman recipes but nothing so beautiful as this, my dear.

2 Stews said...

I am glad you dig yourself into these bits of history and food. Thank you. This recipe is not only appetizing, but uniquely beautiful.

Yes, the Romans do know how to eat...I am headed to Rome in an hour and am so looking forward to dining among the historical ruins :-)

Chef Dennis Littley said...

simply amazing, the things I learn every time I stop by your blog!
that salad looks exquisite, I love how everything comes together so nicely, the presentation really adds to the dish!
Now lets talk about that beverage, I am so intrigued with the process, I really would love to taste that concoction as intended!

chezjim said...

Some interesting notes but - are Anthimus' recipes in fact related to those in Aspicius? He uses far fewer spices, not to mention clove, which "Aspicius" does not. And his preparations - even when they're not cursory dietary recommendations - are simpler than the earlier recommendations (compare sow's womb, for instance).
Or am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

The Vehling translation isn't so great. He tends to put information that's not actually in the Latin. Grainger's translation is probably the best out there.

I do my own translations and roughly, I would say:
Add in a mortar celery seed, dried pennyroyal, dried mint, ginger, green coriander, seeded dried grapes, honey, vinegar, oil and wine. Pulverize. Add in a pan crumbled Picentine bread, place among it chicken meat, kid's sweetbreads, Vestinian cheese, pinenuts, cucumbers, dried onions cut up small. Pour juice [that is, the above dressing] over. Sprinkle snow on top at the time and serve.

A friend makes it as a sort of panzanella.