Bartolomeo Scappi (1550-1577)
To set the table for next Monday's post on Kate Quinn's The Serpent and the Pearl (A Novel of the Borgias), I thought I would share a post I'd written for Marx Foods a while back. Scappi is one of my favorite master chefs and actually a character in Kate's novel. Its story involves the Borgias, a pope's mistress and a passion for cooking (does it get better than that?). Kate's inclusion of Scappi is a bit of an anachronism as he was probably born around 1500, but she loved his recipes so much, she put him in –– imagining the early years of a kitchen genius. Many of the dishes in the book are straight from his cookbook.
You will see these recipes are related to next week's recipe. The flavorings are related but subtly different, a master playing with variations on a theme. Scappi was a master.
The Guardian (a British newspaper ranked 2nd only to the NY Times for online English-speaking readership) listed the 50 greatest cookbooks of all time in 2010. On this list were many contemporary classics. But right next to David Chang’s uber-trendy The Momofuku Cookbook was Opera dell’arte del cucinare published in 1570!!! With 1000 recipes, it is THE book of Italian Renaissance cooking written by Bartolomeo Scappi and set the standard for cookbooks thereafter.
What we know of Scappi began with his work in the service of Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio where he created spectacular banquets that made him famous. From there he moved to service with Pope Pius IV and then Pius V. He wrote his cookbook while working for Pius V, who ironically was an ascetic who demurred the opulent table of his predecessor! Perhaps a less demanding schedule gave him the time he needed to do his cookbook. For that we are most grateful.
Terence Scully has translated The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro Cuoco into English and it is available to sample. After the sample, you may just want to break down and buy the book on Amazon… it is that good.
Ken Albala, a noted food historian says, “Quite simply Scappi's Opera is the first modern cookbook. It is not a shorthand list of recipes to jog the professional chef's mind, it actually teaches how to cook, and is in that respect on par with the best works of Julia Child. It includes shopping advice, tips on equipment, menu organization, and even multiple variable techniques when confronted with every imaginable ingredient - including bears and hedgehogs. It is also the first fully and lavishly illustrated cookbook. Most importantly, the recipes really work and are the result of years of practical experience in the kitchen. It remains the single greatest monument of Italian cuisine, overshadowing even the great Artusi. Arguably it is among the greatest of cookbooks ever written and the recent translation of Scully finally makes it available to English speaking audiences.”
The following illustrations are from Scappi's 16th century Opera.
Scappi Meat Room
Preparing a banquet
All of the items in these recipes are available today. The vin cotto is available at specialty food stores (or can be made by reducing red wine to a syrup) and is a great little secret ingredient to enrich stocks and sauces (Mario Batali loves it). Aftelier rose essence is available from Aftelier. The amazing fennel pollen (that brings a gentle spiced sweetness to the spice mix) can be purchased at HERE. You can see the tiny golden flecks on the meat!
Both dishes are savory, sweet and voluptuous with gorgeous textures and tastes. Make them, and binge-watch some of The Borgia's on Showtime to get you in the mood to read Kate's book.
Scappi’s Braised Beef
1 ½ lbs tenderloin of beef or use individual filets
¼ c wine
¼ c white wine vinegar
1 t each pepper, salt and fennel pollen from Marx Foods
½ t each cinnamon, ginger
¼ t cloves
1 cup malvasia, a slightly sweet white wine ( I used a Malmsey Madeira, a fortified malvasia wine)
½ c vin cotto
½ c white wine vinegar
2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 1 T rosewater
¼ lb bacon
¼ lb prosciutto
1 c prunes
1 c frozen sour cherries or ½ c dried cherries
Rinse the beef with the wine and vinegar. Put the spices and salt on a plate, blend and roll the meat in them. Place the meat in a non-reactive dish with the wine, vin cotto and vinegar with rose essence or rose water for a few hours.
Brown meat quickly after wrapping it with bacon and prosciutto then braise with the marinade, prunes and cherries for 1/2 hour on the low heat (depending upon how rare you want it) for the whole tenderloin and 10 minutes covered for the individual filets for rare. Remove the meat and tent and reduce the sauce.
*** the amounts are all approximate as they are not mentioned in the original… make changes as it suits your taste.
Scappi’s Fingers of Beef in the Roman Style
4 beef filets (4 Oz each)
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1 t fennel pollen from Marx Foods
½ t each ginger, cinnamon
pinch of saffron and cloves
¼ c vin cotto
2 T white wine vinegar
1-2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 1 T rosewater
4 slices bacon
4 bay leaves (fresh are best but use dried if you can’t get fresh) or large sage leaves
Take the filets and roll them in the blended spices and salt. Put the filets and the bacon in a non-reactive container with the vin cotta, vinegar and rose and marinate for a few hours. Take them out and put bacon and the bay or sage leaves between the filets and skewer them together… not too tightly (if you have a spit attachment, this is best). Grill them on the cool side of the grill till the desired degree of doneness with a drip pan, turning them a few times OR if you have not grill, sauté the bacon and then fry
the filet till it reaches the desired degree of doneness. Add the marinade to the drip pan/pan to warm. I sliced my filet into fingers to serve.
*** the amounts are all approximate as they are not mentioned in the original… make changes as it suits your taste
Kate Quinn asked me to be part of a group cooking Renaissance Italian delights to celebrate the release of her new book, The Serpent and the Pearl (A Novel of the Borgias). On September 16th I will post and link to the 4 other bloggers participating in this event. Romance writers (and readers) like getting their hands dirty with history and I count many aficionados of the genre as readers of Lost Past Remembered. It will be a blast, tasting history always is.