Monday, February 10, 2014

The Lion and the Rose, Love, Intrigue and Renaissance Fish Pie with Orange




Kate Quinn’s new book, The Lion and the Rose (A Novel of the Borgias) is out and the author has reassembled her band of bloggers to cook from her new book as we did for her The Serpent and the Pearl a few months back.

If you liked The Serpent and the Pearl, you'll enjoy Quinn's new book since the great core-cast of characters return in the second novel. We still have the Borgia clan, the Pope's beautiful mistress Giulia Farnese, a fictional feisty cook named Carmelina and a valiant, knife-throwing dwarf named Leonello as well as the young chef Bartolomeo Scappi –– but positions and relationships will go through seismic changes in the new work.

The Lion and the Rose is full of passion, intrigue and surprising plot turns that will have romance novel lovers staying up well past your bedtimes turning pages. Food still plays a delicious and important role in the story.

Although the book paints a richly colored picture of Renaissance Italy, I love illuminating the nooks and crannies of the story by investigating the historical characters and places described in the novel. I wrote about Scappi (HERE) and showed you the glorious, rarely seen Borgia apartments in the Vatican and the faces of the historical figures in the novel for The Serpent and the Pearl post (HERE).  I thought for The Lion and the Rose I would dawdle over some of my favorite Renaissance table decorations to add some color to the fictional table. I love Deruta plates.

Today, when you hear Murano you think of glassware, when you hear Sèvres you think porcelain –– these places are synonymous with superior quality and craftsmanship in their respective fields. It wasn't  any different during the 15th and 16th centuries. Some cities (or islands in cities in Murano's case) are hubs for particular decorative arts.

Maiolica lustrato in oro e dipinto in blu – attributed to Nicola Francioli, Deruta 1515-30 (the plate recently sold at auction for €100,000)

Majolica was la haute couture in the Renaissance dining room and the best majolica came out of a place called Deruta in the Umbria region of central Italy.

 A 17th c. display of finery but like those in Scappi's time, 
 Bartholomeus van Bassen, Renaissance Interior with Banqueters,1618-20

German personal cutlery set, late 15th century V&A

I talked to my friend, food historian Ken Albala about these dishes being used at the table rather than just for display and he felt they might have been even though the wear marks we see today are only on the rims of the plates and no knife marks are in evidence –– the cutlery of the day probably would have left a mark or two on the glaze (people brought their own cutlery sets to the table). Perhaps the plates were used for presentation of special treats and not as dinner plates. They are magnificent however they may be deployed. We are fortunate to have them –– they were created thanks to a string of happy accidents and coincidences.

Apollo, Deruta 1520-40

Although Deruta lacked sufficient fuel for hot firing of clay, the local potters more than made up for the perceived misfortune with metallic glazes, exuberant patterns and clever firing techniques –– these techniques gave Deruta majolica its distinctive look. Some of the patterns were inspired by Islamic cultures and Hispano-Moresque traditions.  They were also inspired by their proximity to Perugia’s art scene and to the work of Raphael, Perugino and Pinturicchio (who did the Borgia murals). The site That’s Arte  suggested that the Deruta potters may have copied the artist’s frescos on their pottery as they were easily accessible to the craftspeople. They were in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

“Belle Donne” plate by Nicola Francioli 1520-25

“Belle Donne” plate by Nicola Francioli 1520-25

The article also revealed that Deruta craftsmen often used the “spolvero” technique so they could repeat a design that was then personalized when they were painted (spolvero involved laying down a colored dust that came through small holes cut in paper – the same technique used to paint frescoes). In that way, intricate border designs could be applied dozens of times and faces and clothing could be changed from plate to plate. The “Belle Donne” plate design was a particular favorite. Lovely ladies were captured on the plate’s surface, often with a name or a motto.

Spolvero shown on Stefania Patassini’s site 

A plate inscribed, “nothing is gained by sleeping” (1490-1525 Deruta) BM

The images for the “Belle Donne” plates came from local models and from the aforementioned practice of lifting from great painter’s works. It is possible Giulia Farnese had her lovely profile captured this way.

 500 year old tiles at Deruta’s Museum of Ceramics (photo from Bill and Suzy)

After all, Giulia Farnese’s brother Allesandro (Pope Paul III), employed the Deruta craftsmen to make exquisite tiles for him and we also know Giulia's lover,  the Spanish Borgia Pope enjoyed tile work and used Moorish-influenced patterns in his rooms in the Vatican. It's not much of a stretch to think a favorite visage was recorded on a plate or two.

Deruta plate by Nicola Francioli 1520-25 V&A

Nicola Francioli, who often signed his work “Co’ ”, was a star of the Deruta pottery scene. He was influenced by Raphael and Perugino and copied their work in his ceramics. A particular style of Deruta pottery is still called Raffaellesco, after Raphael’s grotesque frescoes in the Vatican Palace. Laurence Kanter of the Metropolitan Museum said that artists like Francioli helped make Deruta pottery “one of the purest forms of Italian Renaissance culture”. They are colorful, exuberant artifacts of a nearly mythic time when the world of art, music and science was emerging from the chrysalis of the Dark Ages.

Danae and a hunting scent, Deruta, 1520 (V&A)

Lucky for us, the majolica tradition has continued so that Deruta’s Renaissance patterned ceramics are still made there. Fine vintage Deruta pottery is available on Ebay at reasonable prices –– some are really superb copies of Renaissance pieces.

So, now that we can imagine a table set with beautiful plates and Giulia and the Borgias dining with them as they eat their way through the story–– what to put on them? There are 42 dishes mentioned in the book!

I chose to make a fish pie with the exotic addition of orange and dates here described by young chef Scappi flexing his culinary muscles:

“ I changed the menu,” he said. “The stew will hold for tomorrow. Tonight we’re to serve salted ox tongue, a fish pie flavored with oranges, nutmeg and dates….”

Now, before you say it’s a weird combination, remember all of the lovely sweet fish dishes you’ve had like sweetened Japanese eel and many Thai and Chinese fish preparations? Fish can swim well in sweet waters.

To find an historically appropriate recipe I started looking at fish pies in The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570) but also went leafing through a few late medieval cookbooks; one by the chef for the first Duke of Savoy, Master Chiquart and his 1420 Du Fait de Cuisine  and another by chef Martino of Como –– his 1465 Libro de Arte Coquinaria.  I found some inspiring flavor combinations there. The herbs and spices in the other books were very similar to those that Scappi used in his fish pies in The Opera –– but Chiquart was more specific about what spices to use. The almond milk and dried fruit are delicious together. I know, you are going to say "weird" again but I recently made a Mexican dish, Chiles en Nogada and thought the fruited filling was not unlike a fruited Renaissance pie filling and the walnut cream is a distant cousin to the almond milk in the Chiquart pie recipe –– perhaps an ancient memory of the Spanish Conquistador's 15th and 16th century cuisine.  This pie uses meaty tuna instead of chicken or pork.  The Italian versions always had rose in them so I put in just a hint of rose –– besides, rose loves orange.

Another decision to make was about the pie's crust. At the time of Scappi, pie crust was not always eaten –– sometimes it was more like a cooking pot that would be cut open and served from but not eaten by the guests (a concept related to bread trenchers that were often given to hungry peasants after being used by the upper classes as plates). Terrance Scully, who translated Scappi's cookbook said "In earlier times, pies made use of pastry dough –– often two or three centimeters thick –– as a means to contain a mixture of ingredients while it baked.  By Scappi's day a distinction was made between that coarse, but sturdy, flour-and-water pie shell, which a diner or the carver was expected to discard, and a thinner one made of a fine pie dough that incorporated eggs, butter or grease, perhaps with a seasoning; it had a distinct gastronomic appeal in itself."  I decided to make my fish pie with an edible crust.

The result is a bit like a mincemeat  –– very much like the 17th century English chuet I made HERE.  It is sweet with a delicate and appealing fish flavor.  The nut oil and almond milk partner superbly with the dried fruit.   I think you will find the result to be velvety and elegantly spiced like the smooth but effusive artistry of Deruta majolica –– a real taste of the Renaissance.


Here are my fellow bloggers for this virtual Renaissance banquet.  Do stop by their sites and see how the creative angels incited their talents.  Kate Quinn provides the descriptions.

The Inn at the Crossroads: the Roman-style tenderloin Bartolomeo makes when Carmelina's stuck in a convent with the Pope's daughter Lucrezia

Island Vittles: a smorgasbord of the various nibbles all the Borgias are constantly snacking on as they plot—spiced pears and candied nuts. And as a bonus? The fried tubers from the New World, which feature heavily in a scene my readers have taken to calling simply “the aphrodisiac potato scene.”

Little White Apron: the salad of blood orange, fennel, and olives served to the Duke of Gandia, and the beef en brochette served at a very illicit party..

Taking on Magazines: The venison in cream and brandy sauce served after Juan Borgia's lastest hunt, and in another post, the tortellini with basil and parsley filling with which Bartolomeo hopes to woo Carmelina

Between the Sheets: Endives stuffed with cheese and drizzled w/ olive oil & blood orange tourte with honey

Kate Quinn: The tourte of walnuts and pecorino cheese


Renaissance Fish Pie for 2 - 4 (with a little help from a Master Chiquart recipe interpreted by Eleanor Scully)

1 recipe double crust for pie
¼ c raisins
3 dates
2 prunes
2 T pine nuts
¼ c white wine
3T oil (almond, walnut or hazelnut would be nice - otherwise a mild oil)
2 T chopped parsley
2 t marjoram, chopped
1 t sage, chopped
½ t ground ginger
2 cloves or a pinch of ground cloves
pinch of saffron
pinch of nutmeg
1 drop Aftelier rose essence or 2 t rosewater
3- 4 T orange juice
1 T verjuice or 2 t sherry vinegar
¼ t salt
½ -1 t ground grains of paradise and or pepper ( I like mine peppery)
¼ c sugar

½ c plus 1 T almond milk
1 T rice flour

½ lb lightly cooked tuna, flaked (I imagine you could use imported Italian canned tuna for this)
3 pieces of cooked eel to fit your pan (optional but can be found canned, frozen and fresh - often smoked)

Cut the fruit and nuts into small pieces and add white wine, soak for an hour. Warm the oil and add the fruit mostly strained from the wine (you can add a bit of the wine to the mix). Add the spices, juice and sugar and stir to dissolve.

Combine ½ c of almond milk with the rice flour and stir till dissolved. Add to the fruit mixture and stir till thickened somewhat.  Remove from heat and stir in the tuna. Allow to cool –– you can easily refrigerate it.

Lay bottom crust in a 7" pan (mine was 7" at the top and 5½" at the bottom)  and then spoon the mixture into the crust, place the eel slices on top if you are using them. Place the top crust on the pie and decorate with remaining scraps. Brush with 1 T almond milk.

Cook at 425º for 10 minutes and then 375º for 20-30 minutes or until the crust looks perfectly cooked.

*This recipe is easily doubled.  The pie crust is enough for a regular pie plate and the cooking time would remain the same.


Butter and Egg Pie Crust

1 3/4 c flour
1/4 c whole wheat flour
1/2 t salt
1 stick butter, frozen and chopped
1½ oz lard or an additional amount of butter or vegetable shortening in bean size pieces
3 T ice water (approximately)
1 egg yolk
2 T orange juice

Combine the dry ingredients.   Add the butter and lard and pulse in a food processor.  Add the yolk to the ice water and stir to blend, then add the orange juice immediately before using.  If you do it too soon it will curdle the egg.  Pour all around the dry ingredients and pulse till blended.  Pour out and make into 2 rounds –– I like to use the frissage method to make my rounds.  Put it back in the fridge and chill for at least an hour.  Roll out into 2 rounds.  You will have plenty left over unless you want to double the filling, then it will be just enough for a full size pie.  Make decorative fish with some of the dough I make it into cookies, cook them with the pie for 12 minutes and freeze them to use for quick desserts or pot pies.



Original Cliquart recipe from 1420, translated by Elizabeth Cook:

40. Now I, Chiquart, would like to give to understand to him who will be ordered to make parma tarts of fish, let him take slices of tuna if he is in a place where he can get marine fish, and if not let him take as much of those of fresh water, that is large filleted carp, large eels and large filleted pike, and of this take such a great quantity as he is told to make the said tarts; and take candied raisins, prunes, figs, dates, pine nuts, and of each of these take what seems to him right to take according to the quantity of the said tarts; then, for the said tarts, let them be cut into pieces, cleaned and washed and put to cook well and cleanly; and, being well cooked, draw it out onto fair and clean tables or boards and let the bones be removed and take them out very well and properly so that no little bones remain, and chop them well and finely; and let the aforesaid raisins have the stems very well removed, let the pine nuts be cleaned very well, let the figs, prunes, and dates be cut into little dice; and, all these things thus dealt with, except for the meat, should be very well washed in white wine and drained, and then mix them with the aforesaid meat of the fish. And it is also necessary, according to the quantity of the said tarts which you have to make, that you have parsley, marjoram, and sage, and of each herb the quantity according to the strength of each, that is of parsley more and of the others less; and let them be well cleaned, washed, and very well chopped and then mix them with the aforesaid meat. And, this being done, have fair, clear, clean, and well refined oil and then have a fair, large and clean frying pan and let it be set over a fair clear fire and put all this into it, and have a good assistant with a fair, large and clean spoon who stirs very well and strongly in the said frying pan; and arrange that you have your almond milk well thickened and strained through a strainer, and a great deal of amydon* according to the quantity of tarts which you have and put all in to thicken it; and then put your spices in with your meat while stirring the contents of the pan continually, that is white ginger, grains of paradise and a little pepper, and saffron which gives it color, and whole cloves and a great deal of sugar pounded into powder, and salt in reason. And arrange that your pastry-cooks have made well and properly the crusts of the said tarts, and, being made, take the aforesaid filling and put in each what should be put. And then arrange that you have a very great quantity of good and fair slices of good and fair eels which should be well and properly cooked in water and, being cooked, put them to fry in fair and clean oil; and, being fried, take them out; and then on each tart put three or four pieces, one here and another there, so that they are not together; and then cover the tarts and put in the oven and, being cooked, put them on your dishes and serve them.

* Amydon is a thickener made from bread that is soaked until it turns to a mush, left for a few days and then spread to dry flat. It is broken up to use as a thickener –– quite a smart idea.


Martino of Como recipe:



Bartolomeo Scappi recipe:





Do visit Marie Telling's heroic piece in BUZZFEED about 44 Classic French Dishes to Try Before You Die HERE.There are 3 dishes from Lostpastremembered in the series, so I am pleased as punch!


15 comments:

Amber said...

Wonderful post!
Thank you.

Ken Albala said...

Looks absolutely delicious!

Heather Webb said...

I love your posts. They're always chock full of interesting historical tidbits. The tiles are just gorgeous! But so is your fish pie!!! What a crust. I'd attempt to make this myself, but I'm afraid I'd be disappointed after your perfection. :)

The Mom Chef said...

How did you know that I stayed up past my bedtime night after night because I couldn't put the book down??? I'm afraid that my daughter's school lunches suffered the lack of sleep, but I did enjoy reading. Your pie looks amazing. You did use eel? I don't know that I'd have been that brave.

deana sidney said...

Just so you know, eel has a lovely texture -- sort of a combination of trout and swordfish or tuna. It is meaty, not rubbery or slimy at all. Very good to try in a Japanese restaurant.

La Table De Nana said...

Your fish pie is a work of art..
I have some Deruta pottery..but recent:)
I enjoyed The Borgias series on television..
You just reminded me of it..
Opulence..n'est-ce pas?

lindaraxa said...

Had no idea about the dough for pies. When you look at old recipes the dough is almost guaranteed to be inedible. Now I know. I learn so much from you...

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I've been watching The Borgias on Showtime. What a world they lived in! My daughter came home from her honeymoon in Italy loving Deruta pottery.

What a wonderful fish pie. It sounds absolutely delicious and perfect for winter. I'm not sure about the eel, though :)

I don't recall if you were one of the kind people to email me, but if you've tried to come to my blog recently, it's been locked by Blogger. Someone has been trying to embed malicious codes in blogs and mine was one of a few dozen hacked in the past couple of months. Hopefully, Blogger will clear my site soon and my friends will be able to join me once again! Spam I can deal with. This is a whole other story!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This is a wonderful looking pie Deana! And as always a fascinating post about our past :D

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Deana, that fish pie looks DELICIOUS! It is wild to see the ingredients, things I would never think of combining. But when you read the history and know where these things originated, so much more understanding unfolds. I am very curious about how all these unexpected flavors come together. You are a master. I could see you teaching a class on such recipes in a setting of a history class. BRAVO! And you come to visit me and to leave a comment? You are too, too kind! I wish you LOVE and joy in every sense of the concept of love, Deana. We enjoy your art and passion and thank you for keeping the past alive.

MUCH LOVE! Anita

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

What fun making a literary feast come to life! While "we" might find the idea of a fish pie a little unusual, the ingredients list makes perfect sense - those sweet and savory flavors sound wonderful, and who would ever turn down a little buttery pastry on top of it all?

Marjie said...

That looks like 2 books I ought to reed. Your fish pie looks wonderful, and I really was intrigued by all of the dishware. No, I cannot buy more dishes; I have too many. I must repeat that often.

Barbara said...

With that cast of characters, the book can't help but be good! Will be reading it.
Of course, I loved all the details about Deruta. I'm mad for majolica and this is lovely in an entirely different manner than the pieces I have in my collection.

And your research about Scappi. Wonderful. Did not know that about pie crust, but it makes complete sense. It's a "holder" of something after all. (I do adore a good crust!)

Your fish pie makes a lovely presentation! So many meat and fish recipes have a sweet element to them, I like it.
Only have had eel once and liked it. Too bad they look like snakes; that turns people off. But then, I like all sorts of odd things. I did a post on beef tongue once and it grossed everyone out. :)

Lucy said...

what an exquisite post, I always learn so much from your pieces, and the visuals are always breathtaking. Although I am not a fish person, I got lost in the stories about the ceramics. Something about those tiles and those lady portraits and that blue was mesmerizing. I can imagine your crust too is exactly what I crave.

Sarah said...

This was an enlightening post. Really, people had their own cutlery sets! How interesting. I am always envious of your access to the historical books and interesting ingredients. I have a fish pie on my menu within the next few weeks. Thanks for the ideas!