Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bartolomeo Scappi and Filet with Cherries, Prunes and Rose

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


Kitchen room

If your Italian is good, you can see the original online and work from that, the facsimile is a real joy to behold (Scappi’s batterie de cuisine would turn any chef green with envy). Any way you do it, it is a rich and beautiful book that will take your cooking into an empyrean realm with recipes that are, for the most part, accessible, re-creatable and fit for a Renaissance pope.

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.

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Ken Albala said...

Absolutely Beautiful. His recipes do work every time. But the Borgias? Gasp.

chow and chatter said...

how cool and I love the Guardian

Barbara said...

Love finding a new Deana post as I know I'm going to learn AND drool. This beef is magnificent! Never have heard of this cookbook and am looking forward to the release of The Serpent and the Pearl. Just watched The Borgias on Apple TV so am primed.

La Table De Nana said...

You write as richly as you reserach and present your dishes Deana.
That meat looks done to perfection w/ le jus:) And both presentations are wonderful..AS much as I know of the Borgias I learned watching the series:)

Frank said...

Couldn't agree more. Scappi is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand Italian food. I am a proud owner of the hardback and delighted to find out it's now out on Kindle!

Marjie said...

I'd never have thought to use sweet seasonings for steak, but it sounds heavenly. And, of course, you've given me another book to if I didn't have several hundred already vying for my attention.

Have a great weekend, Deana, and give Petunia a hug for me.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I feel embarrassed that I didn't know all of this about Scappi so thank you for enlightening me Deana! :D

Lucy said...

How gorgeous, as always. I love the concept of wine syrup. The touch of rose must impart an amazing sensation. Looking into the new and old books forthwith.

mandy said...

Wow Deana! I love your fascinating research, terrific writing, and gorgeous photos, and appreciate so much your using my Rose Chef’s Essence!
xo Mandy

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

THIS IS DIVINE. I was just about to ask what the Italians/Romans did before the New World foods were introduced such as the tomato; but I see here that my question has been answered. I think it would be a history lesson to just sit down and eat, savor and think about the flavors here that we normally would not identify with "Italian" - our modern day version conjures up tomato and other ingredients that are not indigenous to the region. Just like my mother's heritage of Mexico, the Indians of course used corn, but I wonder about the use of cheese...did that come from Europe? Perhaps...the word QUESO resembles the German word for cheese rather than the latin word from where Frommage comes from ...then again the Spaniards probably introduced cheese. Oh what a joyful conundrum to ponder! Deana dear, thank you for visiting! My writing goals are to let just words, only words speak what is in my heart. Hopefully my time away from blogging those two weeks out of the month will help me achieve my goals.


CQUEK said...

I'm tempted to try it, it sure looks delicious.

CQUEK said...

I'm tempted to try it, it sure looks delicious.

El said...

Beautiful. I guess I'll be checking out Scappi's work. Thanks for the introduction!