I was shocked.
It does not deviate on either end. It's both as medieval as English roasted chicken using the very same spices and preparations, and as "modern" as a bowl of macaroni or spaghetti. I am fascinated. Italian cuisine has stayed very much unchanged from 500+ years ago and I'm so happy for that. With an emphasis on using fresh, quality, preferably home-grown ingredients, simple dishes executed perfectly was the crux of Italian cuisine back then as it is today. Braises, stews, roasts, sausages, pastas all that we love today were also enjoyed in the same way by the Italians of 1500. So to celebrate the Borgias much in the same fashion as someone would in the time of the Borgias, I prepared this meal.
Artichokes Old & New
Pizza (for dessert)
We started out with some artichokes I had on hand from my local farm delivery. I wanted something simple and easy to prepare so I could focus my efforts on the pizza recipe, so I chose to do again my recipe for Artichokes Old & New. You'll notice below the dipping sauce was a lot lighter; I used apple cider vinegar this time instead of balsamic. Love it but prefer balsamic for this dish.
Macaroni Romano In The Style of Medieval Italy
1/2 lb dried pasta -- your choice
2 Tbsp kosher salt
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp good butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, left whole
1/3 cup finely ground Parmesano-Romano
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
Bring a pot of water to a boil. When boiling, season the water with the salt. Add the pasta and cook to package directions. Drain pasta. In the same pot the pasta boiled in, add the oil, better, garlic, rosemary, and drained pasta and toss to coat well. Add the cheeses and serve.
Now that appetizer and main dish were consumed, it was time for dessert! Here I was most surprised. Shocked and fascinated would be more accurate actually.
When we today think Italian we think pizza, right? Well, pizza was developed in Naples. So when I found a recipe for medieval napolize pizza, I jumped at the chance. Imagine my shock when I read it: pastry crust, rose water, dates, currants, sugar, paste. Huh?? Where's the tomato? The basil? The motherfuckingcheese for crying out loud???? Oh no....no this is a DESSERT PIZZA.
I'll let you digest that for a second.
One fabulously popular medieval Italian dessert was a pizza using not the yeasty dough we know and love and often bicker about which version is best from Chicago to New York (I still say Connecticut, by the way), but rather a pastry dough more like pie crust called "royal pastry." And it was topped with a paste made of pulverized dried fruits, nuts, and sugar that was spread like the tomato sauce today. And instead of pepperoni or basil they'd use dried up cookies much like miranges.
Here's the actual recipe with its translation from this fascinating website.
"Per fare torta con diverse materie, da Napoletani detta pizza. Cap CXXI
Habbisi oncie sei d’amandole ambrosine monde, & quattr’oncie di pignoli ammogliati mondi, & tre oncie di datoli freschi prive dell’anime, e tre oncie di fichi secchi, tre oncie di zibibbo senz’anime, & ogni cosa pestici nel mortaro, sbruffandole alle volte d’acqua rosa, di modo che venga come pasta, giungansi con esse materie, otto rossi d’ova fresche crude, oncie sei di zuccaro, un’oncia di cannella pista, un’oncia, e mezza di mostaccioli Napoletani muschiati fatti in polvere, quattro oncie d’acqua rosa, e fatta che sarà d’ogni cosa in una compositionne, habbisi la tortiera onta con un sfoglio di pasta reale, & il tortiglione sfogliato incirca non troppo grosso, & mettasi la compositione in la tortiera, mescolata con quattro oncie di butiro fresco, facendo ch non sia piu alta d’un dito, & senza esser copera facciasi cuocere al forno, & servasi calda, & fredda a beneplacito. In essa pizza si puo mettere d’ogni sorte condite."
Translation: "To make a tart with various things, by the residents of Naples called pizza. Chapter 121. Have six ounces of peeled ambrosia almonds, four ounces of peeled soaked pine nuts, and three ounces of fresh dates with the seeds removed, three ounces of dried figs, three ounces of raisins without seeds, and grind everything together in a mortar, sprinkling every so often with rosewater, so that it becomes a paste, add to these things eight fresh raw egg yolks, six ounces of sugar, an ounce of ground cinnamon, an ounce and a half of Naples biscotti with musk, made into powder, four ounces of rose water. And make of all these things a filling. Have a greased pie plate lined with a sheet of royal pastry, and with not too large layered twisted pastry decorations around the rim. Put the stuffing into the tart, mixed with four ounces of fresh butter. Make it so that it isn’t any higher than a finger and without a (pastry) cover put to cook in the oven. Serve this hot or cold as one pleases. In this pizza one can put any sort of confit."
Note: the ingredients for royal pastry are: flour, sugar, butter, rose water and salt. Naples biscotti are a almost meringue type confection of sugar, flour and eggs, baked twice until crisp. The probably provide both flavoring and a binding agent for this dish.