|St. Peter's Square and the Papal Apartments, The Holy See.|
Photo by vgm8383 via Flickr.
So I poked around a little and discovered a wonderful book by Terence Scully, or rather a translation by Terence Scully of a 16th Century masterwork entitled The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi. Who was Bartolomeo Scappi? Well, he might be best described as the world’s first celebrity chef. He cooked for Charles V and was the personal chef for two different popes, Pius IV and Pius V.
So that’s where I decided to seek my Holy See recipes, because I confess I’ve always had a soft spot for really old recipes, and I don’t mean Betty Crocker recipes from 1962. I like ancient recipes, formerly buried beneath piles of crumbling rubble, or something.
Foodwise you can’t really separate The Holy See from the Pope, so it seemed very natural to seek out recipes that were actually eaten by the Pope or at the very least were created by his personal chef. And after looking through The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi I have to say that I felt a little overwhelmed by choice. The Opera might be roughly 500 years old but it contains a lot of really delicious-sounding recipes. Here are the ones I chose:
- 1 lb beef tenderloin
- 1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 tsp lard
- 1 slice prosciutto
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp parsley, minced
- 1 1/2 tsp mint, minced
- 1 tsp thyme, minced
- 1 bunch broccoli
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
I also chose this recipe, taken from a book called Ancient Roman Feasts and Recipes Adapted for Modern Cooking by Jon and Julia Solomon:
Cato's Cheese Bread (Libum)
- 1 cup feta cheese, drained, crumbled and packed
- ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 6 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp honey (optional)
First the beef:
Cut the beef loin into slices roughly the size of your hand. Flatten with a meat mallet and drizzle with the vinegar.
Sprinkle with the ground fennel, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stack the pieces and let marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Meanwhile, make the broccoli:
Boil broccoli in salted water until tender-crisp. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Meanwhile, saute garlic in oil for about one minute.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put the cheese in a mixing bowl or food processor and mash well until it you get a smooth paste. There should be no lumps in the mixture. Add the flour and blend well, using your fingers if necessary. Now add the egg. The result is going to be a pretty sticky dough.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. Note: the original recipe said to bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, but mine were well on their way to being burned by about 35 minutes. Make sure you keep checking on them and remove them when they start to brown.
What we thought: yum. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with a fillet of beef, can you? And the bacon and seasonings were just enough to give the beef a great flavor without hiding the natural taste of the fillet, which is often one of my complaints about steak. Why bury all that lovely steakness with a lot of flavor it doesn’t need?
The broccoli was delicious too (even my kids liked it) though I timed it badly and it was a little cold. But it was a very simple and tasty twist on ordinary broccoli and it went really nicely with the beef.
The bread: also good, cheesy and had a nice texture. I have to admit to being a little surprised by it because I kind of expected it to be rock-like without any baking powder or yeast to give it that bready texture. But it really did have nice flavor and texture and went well with the rest of the meal. I didn’t even have honey with mine.
So that’s how popes eat, or at least how two of them ate 500 years ago. If you like, you can try the skinless chicken and salad instead and get back to me. :)
Next week: Honduras
For printable versions of this week’s recipes: