Tag Archives: Apicius

“Indian Peas” from Ancient Rome

PISUM INDICUM. Pisum coques. cum despumaverit, porrum et coriandrum concidis et mittis in caccabum ut ferveat. et accipies sepias minutas, sic quomodo sunt cum atramento suo, ut simul coquantur. Adicies oleum, liquamen et vinum, fasciculum porri et coriandri. facies ut coquantur. cum coctum fuerit, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, carei modicum, suffundis ius de suo sibi, vino et passo temperabis. sepias minutatim concidis et in pisum mittis. Piper asparges ­et inferes.

– Apicius, De Re Coquinaria V.iii.3

I’m honestly really not sure what makes these peas “Indian.”  As a purely historical matter, there was trade between Rome and India (I’m lazy – if you want more info, check out this reputably-researched and -sourced Wikipedia article).  The weird thing about this dish, though, is that it really isn’t very different from other dishes in Apicius’s collection: the typical Roman flavor profile is based heavily on leeks, cumin, coriander, sweet wine, pepper, garum, and garlic.  These Indian peas have a good number of those ingredients, and not a ton of others.  But then, I don’t know what 4th century Indian cooking was like – or what regions the Romans dealt with.  I’m guessing they weren’t bringing takeout containers of chicken tikka masala back to Italy, though.  Anyone know more about ancient cooking on the subcontinent?

Anyway, just a few things about Roman cooking.  First, I always grind my spices by hand when I do it, to give the right taste and texture.  Here are my cumin, coriander, oregano, peppercorns, and anise (I substituted the last for lovage, which I don’t have).

The final dish turned out beautifully: fresh, a little sweet, a little spicy, and very different from most flavor profiles we usually deal with.  Sadly, this post is in memoriam of both peas and bowl, because I’m a huge spaz and dropped my dinner when the FreshDirect delivery guy rang the bell.  On the positive side: it was a cheap, healthy, and easy meal, and I’m sure I’ll try it again.  And perhaps even foist it on friends as part of a Roman banquet…

Indian Peas (Serves 2)
1/2 lb. squid, cleaned and sliced into rings
2 c. peas, fresh or frozen
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced crosswise
1/2 tsp. peppercorns
1/2 tsp. whole cumin
1/2 tsp. whole anise seed
1/2 tsp. whole coriander
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 c. white cooking wine**
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. nuoc nam (fish sauce)

1. Grind all the spices together. Boil the squid for 40 minuted, until tender, and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the leeks. Toss the peas in when they start to soften, and mix in the the spices, then pour over the wine, honey, and fish sauce. Add the squid and cook for 5 minutes, until most of the liquid is boiled off.

**The original recipe calls for sweet wine, but a light cooking wine mixed with honey worked well as a substitute.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fish, Uncategorized

“Indian Peas” from Ancient Rome

PISUM INDICUM. Pisum coques. cum despumaverit, porrum et coriandrum concidis et mittis in caccabum ut ferveat. et accipies sepias minutas, sic quomodo sunt cum atramento suo, ut simul coquantur. Adicies oleum, liquamen et vinum, fasciculum porri et coriandri. facies ut coquantur. cum coctum fuerit, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, carei modicum, suffundis ius de suo sibi, vino et passo temperabis. sepias minutatim concidis et in pisum mittis. Piper asparges ­et inferes.

– Apicius, De Re Coquinaria V.iii.3

I’m honestly really not sure what makes these peas “Indian.”  As a purely historical matter, there was trade between Rome and India (I’m lazy – if you want more info, check out this reputably-researched and -sourced Wikipedia article).  The weird thing about this dish, though, is that it really isn’t very different from other dishes in Apicius’s collection: the typical Roman flavor profile is based heavily on leeks, cumin, coriander, sweet wine, pepper, garum, and garlic.  These Indian peas have a good number of those ingredients, and not a ton of others.  But then, I don’t know what 4th century Indian cooking was like – or what regions the Romans dealt with.  I’m guessing they weren’t bringing takeout containers of chicken tikka masala back to Italy, though.  Anyone know more about ancient cooking on the subcontinent?

Leave a comment

Filed under Fish

Some Things Never Change

I picked some asparagus the other day and started casting about in assorted books for a fun new way to cook them. I wasn’t having much luck (I was too lazy to make a Hollandaise sauce, as most books suggested), but I stumbled across this in Apicius: “Asparagos siccabis, rursum in calidam summitas: callosiores reddes.” (Book III.iii) This translates, essentially, to: “Peel off the woody parts, dry the asparagus, put them upright in boiling water.”

I eventually wound up broiling my asparagus with a sprinkling of olive oil and za’atar, but I found this Apicius tip particularly interesting. Obviously people have known for a long time that cooking asparagus upright gets the bottom nice and tender and keeps the tops from overcooking (cook them for 6-8 minutes, by the way, until tender when tested with a fork). This is what I love about these old books: sometimes you rediscover old tricks, and sometimes you find that some bit of cooking lore you take for granted has been around for several millenia. Now we just have special steamers to do the trick.

1 Comment

Filed under Side Dishes

Roman Fish Scramble

Follow these directions:

A crudo quoslibet pisces lavas, in patina compones. adicies oleum, liquamen, vinum, cocturam, fasciculum porri, coriandri. dum coquitur, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, fasciculum, de suo sibi fricabis, suffundes ius de suo sibi, ova cruda dissolves, temperas. exinanies in patinam, facies ut obligetur. cum tenuerit, piper asparges et inferes.

…and you wind up with this:

The incredibly appetizing “Patina zomoteganon” (Apicius IV.ii.27)!

This is actually a great starter recipe if you want to dabble a little in Roman cooking: it’s really easy, it doesn’t need too make esoteric ingredients, and the flavors are mild. The directions above translate roughly to: “Put raw fish in a pan. Add oil, liquamen, wine, cooking liquid, a bundle of leeks, coriander. While it is cooking, chop pepper, ligusticum, oregano, leeks, mash the things together, suffuse them with their juice, scramble raw eggs, mix them in proportion. Pour them into the pan and cook until they bind. When it holds together, sprinkle with pepper and serve.”

Liquamen (along with the more famous garum) was a sauce made from fermented fish. Romans used it ALL the time. Roman food actually has a lot of strong flavors – honey, sweet wine, vinegar, fish sauce, among others. When you don’t have a fridge you have to cover up not-so-great-tasting meat, fish, and produce a lot more. Because this recipe is fish-based the fish sauce flavor (I use Thai fish sauce – nuoc nam) doesn’t come through so much. I’ll have to do a full garum post soon: the history of the Roman fish sauce industry is really fascinating.

The other untranslated ingredient above, ligusticum, is an herb. It is apparently some variety of licorice-root. I just use parsley. Here’s a followable version of the recipe above. It’s actually healthy and tasty, and would go very nicely with rice or crusty bread.

Roman Fish Scramble (Serves 2)

1 lb. firm strong-tasting white fish (I used tilapia and it worked great)
4 eggs, beaten
2 small leeks, chopped
1/4 c. white cooking wine
2 tsp. nuoc nam (fish sauce)
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the fish into 1- by 3-inch strips and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a sautee pan over medium heat. Add the leeks, stir for about a minute, then add the wine, fish sauce, and coriander. Cook until the leeks begin to soften.
3. Add the fish. Cook for 1 minute, add the parsley and some ground pepper, turn the fish pieces over, and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Pour in the eggs and scramble as they start to firm up. Break the fish pieces up a tiny bit and cook until the eggs are set. Serve and enjoy the fact that you’re sampling a recipe that’s nearly 2 millenia old!

2 Comments

Filed under Fish