Tag Archives: Fish

“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

Yuletide Eats/Cucina de Natale

I’ve blogged previously about recipes from my Jewish grandma.  I have, however, been remiss in addressing my other culinary heritage.  For Christmas, I’m home with my Mom, and I think it’s time to come clean: I’m a pizza bagel.  Half Jewish.  Half Italian.  Actually, half Jewish and one quarter Italian/one quarter Welsh.  So, enough with the bagels: it’s time for pizza.  This Christmas, in between family time, I’m working a few traditional recipes into our meals, and posting them up here.

In Italian families, it’s traditional on Christmas Eve to eat fish.  When big clans get together they’ll often have a “Feast of Seven Fishes.”  I did this once with my grandparents and their friends: the feast lasted about 7 hours, with intense numbers of courses and a ridiculous amount of food.  Because last night it was just me and my mom, we just made a really nice fish stew.  I took the stew out of my mom’s copy of Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cook BookMarcella, if you haven’t heard of her, is to Italian cooking as Julia Child is to French: she wrote one of the first great English-language cook books for her cuisine – published in 1973.

We chose to do her brodetto di papi – “Dad’s soup.”  It’s a simple, flavorful homestyle fish stew.  Marcella’s recipe calls for whole fish and for pureeing of fish heads: I am technically on vacation and was simply not up for this.  So, to add flavor I substituted Madeira wine for white, and tossed in a tablespoon of baharat.  Cross-cuisine blog fusion!  It turned out tasty and festive, if I may say so myself.  I’m putting both versions of the recipe below (omitting fish heads), so you can try it old-school or modified.

While I was cleaning fish yesterday, my mom was pulling together a panettone – an Italian Christmas bread.  This bread has been a feature of my Christmas morning for as long as I can remember, and is largely responsible for making me a little obsessed with candied fruits (I love little surprise chunks of citron, citrus peel, etc.).  My mom uses a recipe from the old Vegetarian Epicure: it’s not a family recipe, but I’ve been eating it for so long that it is tradition. It’s not my handiwork, but I’m putting up pictures and recipe anyway – guest food is welcome!

Finally, today I’ve been heading north, so-to-speak, and paying tribute to my Anglo-Celtic heritage by trying my hand at figgy pudding.  Yes, the thing from “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  I got this recipe from my mom’s copy of Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cook Book: her copy is actually a 1970 edition picked up around that time in Taiwan.  The best bit: it’s pirated.  Yes, people apparently used to pirate books as well as DVDs.  I actually have pirated Taiwanese bound editions of Golden Age Batman and Superman comics my Dad picked up on that same trip.  (These volumes are totally the “root” of my comic book geekdom.  Thanks, Dad!)  About Craig Claiborne, though, if recipe copyrights are dubious/thin, is there really a big problem with a pirated cookbook?  Something for my lawyer readers to chew on along with Christmas dinner…

Brodetto di Papi (Serves 4 as a main dish)

1 1/2 lb. firm-fleshed fish (I used monkfish)
1/2 lb. shrimp, shell-on
1 lb. squid, cleaned, sliced into rings
A dozen assorted clams/mussels
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
(Optional: 1 tbsp. baharat)
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
1/2 c. dry white wine (use Madeira if you add baharat)
1 1/2 c. canned tomatoes, crushed, with juice
Salt and about 10 twists of freshly ground pepper

1. Wash all the fish. Cut the fillets into slices about 3 inches wide. Set aside everything but the clams and mussels. Place the clams and mussels in separate pans, with 1/2 c. water in each, and steam for 10 minutes until the shellfish open. If any don’t open, they’re DOA and not safe to eat, so throw them out. Set aside the opened fish, still in their shells. Pour the juices from both pans through a sieve lined with paper towels and set aside.
2. Choose a skillet large enough to hold all the fish in one layer (if possible). Saute the onion in about 2 tbsp. olive oil until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds until it starts to get a little color. Add the parsely, and the baharat if you’re using it, and stir for about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine, raise the pan to high heat, and boil briskly for about 30 seconds until the alcohol smell coming off the pan abates. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the tomatoes, stir, and simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes.
Note: At this point in Marcella’s recipe, you’d add 4 fish heads and the salt and pepper, cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, remove the heads, puree them, and toss the head mush back in. I might try this in the future. Or I might just toss in a tablespoon of Vietnamese fish sauce to get that nice strong fishy flavor.
3. Add the squid to the tomato sauce, cover, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes at a slow simmer until the squid are tender.
4. Pour in the mussel and clam juices, mix, and add the fish pieces. Cook for 5 minutes before adding the shrimp and cooking another 5. Place the set-aside clams and mussels in the pan for a minute, then serve hot with crusty Italian bread.

Panettone (Makes 2 loaves)

1 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. warm water
1 package yeast
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. anise seeds, crushed in a mortar
1/2 c. raisins
1/2-3/4 c. mixed candied orange, lemon, and citron peel
1/4 c. maraschino cherries, drained
5 c. flour

1. Scald the milk. Stir in the butter, sugar, and salt. Cool to lukewarm.
2. In a large bread bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and stir in the milk mixture, eggs, anise, fruit, and half the flour. Beat with a wooden spool until very smooth.
3. Add the remaining flour and work it in for a minute to make a dough. Turn the dough out and knead on a floured board until smooth. Do not overknead, though, or too many glutens will form and the bread will come out tough.
4. Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch it down and let it rest 10 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shape the dough into two even balls. Place each one on a buttered baking sheet, cover with a towel and let rise again until doubled (about 1 hour). Bake the loaves for 40 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Figgy Pudding (Serves 8-10)

For pudding:
1 c. dried black figs
1/3 c. chopped citron
1/3 c. chopped candied lemon peel
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 1/4 c. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. butter (suet if you’re feeling adventurous)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
1 c. grated raw carrot
1 c. grated raw potato

For the hard sauce:
1 c. sweet butter, softened
1 c. confectioners sugar
1/4 c. brandy, rum, or sherry

1. Cover the figs with boiling water and let stand 10 to 15 minutes, until soft. Drain, pull the stems off, and chop finely. Mix with the citron, peel and nuts, and set aside.
2. Sift the flour with the soda. Add half a cup to the fruit and nuts and toss. (Tip: This keeps the fruit from sticking together and allows it to distribute evenly when you mix it into the batter.)
3. Cream the butter with the spices and sugar until fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time, then add the grated vegetables. Gradually stir in the remaining flour until smooth, then mix in the fruit and nuts.
4. Pour the batter into a foil-line, greased 1 1/2-quart pudding mold.** Cover the mold with foil, stand it on a rack in an inch of boiling water in a pot with a tight lid, and steam for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Add more boiling water as necessary during this time.

For the hard sauce: Cream the butter and sugar well. Add the liquor a few drops at a time and beat until fluffy. Add the nutmeg to taste and chill.

**If you don’t have a pudding mold, a medium-sized all-metal mixing bowl should work fine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bread, Cake, Fish

Mussels Apicella

I love mussels – they’re a great quick dinner, especially since most supermarkets now carry well-cleaned and de-bearded shellfish. My old books tell you to clean mussels for ages, but these days Whole Foods usually does it for you. All you have to do is toss those babies in a pot and steam them for ten minutes. Almost every one of my “big books” (the doorstops: Gourmet, Mrs. Beeton, the Gold Cook Book) had a recipe for Moules Mariniere , but I was looking for something different…and I found Mussels Apicella in Gourmet. I’ve tried without luck to figure out by Googling what “Apicella” refers to – let me know if you turn anything up!

Mussels Apicella (Serves 2)
2 lbs. mussels, cleaned
2 whole cloves garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
6 sprigs parsley, plus some leaves for serving

1. Toss the raw mussels in oil with the garlic, sprigs of parsley, salt, and red pepper. Place over medium flame, add water, and steam for 10 minutes – until the mussels open of their own accord.
2. Sprinkle with reserved raw parsley and serve with bread to mop up mussel juices. So easy!

Note on mussels (and shellfish in general): I hate to break it to you, but mussels are alive when you buy them – or they should be. If a few haven’t opened when the others have, don’t try to open them: it usually means they were DOA and are not safe to eat.


Filed under Uncategorized

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!


Filed under Fish