Cooking & Food

Eggs in a Pine-Nut Sauce

I have made this recipe, based on Apicius and blogged about on the Pass the Garum website, several times. However, I have an upcoming event to attend and I needed these to be more a finger food appetizer.  I modified the recipe “Eggs in a Pinenut Sauce” to make a Deviled Egg for a party. Here is how I made them:

Place 8oz of Pine Nuts in a measuring cup. Fill with Balsamic Vinegar until just to the top of the nuts. Add a hearty splash of Garum. Fill with water to the 1-cup line. SOAK OVERNIGHT in the fridge.

Halve 12 hardboiled eggs. Put the yolks into a blender and the pine nut sauce, as well as 1 tsp each of salt and pepper; puree. Dollop by spoonful this puree into the eggs. Top with crushed red pepper.



A Sampler of Roman Breads

Baking flourished in the Roman Empire from as early as 300BC but it wasn’t until 168BC that the first Bakers Guild was formed, within 150 years there were more than three hundred specialist pastry chefs in Rome. The whole craft was incorporated in a guild of bakers, the Collegium Pistorum,  and was of so high repute in the affairs of the state that one of its representatives had a seat in the Senate. Among the foods of ancient Rome bread is one of the most documented in the literary sources, with frescoes and bas-reliefs which represent the stages of preparation and sale. The ruins of Pompeii and other buried cities have also revealed the kind of bakeries that existed in those historic times, as well as loaves of bread eternally preserved in ash.

Breads were made richer by adding yeast, milk, eggs, and oil, but only the wealthy and privileged could afford these. The Egyptian grammarian and philosopher Athenaeus, 3rd century AD, has handed down to us considerable knowledge about bread and baking in those days. He wrote: “the best bakers were from Phoenicia or Lydia, and the best bread-makers from Cappadocia.”

He also gave us a list of the sorts of bread common in his time. He described both leavened and unleavened loaves, as well as loaves made from wheat flour, groats, rye, acorns, and millet. There were crusty loaves, loaves baked on a hearth, and bread mixed with cheese. More expensive breads, reserved for the wealthy, included milk, eggs, honey, oil, and spices. However, the most prized bread of the rich was always white wheat bread. Even that “the wheat of Cyprus is swarthy and produces a dark bread, for which reason it is generally mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria.”

The most basic bread was made with spelt flour and water. This was mixed into a stiff dough, then rolled flat, cut into strips, and fried on a flat surface.  This was called Lagana, a type of Roman flatbread believed to have been a precursor to lasagna noodles. With no need for yeast or fancy ovens, this is the kind of bread that anybody, rich or poor, could eat.

Another basic bread was most common in the military ranks,  Buccellatum. The late-Roman Codex Theodosianus, a compilation of Roman laws, states that during expeditions a Roman soldier should be supplied with buccellatum or hardtack, which is a simple biscuit made from spelt flour, salt, and water. As the name suggests, it is rock hard, baked twice at low temperatures for a very long time, ensuring that no moisture is left inside.

          Cato the Elder wrote in his handbook De Agri Cultura (“On Agriculture”), 2nd century BCE, the instructions for cheese bread, Libum. Cato writes: “Break up two pounds of cheese well in a mortar. Put in a pound of wheat flour, or if you want it more delicate a half pound of fine flour, and mix it with the cheese. Then add one egg and mix well. When it is well kneaded, shape it into bread, place it on [bay] leaves, and bake it under an earthenware lid.”

          Pliny the Elder wrote, in AD 70, about a softer bread called Panis Parthicus, which was more spongy and able to absorb a greater quantity of liquid. This bread is made with a slightly wetter dough than many bread recipes and the resulting loaf has an appealing wheat flavor and good crumb structure. Its ingredients include a mixture of wheat flours, honey, oil, yeast.

          Roman scholar Apicius wrote in De Re Coquinaria (“On Cookery”), 4-5th century AD, about the  luxury bread Artolaganus, or cake bread, made with fine flours, yeast, honey, wine, milk, oil, pepper, and candied fruit. Although no recipe has been found for this bread, it is assumed it is similar to the traditional Italian Panettone bread served at Christmas time since the early middle ages.