Historical Italian Cooking: How to Make Ancient Roman & Medieval Italian Dishes

Italy is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed for hav­ing vig­i­lant­ly pre­served its food cul­ture, with the result that many dish­es there are still pre­pared in more or less the same way they have been for cen­turies. When you taste Ital­ian food at its best, you taste his­to­ry — to bor­row the name of a Youtube chan­nel whose suc­cess has revealed a sur­pris­ing­ly wide­spread enthu­si­asm for the cui­sine of bygone eras. But some of Italy’s most glob­al­ly beloved comestibles aren’t quite as deeply root­ed in the past as peo­ple tend to assume: there are no records of tiramisu, for instance, before the nine­teen-six­ties; cia­bat­ta, the Ital­ian answer to the baguette, was invent­ed in the ear­ly nine­teen-eight­ies.

Nei­ther of them appear any­where in His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing, a bilin­gual blog in Eng­lish and Ital­ian that teach­es how to par­take in far more ven­er­a­ble culi­nary tra­di­tions. A vari­ety of peri­ods are rep­re­sent­ed: the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry (Neapoli­tan cala­mari, tagli­atelle and beef stew), the Renais­sance (cros­ti­ni with guan­ciale and sage, elder­flow­ers frit­ters), the Mid­dle Ages (monk’s stuffed-egg soup, quails with sumac), and even the time of ancient Rome (cut­tle­fish cakes, Horace’s lagana and chick­peas).

You can also see these and oth­er dish­es pre­pared on His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing’s Youtube chan­nel, which offers playlists orga­nized by era, region, and chief ingre­di­ent: Medieval Tus­can recipes, ancient fish recipes, ear­ly medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.

His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing’s most pop­u­lar video shows every step involved in mak­ing “the most famous ancient Mediter­ranean sauce, garum.” The recipe comes straight from De Re Coquinar­ia, the old­est known cook­book in exis­tence, which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture. If you’d like to try your hand at mak­ing this bold condi­ment, make sure you’ve got the time: you’ll have to let the fish it’s made of it sit for at least a few days, stir­ring it three or four times per day, though some recipes sug­gest con­tin­u­ing this process for three or four months before the garum is ready to eat. If, on fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion, you’d pre­fer to make a piz­za, His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing can help with that as well: just make sure you’ve got enough lard and quails.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Free Course from MIT Teach­es You How to Speak Ital­ian & Cook Ital­ian Food All at Once

The Futur­ist Cook­book (1930) Tried to Turn Ital­ian Cui­sine into Mod­ern Art

Tast­ing His­to­ry: A Hit YouTube Series Shows How to Cook the Foods of Ancient Greece & Rome, Medieval Europe, and Oth­er Places & Peri­ods

When Ital­ian Futur­ists Declared War on Pas­ta (1930)

Explore the Roman Cook­book, De Re Coquinar­ia, the Old­est Known Cook­book in Exis­tence

Ital­ian Advice on How to Live the Good Life: Cig­a­rettes, Toma­toes, and Oth­er Pic­turesque Small Plea­sures

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Sam Andrews says:

    Buon­giorno! To begin with, shout out to you for remind­ing us that it would take sev­er­al days to pre­pare garum. My moth­er-in-law seems to be crav­ing Ital­ian cui­sine after watch­ing a cook­ing show last week­end. Maybe she just needs to find a restau­rant soon so she can enjoy some great food.

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