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Recipes from Medieval Italy 1, 2, 3

Fish - medieval woodcutDried codfish could always be relied upon to fill the gaps when there was no fresh fish available. This was particularly important in the Middle Ages, when the Church's meatless holy days were adhered to upon pain of eternal damnation. Since it was not native to the Mediterranean, codfish was imported from Scandinavia.

Today, codfish is opened flat and air dried before export. It is then beaten, to break the fibers, and soaked in water for a couple of days before cooking.

Baccala alla Vincentina (Stewed Codfish)

Today, Baccala alla Vincentina is always served with polenta, an ingredient not authentic to the period ( Columbus had yet discovered corn).

1 lb. dried codfish
1 1/3 cups thinly sliced onion
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
2 1/4 cups milk

Prepare the stock fish, skin and cut into thick slices. Saute the onion in the oil over a low heat until soft. Add the parsely, garlic, and anchovies and stir until just coated. Remove from heat. Mix the flour, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Coat the stock fish with the mixture and place in a heavy metal or earthenware pan. Fish should fit snugly in a single layer. Sprinkle with cheese, add the anchovy and onion sauce, and cover with milk. Bring slowly until just boiling, cover and set over a very low heat until the liquid is absorbed, about 2 1/2 hours. Serves 4.

Seppie in Zimino (Cuttlefish with Beet Greens)

Very similar to a recipe dating to the 1500's, this dish is traditionally served by Ligurians in Northern Tuscany today. The original recipe calls for beet greens, onion, butter and wine - flavored with those popular medieval mainstays: pepper, cinnamon and saffron.

1 1/2 lbs. cuttlefish
1 lb. beet greens
1/2 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare and wash cuttlefish and cut into 1/2 inch strips. Remove the white stalk from the beet greens and thoroughly wash leaves. Place in a pan with a teaspoon of salt and cook over low heat until tender. Squeeze out most of the water from the cooked leaves and chop coarsely. In a heavy pot, saute onion in the oil until soft, then stir in the cuttlefish and cook for several minutes, continually turning over and stirring. Add the tomato paste and a few tablespoons water and saute another minute. Salt to taste. Cover the pot and cook until tender, about 1/2 hour. Add the beet greens, add pepper to taste, and cover the pot and cook for another 10 minutes. Serves 4.

Gnocchi (Cheese Dumplings)

These tasty dumplings are great served in, or accompanied with, a hearty stew. The recipe doesn't include the modern New World ingredients, such as mashed potatoes or corn polenta, but their preparation couldn't be easier.

1 1/4 lbs. softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups flour
6 egg yolks
Grated Parmesan cheese

Make sure cream cheese is at room temperature before mashing into a soft paste. By hand, mix in the flour and salt to taste. Stir in the egg yolks one at a time until the mixture attains a smooth, but thick consistency. Bring a pot of water to a simmering boil and drop teaspoons of the mixture into the water. Cook until the gnocchi rise to the top of the water, remove from the heat and drain. Heap up on a serving dish and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.

Insaleggiata di Cipolle (Roasted Onion Salad)

Here's a rustic, medieval recipe that readily adapts to the backyard barbecue! Onions were simply cooked 'in the embers,' sliced and mixed with vinegar and spices. These are best served lukewarm, or cold as a side dish to a juicy, barbecued T-bone.

6 medium size red onions
red wine vinegar
olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Wrap onions individually in aluminum foil and roast over red-coat coals for about an hour, or until tender. Let cool, unwrap and cut into thin slices. Mix in a bowl with vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. For a truly authentic medieval taste, add a pinch of cinnamon, saffron, and clove powder. Otherwise, add herbs normally used in a favorite Italian salad dressing, such as parsely and oregano. If you're feeling adventurous, add a touch of garlic.


This dish is not to be confused with the modern version of pasta with bacon and cream sauce. This was a nosh that, like tavern peanuts, apparently helped sustain a long night of medieval carousing.

The original carbonata recipe describes both ingredients and preparation, including an insider tip: et farrante meglio breve ("it will make you drink all the better.")

12 thin slices prosciutto or unsmoked bacon
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
pinch of cinammon

Warm the prosciutto or bacon in a large frying pan and remove. Add the rest of the ingredients over medium heat and stir. Adjust seasoning, and bring the mixture just to a boil. Pour over the meat and serve immediately.

Recipes from Medieval Italy 1, 2, 3


also see -> Italian Christmas Recipes



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