Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Strasbourg, Overstuffed Freezers and Choucroute Garni

Strasbourg/Argentina 1644

“An early sign of fall in the Alsatian wine villages that spread out from the Rhine River to the crest of the Vosges Mountains is a prominent market sign announcing: Nouvelle Choucroute. This means the season's first batch of sauerkraut, still a bit crunchy and with just a hint of acidity, is in the market, ready to be garnished, then roasted with an array of salted and smoked pork, lean bacon, and perhaps a half dozen different sausages, all to be washed down with plenty of crisp and chilled local white Riesling.” So said Patricia Wells In a 1982 NYT’s article.

It is that time of year when we begin to enjoy clean cool air, simmering pots and hearth fires –– the perfect season for Alsatian cuisine. Alsace is known for hearty, cold-weather-fortifying foods like choucroute, flammekueche (an onion, bacon and fresh cheese tart), chicken with Riesling, prunes and cabbage, fleishschneke (meat on noodle dough rolled and sliced in a broth), and of course Quiche Lorraine and Strasbourg goose liver paté (tinned Strasbourg paté was the first foie gras I ever tasted –– it was supposedly invented around 1780 by Jean-Pierre Claus in Strasbourg).

I love the picturesque villages and towns of Alsace but must admit, Alsace’s capitol, the very ancient Roman city of Argentina, now Strasbourg, is a favorite of mine – not just because it saw the birth of Gutenberg’s printing press and the French anthem Les Marseillaise. It contains Strasbourg Cathedral –– the tallest building in the world from the 17th to the 19th century, as well as other marvelous streets and buildings, most especially the 15th century Kamerzell Altehaus –– I love all its swoops and droops and carvey bits. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site full of half-timbered houses, wooden bridges and canals.

Kammerzell Altehaus, Strasbourg
Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Barth Illustration

When I was tasked with making a dish using things that were pickled as my Creative Cooking Crew challenge this month, things Alsatian came to mind, yes, but I was also inspired by a D'Artagnan frozen duck leg hurtling from my freezer onto my foot when I opened the door. Choucroute garni was the perfect choice for the pickling challenge. My freezer is now becoming like something out of  Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice –– instead of too much water and too many brooms, my freezer is conjuring meat out of thin air. Whenever I take things out it still remains full to bursting –– drastic meat reduction measures were necessary.

Choucroute garni got rid of all sorts of meaty goodies and I can now almost fit my hand in on the middle shelf (ok, to be honest, chicken stock and goose and duck fat are also major contributors to my over-stuffing problem). The great thing about the dish is you can pretty much use anything that suites your fancy in the meat realm although it is traditionally made with smoked pork (meat and sausages) and often smoked goose and duck (although I have heard of a fish version).

My version of this dish uses pork that I made into kielbasa, bits of spare ribs, duck confit, smoked pork chops, smoked duck breast and a pig foot (don’t ask, they came in pairs) and has loads of pickled goodness,  from the cornichons that are used as a side to the dish to the potatoes steamed in sauerkraut juice and really the dish itself. Smoked meats cooked for a good long while with sauerkraut that's bursting with flavor and tang essentially pickles the meat as well.

In general, pickling is easy as could be. It involves vinegar and usually sugar and salt but everything else is up to you. You can pickle vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. You could probably pickle rocks if it appealed to you because all you need is a brine and whatever you wish to pickle. The way you do it depends on whether you want to make the result last or intend to use it right away.

Classic sauerkraut is not pickled as you usually think of pickled –– fermentation pickles it (technically, lacto-fermentation). In a way, you are creating vinegar and the cabbage comes along for the ride –– it is a 4000-year old technique that originated in Northern China. You can use Alton Brown’s recipe  or this one from Wild Fermentation or Michael Pollan’s take on it . I’ve made sauerkraut twice with mixed results. My first effort was excellent, the second a nightmare of rot and stench. I have no idea why one succeeded and the other did not.  You can often buy good lacto-fermented sauerkraut (I used a great version available in NYC's Union Square Greenmarket from Hawthorne Valley, it’s as good as I would make).

To get rid of meat in the freezer, I made my own kielbasa based on Hank Shaw’s wonderful recipe at Honest Food. I turned out a superlative product using a kettle grill at low temperature since I didn’t have a smoker. I sat outside and watched it carefully, adding mulberry sticks to the grill and extra charcoal.   The whole thing took 2 hours but the result was magnificent (Shaw recommended a 4 hour smoke).  I smoked the bit of pork rib meat I had as well as the pig foot.  All turned a spectacular mahogany color.  The only amusing thing was at the last minute one of the kielbasa poured a stream of fat into the grill – no idea why that happened.  It went from totally plump to puckered in an instant.

I added a touch of Aftelier’s fir essence when I read that one of the classic ingredients to the dish was a fir-smoked sausage.  I love the scent and it goes well with the juniper-scented sauerkraut.

The amounts and varieties of meat are purely recommendations.  I think there is enough sauerkraut for 8 people, if you want to up the recipe make more potatoes and add more meat. You could use 3 or 4 sorts of sausage from kielbasa to hot dogs, bratwurst or Andouille.  You could even spice it up with chorizo or merguez if it appeals to you. Often smoked pork butt is the largest meat component.  Whatever empties out your freezer. It is a great leftover and I discovered leftover sauerkraut can be frozen (and used on hotdogs, oh yes!).

Choucroute Garni (adapted from many recipes) serves 4

1 ham hock or pig foot, 4 c water
2 pounds sauerkraut, drained, juice reserved (a potato ricer works perfectly for this)
2 T duck fat   or goose fat or butter
1 slice bacon, chopped
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 carrot, thinly sliced (optional)
1 apple, peeled cored and sliced (optional)
2 smoked pork chops (mine were from Flying Pig’s Farm, fat trimmed)
2 oz smoked boneless pork rib  (optional)
1 garlic clove
2 c Riesling wine
1 cup chicken stock or reserved stock from cooking hock or foot
4-5 smashed juniper berries
1 or 2 bay leaves
2 cloves
5 coriander seeds
1 t thyme
½ t caraway seeds
½ t pepper
1 pound smoked, cooked sausage (I used kielbasa but you can use many kinds)
1 D'Artagnan smoked duck breast, skin removed and fried till crisp and reserved
1 or 2 drops Aftelier Fir Essence (optional but delicious)
8 potatoes, peeled (Yukon gold or thin-skinned red)
1 T butter
chopped parsley

Mustard, cornichons, pickles, pickled onions, pickled horseradish etc for accompaniments -- mustard and cornichons are the classic accompaniments.

Cook the pork foot or hock in water to cover for a few hours.  If you are using the hock, remove the meat (the foot is mostly cartilage). Cool and reserve stock. Take most of the fat from the stock and reduce to 1 cup.

Preheat oven to 325º

Melt the fat in a pan.  Add the bacon and smoked duck skin if you are using it and fry till browned, remove and reserve.  Add the onions and sauté till soft (around 15 minutes).  Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few minutes.

Add the duck confit with the smoked pork rib. Add the drained sauerkraut, the stock and the wine with the spices.  Cover and cook for 1 to 1½ hours total (times will depend on the meats you choose, most meats need to just be warmed through not cooked so an hour would be enough).

Add the sausage, smoked duck breast and smoked pork chop to the choucroute garni. Cover and cook for another 20 minutes to half an hour (the additional items just need to be warmed through).

Take the reserved sauerkraut juice and whatever additional water necessary and add the potatoes.  Cook till tender but not mushy. Reserve.  Just before serving, toss the potatoes in the butter and add chopped parsley.

Remove the meat from the dish –– the duck leg meat will fall from the bone.  Put the sauerkraut on the platter.  Scatter the meats (you can serve them sliced or whole) and the reserved bacon and duck skin on the kraut with the potatoes and serve with the accompaniments.

See the Creative Cooking Crew Pinterest Board HERE

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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Serpent and the Pearl, Borgias and Scappi's Boar (or Pork) with Dates, Prunes and Cherries

A few weeks ago I got a rather interesting email from a lady named Kate Quinn. She is the author of 3 historical novels set in ancient Rome. Her new book, The Serpent and the Pearl, is set in the Italian Renaissance.

Quinn sent me the book to read and asked if I would be interested in cooking one of the many dishes that flavor its pages. I thought it was a great idea to engage food bloggers as part of a book roll-out since one of the main characters in the book is a fictional cook named Carmelina. Better still, one of the lesser characters in the novel is none other than a very young Bartolomeo Scappi, one of the greatest cooks in Italy (I wrote about Scappi HERE). He wrote the ground-breaking cookbook, The Opera (L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro Cuoco), in 1570. Needless to say, there were many recipes to choose from as 74 separate dishes are mentioned or described, many of them taken directly from Scappi’s Opera. Scappi’s food is fantastic and light-years ahead of its time –– a good reason to include him in the narrative even if his appearance was a bit of an anachronism (he was born around 1500).

The other characters are not fictional in the least –– the story revolves around the Borgias – Cesare, Lucretzia and patriarch, Roderigo Borgia, as well as Roderigo’s mistress, Giulia Farnese.

The book is written in an interesting style with 3 narrators and so 3 perspectives on the unfolding narrative–– that of mistress Giulia Farnese, her cook Carmelina and a dwarf named Leonello who is Giulia’s bodyguard.

Borgia themes are certainly timely these days with politics, religion, sex and intrigue looping 24-7 in today’s news. The Borgias on Showtime had been a sweet addiction for many, even if elegantly attenuated Jeremy Irons looks nothing like the real, very portly Roderigo Borgia (Alfred Hitchcock would be a closer match). With only a small, if nearly fanatical audience, The Borgias was cancelled this summer before its final 4th season could finish Roderigo’s story (an e-book will finish the tale for bereft fans denied the 2 hour finale that the series’ creators planned). Something tells me, the series will do very well when it can be binge-watched –– nothing like immersion to hook a new audience with passion, sex, political intrigue, cruelty and violence and Jeremy Irons.

Or you can satisfy your Borgia cravings by reading Kate's book and looking at some of the real locations and players in the Borgia story.

When I read The Serpent and the Pearl,  I really wanted to refine my vague recollections of the players and the places and made some thrilling discoveries –– most especially the long-lost Borgia apartments at the Vatican. For me, art and architecture enrich the reading experience with real locations and faces. For all their notoriety, some faces were elusive.

Although Giulia Farnese was one of the great beauties of the age, no painting or drawing of her has survived that we can be sure of (when the Borgias lost power, they were much despised and much of their legacy was destroyed). There are some images that are said to be Giulia, but they cannot be verified as hers and frankly bear little resemblance to one another.

Lady with Unicorn

La Trasfigurazione: Raffaello 1518 - 1520 Musei Vaticani (the lady in front with the naked shoulder is supposed to be Guilia

Lucretzia Borgia fared no better with a handful possible portraits –– again they bear little resemblance to one another, save sharing very curly hair and a piercing stare.  A figure in the sensational Borgia Apartments in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican seems a likely contender for an accurate representation.

Commissioned by her father, it is likely that his children and his mistress are captured on the densely populated walls of the rooms but no records exist to prove it.  The only verifiable Borgia decorating the apartments is the Pope himself, a mountain of gold kneeling at the resurrection (as well as a Spanish pope's nod to Spain's discovery of the New World hovering mysteriously above the tomb -- the family name was originally Borja from Valencia).

Possibly Lucretzia, detail

The Borgia Apartments were closed after Pope Alexander’s death and rarely used until the 19th century, concealing the magnificent Pinturicchio frescoes that he and his students had painted from 1492-94. Because of the evil Borgia association,  they were virtually walled off for nearly 400 years so Pinturricchio’s work in the apartments never achieved the recognition that Michelangelo and Rafael enjoyed for their work in the Vatican.  On the plus side, the rooms were not renovated and damage was mostly repairable so they are a magnificent Renaissance time-capsule –– especially after a recent cleaning.

The following black and white pictures are from The Vatican and its History (go HERE to see them in color –– Blogger was unhappy with too many images today so I had to remove them!).

In a chapter on the Borgia Apartments, The Vatican and its History posited that Alexander VI, all too aware of his own mortality and haunted by a virulent strain of demons suckled on Borgia crimes, got to work on his Vatican apartment immediately:

“Alexander, then, had barely entered the Vatican when he resolved to prepare for himself a suite of apartments that would be a marvel of splendor, rich in reliefs, in gilding, in marbles, in majolica, in furniture, in hangings; a suite so magnificent that not a hand’s breadth of ceiling or of walls should be left untouched. The eye and the mind were to find no repose. In the tiniest unoccupied space memory might lurk to awaken remorse or painful recollections. Everywhere, therefore, splendor and gaiety must prevail. Alexander summoned the artist who at that time gave the most satisfactory proof of his ability to comprehend his patron’s disposition and satisy his desires –– Bernardino de Betto, called Il Pinturicchio….

Scholars Franz Ehrle and Henry Stevenson named the rooms in their 1898 book on the apartments –– Sala dei Misteri, Sala dei Santi, Sala delle Arti Liberali, Sala del Credo, Sala delle Sibille.

Hall of Liberal Arts

Hall of Liberal Arts

Hall of Sibyls

The decoration of the rooms gives you a sense of the opulent Borgia lifestyle that was a backdrop to the novel’s drama. It’s easy to see Kate’s characters living in spaces like these.

1908 article on the apartments speaks of Pinturicchio’s forgotten masterpiece :

“THERE is perhaps hardly a place in Rome where you feel so transported into the heart of that old life of the Renaissance, as you do in the Borgia Apartments. After mid-day it is almost empty of sightseers; and in the long rooms, where the silence is only broken by the splash of the fountain in the quiet, grassy court outside, you realize the setting of the passionate lives that once ran their course here. Here the light caught Lucrezia's golden hair, here the famous pontiff rustled in his brocaded robes, and Cesare Borgia strode in gilded armor. Here great ambitions were matured, and blackest crimes consummated; and here, too, came and went the little, deaf, beauty-loving painter from the Umbrian hills, and drew his cartoons, and spaced his decorations, and overlooked his army of workmen, and left us as splendid a scheme of rich ornament as the quattro-cento has to show.”

The article gives a brilliant history of the rooms and speaks eloquently of the art and artist. –– it’s a fun read.

The style of decoration for the rooms has been called International Gothic, with most of the artwork done in vaults and lunettes at or on the ceiling, the tile work on the floor speaks to the Moorish influence from Borgia’s Spanish homeland. It is said the first grotesques appeared in the Borgia Apartment (Pinturicchio first used the word in a 1502 contract).

Sala dei Santi, ceiling, myth of Isis and Osiris

Hall of Mysteries, with Roderigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, praying in the foreground. 

Detail:reference to the New World above the open casket (Borgia had a hand in the negotiations for the New World agreement between Spain and Portugal).

A 1914 book, How to See the Vatican, eloquently described the Pope of the fresco above: “… the whole anatomy of the figure speaks, though it is swathed in a great cloak stiff with gold and gems; and though the head is bald and the face fat, with double chin, long upper lip and parrot-like nose, the impression you get is of calm strength, of a man who saw his end clearly and grasped it without allowing his attention to be drawn off by any conventions or excuses. In his portrait the man who flung conventionalities to the winds, and brooked no obstacle to his projects for providing for his children, does not look bad or merciless; it is true that to represent him as such might not have been pleasant for Pinturicchio. Here he looks only a man not to be deterred. He was at all events a wise patron of the arts, and he steered his ship in the troubled sea of Italian civil wars and intrigues with a manfulness which any civil Prince of his time might have envied. After all, he was quite up to the moral standard of the gods of Greece –– was very much the Jupiter of the Vatican.”

Table for preparing something magnificent from Scappi's Opera

With all the glorious Renaissance images swimming in my head, I must say The Serpent and the Pearl was a great romp of a read and aside from conjuring great characters, art and architecture, the delights of the kitchen ran through the chapters, spicing and flavoring all.

Consider Carmelina's decription of making pastry; "I was making a tourte of caravella pears, which i normally could have made in my sleep, but this time I was making a miniature version hardly bigger than my thumb, and it required very close concentration. I'd already grated the pears and cooked them slowly in butter... added the almond paste, the candied citron... A spoon of filling, just a spoon into a shell of  very thin pastry... I rubbed my hands briskly up and down my apron.  Pastry required steady hands, and I'd need very tiny strips like shutters to seal the tourte up.  Then glaze the top with sugar and rosewater..."

With sweets like crostate of quince and apple or peach, "with a ribboned twist of flakey pastry layered about the top in a spiral.", elderflower frittelle "... elderflowers soaking in milk... with a little saffron ...", blood oranges in pastry stars and sugared cedar flowers ––  savories from "Light summer menus would be called on, to cool the blood and tempt heat-dulled appetites: snow chilled wine, and fresh-pressed infusions of mulberry or tart peach; salads of endives and caper flowers; chicken served cold with limes and just splash of rose vinegar; featherlight omelets with goat's milk and chopped truffles..." or a beef stew with raisins and rose vinegar, a peacock with pine nuts and cinnamon on a bed of rose petals, well, lets just say it was difficult to choose what to make.

"I began whisking together the spices I'd need  for the capons –– perhaps a shoulder of wild boar too?  No Venetian archbishop coming to my table would go away thinking the food provincial". In the end a boar recipe from Scappi asked to be made –– full of dates, plums and cherries and not in the least provincial –– I'd say princely. It is related to the beef recipes of Scappi’s I have made and loved, but with subtle differences that acknowledge the use of boar or pork instead of beef.  I got a splendid boar shoulder from D'Artagnan.  If you haven't tried it, it is a gorgeous meat,  tasting somewhere between veal and pork. Remember that tomatoes were not yet popular in Italy and do not appear in Scappi's cookbook.  They are not missed since fresh and dried fruits were often used to flavor sauces and stews.  The fruit combination in this recipe is really sublime and the dish speaks to the divine excesses of the arts of the extraordinary times –– all the senses are pampered with each mouthful.

Serving the meal from Scappi's Opera
Here are my fellow bloggers for this virtual Renaissance banquet.  Do stop by their sites and see how the creative angels incited their talents.  Kate provides the descriptions.

The Inn at the Crossroads: The crostata of summer peaches that Carmelina is making when Juan Borgia decides to make a pass hat her

Island Vittles: The tourte of sweet cheese and Genovese onions that Carmelina cooks for Giulia's wedding feast
Little White Apron: The baked apples that Carmelina serves Giulia the morning after her weeding and capon with garlic, coriander and white wine that is her favorite chicken recipe.
Taking on Magazines: the sugared biscotti that form a staple munchie throughout the book, and the elderflower fritters Giulia tries to make
Between the Sheets: The asparagus zuppa and zabaglione which Carmelina's apprentice whips up on a country trip to impress her
Kate Quinn: Hot sops with Cherries,

I give you my recipe followed by Scappi’s original collection of techniques for cooking wild boar and Terence Scully’s translation of  The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro Cuoco.  If I may say, leftovers are smashing.  You can also chop up what's left and add the remaining sauce and fruit and a cup of red wine, cook gently and have a fabulous ragout for pasta.

Wild Boar with Dates, Prunes, Cherries and Rose

1 3-4 lb wild boar shoulder roast from D'Artagnan or pork roast*
2 T lard or olive oil
1/2 -1 c water (approx)
1/2 -1 c white wine (approx)
1 t salt
1 t pepper
5 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg or 1/2 nutmeg crushed
1/4 lb prosciutto end, sliced into retrievable pieces
1/4 - 1/2 c white wine vinegar**
1-2 drops Aftelier rose essence*** or 2 t rosewater
1/4 c vin cotto (or 2 c red wine reduced)

1 c prunes
1 c dates
1/4 c  sour cherries if dry, 1/2 c if fresh or frozen
2 1/2"slices of onion

Juice of 1/2 an orange
4-6 spring onions, gently sauteed in butter or olive oil
1 t fennel pollen

Preheat the oven to 325º.  Use a dish with a well-fitting lid that is not much bigger than the roast (Scappi recommends a clay pot or copper, I used enameled cast iron).

* Remove the netting from the roast and tie with kitchen twine a few lashings front to back and around the middle. Brown the boar roast in the fat.  Use enough wine and water so that the liquids com up about 1/4 of the way up the dish.  The liquid is meant to moisten, not to drown and the roast will give up liquid. Add the rest of the ingredients, 1/4 c of white wine vinegar through the vin cotto and cook tightly covered for 45 minutes for a 3 lb roast,  1 hour for a 4 lb roast).

Flip the roast. Add the fruit and onion and cover.  Cook for 45 minutes longer or until tender (if you have a larger roast make it an hour).

Remove the roast from the pan.  Pour orange juice over it ( you may want to spoon the juice over the sliced roast as well –– it is a wonderful bright addition to the dish) and sprinkle with fennel pollen. Rest, tented while you remove the fruit from the pan.  Taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning. ** You may want to add more vinegar if you want the sauce more sweet and sour than sweet. Place the roast on a platter and serve sliced or whole.  Surround with the fruit and onions (the prosciutto may be left behind or served - it dries out during cooking so I left it out) or spoon the fruit over the slices.  Serve the sauce on the side or, if you have a deep platter, pour some of the sauce around the whole roast or over the slices.

*** For those of you who have never had the good fortune to try them, Aftelier's chef's essences are sublime.  Rose and Jasmine are my particular favorites (you can try a Medici Jasmine Chocolate HERE)

Terence Scully translation of Scappi's recipe for Wild Boar:

“Filter that washwater [white wine and water used to rinse the meat] and put it with the meat into an earthenware or copper stewing pot, or a cooking por with crushed pepper, whole cloves, whole cinnamon and crushed nutmegs – the quantities of each depending on the amount of meat there is adding in marbled prosciutto that has been diced, a little rose vinegar and must syrup, or else sugar, so that the mixture has both a tang and a sweetness to it. Boil that with the pot stopped up and without skimming it except when it is half done. At which time you add in pitted dates, prunes and dried visciola cherries. If you want to put in whole onions that have first been parboiled or cooked under the coals, that is optional. With all that together, finish off cooking. When it is done, serve it hot with broth and other things over the top, being very careful that the meat does not fall apart because sometime the meat is cooked and the brisket is quite tough. Again you can set that rack of ribs in salt for two days and ten boil it in plain water, serving it hot with garlic sauce or mustard over the top of in dishes.”

Furthermore, after boiling it plain, you can let it cool and cut it apart rib by rib along with the brisket, sprinkling it with pepper and fennel flour. Heat it on a grill until it browns slightly on both sides. Serve it hot with orange juice over it. Again, you can sautee those ribs with beaten spring onions and serve them dressed with mild spices and orange juice.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bartolomeo Scappi and Filet with Cherries, Prunes and Rose

Bartolomeo Scappi (1550-1577)

To set the table for next Monday's post on Kate Quinn's The Serpent and the Pearl (A Novel of the Borgias),  I thought I would share a post I'd written for Marx Foods a while back.  Scappi is one of my favorite master chefs and actually a character in Kate's novel. Its story involves the Borgias, a pope's mistress and a passion for cooking (does it get better than that?). Kate's inclusion of Scappi is a bit of an anachronism as he was probably born around 1500, but she loved his recipes so much, she put him in –– imagining the early years of a kitchen genius.  Many of the dishes in the book are straight from his cookbook.

You will see these recipes are related to next week's recipe.  The flavorings are related but subtly different, a master playing with variations on a theme.  Scappi was a master.

The Guardian (a British newspaper ranked 2nd only to the NY Times for online English-speaking readership) listed the 50 greatest cookbooks of all time in 2010. On this list were many contemporary classics. But right next to David Chang’s uber-trendy The Momofuku Cookbook was Opera dell’arte del cucinare published in 1570!!! With 1000 recipes, it is THE book of Italian Renaissance cooking written by Bartolomeo Scappi and set the standard for cookbooks thereafter.


What we know of Scappi began with his work in the service of Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio where he created spectacular banquets that made him famous. From there he moved to service with Pope Pius IV and then Pius V. He wrote his cookbook while working for Pius V, who ironically was an ascetic who demurred the opulent table of his predecessor! Perhaps a less demanding schedule gave him the time he needed to do his cookbook. For that we are most grateful.

Terence Scully has translated The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro Cuoco into English and it is available to sample. After the sample, you may just want to break down and buy the book on Amazon… it is that good.

Ken Albala, a noted food historian says, “Quite simply Scappi's Opera is the first modern cookbook. It is not a shorthand list of recipes to jog the professional chef's mind, it actually teaches how to cook, and is in that respect on par with the best works of Julia Child. It includes shopping advice, tips on equipment, menu organization, and even multiple variable techniques when confronted with every imaginable ingredient - including bears and hedgehogs. It is also the first fully and lavishly illustrated cookbook. Most importantly, the recipes really work and are the result of years of practical experience in the kitchen. It remains the single greatest monument of Italian cuisine, overshadowing even the great Artusi. Arguably it is among the greatest of cookbooks ever written and the recent translation of Scully finally makes it available to English speaking audiences.”

The following illustrations are from Scappi's 16th century Opera.

Scappi Meat Room


Kitchen room

If your Italian is good, you can see the original online and work from that, the facsimile is a real joy to behold (Scappi’s batterie de cuisine would turn any chef green with envy). Any way you do it, it is a rich and beautiful book that will take your cooking into an empyrean realm with recipes that are, for the most part, accessible, re-creatable and fit for a Renaissance pope.

Preparing a banquet

All of the items in these recipes are available today. The vin cotto is available at specialty food stores (or can be made by reducing red wine to a syrup) and is a great little secret ingredient to enrich stocks and sauces (Mario Batali loves it). Aftelier rose essence is available from Aftelier. The amazing fennel pollen (that brings a gentle spiced sweetness to the spice mix) can be purchased at HERE. You can see the tiny golden flecks on the meat!

Both dishes are savory, sweet and voluptuous with gorgeous textures and tastes.  Make them, and binge-watch some of The Borgia's on Showtime to get you in the mood to read Kate's book.

Scappi’s Braised Beef

1 ½ lbs tenderloin of beef or use individual filets

¼ c wine

¼ c white wine vinegar

1 t each pepper, salt and fennel pollen from Marx Foods

½ t each cinnamon, ginger

¼ t cloves

1 cup  malvasia, a slightly sweet white wine ( I used a Malmsey Madeira, a fortified malvasia wine)

½ c vin cotto

½ c white wine vinegar

2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 1 T rosewater

¼ lb bacon

¼ lb prosciutto

1 c prunes

1 c frozen sour cherries or ½ c dried cherries

Rinse the beef with the wine and vinegar. Put the spices and salt on a plate, blend and roll the meat in them. Place the meat in a non-reactive dish with the wine, vin cotto and vinegar with rose essence or rose water for a few hours.

Brown meat quickly after wrapping it with bacon and prosciutto then braise with the marinade, prunes and cherries for 1/2 hour on the low heat (depending upon how rare you want it) for the whole tenderloin and 10 minutes covered for the individual filets for rare. Remove the meat and tent and reduce the sauce.

*** the amounts are all approximate as they are not mentioned in the original… make changes as it suits your taste.

Scappi’s Fingers of Beef in the Roman Style

4 beef filets (4 Oz each)

1 t salt

1 t pepper

1 t fennel pollen from Marx Foods

½ t each ginger, cinnamon

pinch of saffron and cloves

¼ c vin cotto

2 T white wine vinegar

1-2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 1 T rosewater

4 slices bacon

4 bay leaves (fresh are best but use dried if you can’t get fresh) or large sage leaves

Take the filets and roll them in the blended spices and salt. Put the filets and the bacon in a non-reactive container with the vin cotta, vinegar and rose and marinate for a few hours. Take them out and put bacon and the bay or sage leaves between the filets and skewer them together… not too tightly (if you have a spit attachment, this is best). Grill them on the cool side of the grill till the desired degree of doneness with a drip pan, turning them a few times OR if you have not grill, sauté the bacon and then fry

the filet till it reaches the desired degree of doneness. Add the marinade to the drip pan/pan to warm. I sliced my filet into fingers to serve.

*** the amounts are all approximate as they are not mentioned in the original… make changes as it suits your taste

Kate Quinn asked me to be part of a group cooking Renaissance Italian delights to celebrate the release of her new book, The Serpent and the Pearl (A Novel of the Borgias). On September 16th I will post and link to the 4 other bloggers participating in this event. Romance writers (and readers) like getting their hands dirty with history and I count many aficionados of the genre as readers of Lost Past Remembered.  It will be a blast, tasting history always is.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ham House, A Great Kitchen and Quail in the French Fashion

Ham House, London

Resplendently 17th century Ham House is one of the great English houses –– unblemished by time’s indifferent hands and vile modernizations. For 400 years, its venerable gaze has watched down on the Thames.

 The Thames peeking through the foliage

Ham House viewed from the Thames path

The vegetable and herb garden

Some of the decorative gardens NT Photo

It’s hard to believe you’re in London when you walk the grand expanses of gardens, lawns and parkland (I wish I'd had more time to spend in the magnificent gardens). With such proximity to a great metropolis, I was shocked to discover I had the place nearly to myself on a Monday morning. One of the kind volunteers told me that Ham is rarely overflowing with visitors. His theory was that people who lived in London would rather leave the city to go to the “country” and bridle at the bit of a walk from the Underground.  Lucky me, I hate crowds.  I loved Ham.

JMW Turner, Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent's Birthday

It’s a snap to get to by car and close to Heathrow airport –– there’s even a foot ferry across the Thames that goes from Marble Hill to Ham House. People can enjoy the walk and the gardens as well as feel they are indeed in the country by walking down a lane to Petersham Lodge Woods or up Richmond Hill to get a view that was guaranteed by a 1902 Act of Parliament known as the Richmond, Ham and Petersham Open Spaces Act. It has barely changed since Turner painted it in 1819.  You can visit their site HERE for hours and directions.

To celebrate its 400th birthday, Christopher Rowell, furniture curator at the National Trust, wrote Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage –– a history of a house that reflects a pure vision of the 17th century like no other.

Gilt x-frame sofa 1735-40

I was encouraged to visit because Emile de Bruijn of the National Trust  Treasure Hunt published the picture of an x-frame sofa that made my eyes light up, but I only needed a small nudge. I had been thinking about Ham House for quite some time. You see I had fallen hard for a very silly marble counter in the dairy building of Ham House from the first moment I saw it years ago. I loved the cast-iron cow legs, the marble and the ivy-painted tile –– the sin of “thou shalt not covet” is committed every time I gaze upon it. It did not disappoint when I saw it in person, but then, nothing about Ham House disappointed.

This is a small room off to the side – I had to shoot through a door

I began my tour of the house itself in the kitchen where I met the lovely ladies who cook there, recreating historical recipes in the large but simple kitchen –– ingredients were strewn casually on a magnificent worktable the size of a small airplane wing (ok, more coveting for a table like this). The room is simple but perfect. I could be terribly happy working here.

 Hannah McAndrew

Hannah McAndrew

Thomas Toft, 17th century (Ashmolean Museum)

I loved the large plate that I saw on the table and asked about it.  A Scottish potter named Hannah McAndrew made 2 plates for Ham House in the style of one of my favorite craftspeople –– 17th century potter Thomas Toft.   I love his joyful style.

I could have just moved in to the Ham House kitchen then and there –– I felt so at home discussing 17th century cooking with the ladies –– but had the whole house to see.

Rear of Ham House

Ham House was built in 1610 by Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I. Its first years were tumultuous.

William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart

After Vavasour's death, Charles I gave the house to his friend William Murray in 1626. Murray undertook extensive renovations in the 1630's but did not get to enjoy his elegant house. As a supporter of the King he was forced to flee to France after a stay in the Tower during the Civil War in the 1640's.  His daughter, through her friendship with Cromwell, kept the house safe while many Royalist's houses were forfeit to the government (it is rumored she was a member of the Sealed Knot (an organization that supported the restoration of the King), as well as a mistress of Cromwell!).

John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale and Elizabeth Murray (1626-1698)

The Restoration ended the upheavaling and the Murray/Tollemache family resided there for nearly 300 years ––  till the house was given to the National Trust in 1948.

Murray’s daughter Elizabeth married Lionel Tollemache in 1648.  After Tollemache’s death in 1669, she became the mistress of the wealthy Duke of Lauderdale and married him in 1672 –– he owed her his life as she had gone to Cromwell on his behalf.  Without her intervention he would most certainly have been executed. They became a power-couple and it is said they popularized tea drinking in private homes (no doubt influenced by the Portuguese fashion of tea-drinking that Catherine of Braganza brought with her when she married Charles II).

Elizabeth was well educated and seemed to enjoy her father's passion for art, architecture and interior decoration (interests that he shared with his friend King Charles).

I read on the History and Women site that historian/Bishop Gilbert Burnet described her thusly: "She was a woman of great beauty, but of far greater parts. She had a wonderful quickness of apprehension, and an amazing vivacity in conversation. She had studied not only divinity and history, but mathematics and philosophy. She was violent in every thing she set about, a violent friend, but a much more violent enemy. She had a restless ambition, lived at a vast expense, and was ravenously covetous; and would have stuck at nothing by which she might compass her ends. She had blemishes of another kind, which she seemed to despise, and to take little care of the decencies of her sex." Take into account that Elizabeth's biographer thought Burnet was a "spiteful old busybody" –– he did say this after she could no longer defend herself (or tear into him if his observations were correct). Even with the acid, there is a grudging admiration.

She made Ham House what it is today –– polishing the work begun by her father.  Aside from a few changes in the 18th and 19th century, the house is much as she left it (although the contents were sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum when it passed to the National Trust –– most have returned).

John Constable drew Ham House in 1835 when the Dysart’s were his patrons and he was a frequent visitor.

Let's walk in, shall we?

The entry hall is grand but with a human scale even with the 2-story open plan.  There are lovely spindly railings to lean over to view art and arriving guests and family portraits displaying oceans of silk finery look down bemused at we visitors tromping through their stately home.

The excellent 17th century Titian copies are by Miguel de la Cruz. You can just glimpse the cantilevered construction

The red in the recently cleaned painting at the bottom of the stairs just blazes out.

Murray installed the great staircase in 1638 and restorers discovered it was partially gilded during its early years –– the dark colors we see today are a later color scheme. The gilding would have popped out at night in the darkened hall like a shimmering golden pathway.

The long gallery with its museum-worthy furniture and artwork is impressive...

Floral Marquetry table, Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83

Japanese lacquer cabinet on giltwood stand

and the cabinet completely covered in ivory in the North Drawing room is a marvel...

Ivory cabinet, probably made in Antwerp, 1670's -- it looks sparkling new

Interior of the cabinet from BBC program

The jewel box of a room called the Green Closet couldn’t be lovelier filled with precious miniatures done by the likes of Hilliard...

Man Consumed by Flames (Isaac Oliver, 1556-1617) NT photo 

Miniature of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) NT photo

The library, created by the Duke of Lauderdale in 1672-4, is remarkable, especially for the maps and globes in the room and the cedar shelves.  The books were sold at a great sale in 1938 but some have returned thanks to a bequest by Norman Norris...

The Queens bedchamber (minus the bed) is still splendid...

There is even a small room with a chair for the queen, the most private of rooms for only intimate guests (you can see the entry on the right in the photo above)...

But my favorite "upstairs" room was the Queen’s antechamber with the remarkable faux bois painting,trompe-l'œil  technique that did wood one better. I loved this room.

See the conservation of the magnificent fabric panels HERE (they were originally all blue!)

There is of course much more to see at Ham House –– I‘ve just served the appetizer ––go see the house on your own for a full course meal of Ham House’s treasures (you can see a house tour HERE  or hear one HERE)

Yes, I’m starting to think about food. You’ve seen the kitchen but there's also a leather-walled dining room  set up for an intimate dinner. Although it is called the Marble Dining Room, the marble was replaced by parquet in the 19th century. The original Flemish leather was also changed at that time.

The National Trust booklet that one can get at the house reveals that when the Lauderdales sat down for their main meal at 2 pm, they had 2-3 courses but those courses might have “up to 20 dishes of fish, meat game and poultry, sometimes with sweet puddings.”

Catherine of Braganza, Lely 1663-5

Victoria Bradley who is the collection’s manager at Ham House told me, “Catherine of Braganza  [queen of Charles II] dined here the week of July 14th 1671 and the accounts show that instead of the usual 9 pullets, 19 chickens, 12 ducks and 100 or so eggs the following was used:

16 pullets, 39 chickens, no ducks, but 327 eggs. I think this gives a pretty good idea of the amount of extra food that was required of such a visit. The use of herbs and spices also increased dramatically and included caraway, coriander and fennel seeds.

The amount of alcohol consumed went up too and included canary, sherry, muskadine, porta port, chapane, rennish, terce claret.”

What to eat in the spirit of Ham House?  I found a recipe that intrigued me from John Murrell's 1615 A new booke of Cookerie, about the same vintage as the house.  It had lovely little birds with a creamy rice.  It reminded me of a cross between rice pudding and risotto and I thought it would be terribly good –– a 17th century version of comfort food.  It could be done with Cornish Hens or chicken as easily as the quail I used.  It felt right for the house. I substituted parsnips for the skirret root as I have seen them mentioned interchangeably in period cookbooks (ie skirret or parsnips).  I don't keep mutton broth around so substituted chicken.  I can imagine if you use mutton broth, since it is a very strong flavor, you would need to up the quantities of all the other flavorings to compensate.

Pigeon or Quail with Rice in the French Fashion based on Murrell's recipe, serves 2- 4

4 pigeon or quail (I used semi-boneless quail from D'Artagnan but their wood pigeon should be coming in soon)
1 cup of mixed herbs, with some stems (parsley, thyme, sage, marjoram, hyssop, chervil etc)
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1 T butter, 1 T olive oil
11/2 c chicken stock (or mutton broth!)
1/2 t mace
1/2 c + 2 T verjuice*
1/4 t nutmeg
6 roasted parsnips, sliced in half (if you are doing a 2 quail portion, only use 3)

3/4 c arborio rice
1 3/4 c milk
1/2 t salt or to taste
1 T sugar (or to taste)
2 T butter
1/2 c dried barberries or cranberries soaked for 1/2 an hour (if you use cranberries you may want to chop them up a little)

Put the rice, milk, water and salt into a pan and cook over low heat until done, stirring occasionally. You want the same doneness you would want for risotto so a bit of bite left in it but creamy, around 15 minutes.

While that is cooking, salt and pepper the birds, inside and out.  Stuff them with the mixed herbs.  If you are using the boneless quail, the slightly stiffer stems give bulk to fill out the cavity –– they flavor the birds magnificently.

Heat the oven to 400º.

 Add the butter and oil to a large skillet.  Saute the birds on the top side till browned, about 5 minutes.  

Pour the stock in an ovenproof dish or skillet (enamel works well for this).  Heat the stock.  Lay the parsnip halves in the pan and put the birds over them.  Put in the oven for 10 minutes -- do not overcook as game birds taste liverish if they are overcooked.

Remove the quail and parsnips and tent to keep warm.

Pour the stock and verjuice into the rice and stir. Taste to see if you like the proportions of verjuice and sugar, adjust to your taste.  It will be very creamy.  Add the nutmeg and stir in the butter.  Toss the parsnips in the 2 T of verjuice.  You can serve them like I did or cube them and put them in the rice

Put the creamy rice on the platter and lay the birds and the parsnips down on it if you haven't cubed them.  Sprinkle with barberries.

*if you don't have verjuice, use white wine vinegar.  Dilute it with a tablespoon of water or better still,  crush a handful of green grapes with it and strain it.  That will more closely resemble verjuice unless you have unripe grapes in your garden –– just crush and strain them for the real deal.

Still Room at Ham House

I can't leave Ham House without sharing this with all you burgeoning alchemists out there.  Ladies of the house were known to go to this "still room" and make concoctions of flower waters, medicines and cordials hence the marble floor in what one would imagine would have been a servant's room. It's all on its own on the ground floor away from the kitchen like a private laboratory.  Although a large still would have been necessary for things like "snail water", the small pottery version seen here would have worked for concocting smaller quantities of a ladies perfume or potion.  We know that many great ladies had recipes for medicines –– since they wrote them down it seems likely they were proud of their efforts (although the therapeutic value of most of these is questionable).

Sarah McGrady at Ham House shared  information about the restoration of the room that I found fascinating, I hope you will too.


In the 19th and 20th centuries, the still-house was used as a store room and in the 1960s, the ceiling was rendered in concrete and plasterboard. When the historical significance and original purpose of the room was finally realised in 1999, the National Trust decided to restore the room back to its 17th century appearance.

A team consisting of the House and Collections Manager at Ham House, the regional curator for the National Trust, and Peter Brears, a respected historian on ‘below stairs’ interiors, used the inventories of the room from 1677, 1679 and 1683, as well as bills relating to its construction to restore the room. An archaeological survey was commissioned to discover evidence of lost features. Fragments of the original lime plaster were found on the walls as well as evidence that a large cupboard had run from floor to ceiling along the east wall.

The concrete render and plasterboard ceiling have been removed and replaced with a traditional lath and plaster ceiling. The walls have been lime plastered, and the internal woodwork and windows and doors have been painted in a lead white. The cornice has been copied from the Duchess’ Bathroom which is a room of similar status, and the cupboard reinstated.

After the restoration, the Property Manager had the room dressed with items from a seventeenth century still-house. Inspiration was taken from two paintings at Ham House, The Alchemist, which hangs in the Duke’s Closet and An Alchemist, situated in the Withdrawing Room, both by Thomas Wyck."

still room table

The three 17th century inventories reveal a well equipped still-house containing three pewter stills with nine glass heads, stoves for drying sweetmeats, and an array of saucepans, chafing dishes, preserving pans and a Bain Marie for gently heating stills. A Bain Marie is a bowl of heated water or sand in which a vessel can be placed and its contents gently heated. It was named after the Old Testament prophetess Miriam (Maria) who was supposed to have invented the Bain Marie, as well as the arts of alchemy and distillation themselves.

Items for preparing ingredients include marble mortars, tin graters and brass scales and weights, as well as the necessary tables and chairs for working at. The inventory lists 3 platters and 6 earthen basins. Cheaper pieces of pottery, like storage jars, and small wooden items, like spoons, would not have been mentioned as they were seen as disposable."

Sarah also mentioned that most of the recipes they use at Ham House come from either the Wellcome Collection or Christine Stapley’s account of The Reciept Book of Lady Anne Blencowe.

Just for a treat,  Sarah found an extraordinary recipe for snail water that may have belonged to the Duchess Elizabeth.  I've also included a copy of a medicinal document from Ham House with highly scented concoctions for wounds and sores!

Pottery Still

Many thanks to the amazing staff at Ham House who made my trip memorable and were so generous with their time and resources, especially Victoria Bradley and Sarah McGrady. Thanks to Emile de Bruijn at the National Trust for getting the ball rolling for the visit.


Kate Quinn asked me to be part of a group cooking Renaissance Italian delights to celebrate the release of her new book, The Serpent and the Pearl (A Novel of the Borgias). On September 16th I will post and link to the 4 other bloggers participating in this event. Romance writers (and readers) like getting their hands dirty with history and I count many aficionados of the genre as readers of Lost Past Remembered.  It will be a blast, tasting history always is.

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