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Classics Kitchen: Cato’s Olive Relish

My ancient recipes experimentation continues in preparation for our Classics Kitchen pop-up at the Experiencing Ancient Education event run by Reading University as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, where we’ll be giving food demos, sharing ancient recipes and providing Roman food. The event is on 19th November, so there’s still plenty of time to try and test out recipes that will feature on the day!

In the Odyssey when the suitors arrive to woo Penelope in the long absence of her husband Odysseus, they are treated with the customary xenia and served with a meals which included bread accompanied by an assortment of relishes:

A maid poured water from a beautiful gold jug over the visitors’ hands into a silver bowl and drew up a carved table. An aged housekeeper had put out bread, adding many relishes, and encouraged them to taste all that was in the house.

Homer, Odyssey 1.136-43

Although the text does not state what the relishes were made of, it isprobable that some would have been made from olives.  The olive tree (Olea europaea) was native to the Mediterranean and had been cultivated in Greece for at least a thousand years before the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed. Olives were also a staple part of the ancient Greek diet and served at banquets, so it is likely that one of the relishes served would have been similar to the one described centuries later by Cato:

How to make green, black or mixed olive relish. Remove stones from green, black or mixed olives, then prepare as follows: chop them and add oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue and mint. Pot them: the oil should cover them. It is ready to use.

Cato, On Agriculture 119

Olive Relish IngredientsIngredients

60g black olives
60g green olives
(or 120g of one type)
30ml white wine vinegar
30ml olive oil
1/2 tsp fennel
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp mint

Method

  • Chop the olives, fennel, coriander and mint finely and mix together in a bowl
  • Add the vinegar and olive oil and combine the ingredients
  • Eat fresh or keep in a sealed container for a few days to allow the flavours to develop
  • Serve with bread

I’ve made this a lot of the summer for barbecues and it always went down well and people were always surprised its an ancient recipe!

Olive Relish

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Classics Kitchen: Apicius’ Melon with Mint Dressing

At the moment I’m experimenting with a lot of Roman recipes in preparation for an upcoming event at University of Reading that the Classics Kitchen will be at on 19th November, where we’ll be giving food demos, sharing ancient recipes and serving Roman food. My good friend Stef (@stefanieindevon) over at Flavouring the Moment and I have been asked by Professor Eleanor Dickey (who taught us both Latin during our MA!) to participate in a project run by the Classics Department at Reading University ‘Experiencing Ancient Education‘, recreating a Roman classroom as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities. An ancient schoolroom will be recreated for one day and visitors will be invited to experience first-hand what education was like in the Roman empire. The Classics Kitchen will be offering a hands-on, interactive experience of ancient ingredients, food preparation and cooking methods with food demonstrations, as well as selling Roman food and recipe booklets so people can learn and eat like Romans for the day!

So from now until November I’ll be trying and testing recipes for the event. First up, Apicius’ melon with mint dressing…

Pepones et Melones. ‘Gourds & Melons’
Pepper, pennyroyal, honey or condensed must, broth and vinegar, once in a while one adds silphium
– Apicius
3.7

IngredientsIngredients

1 melon (honeydew or Galia)
2 tbsp mint
2 tbsp spoons honey
2 tbsp spoons white wine vinegar
1 tbsp spoon nam pla (or other fish sauce)
pepper

Method

  • Cut and chop the melon into small squares, set aside
  • Combine the mint, honey, vinegar, fish sauce and pepper
  • Pour the sauce over the melon pieces and leave to absorb the flavours for 15 mins before serving
  • Serve topped with a few mint leaves

Final

I learnt my lesson from the time I made Apicius’ Boiled Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce when I used anchovy paste (big mistake – it tasted awful!) so I used used nam pla fish sauce as a substitute for garum this time. The dressing was tangy and the infusion of aromatic mint made it distinctly refreshing, but I found the white wine vinegar made the sauce a little too acidic for my taste. However, the cool freshness of mint complimented the sweetness of the melon beautifully – it’s a great combination of flavours I intend to use again. The crisp, clean flavours of this dish make it a great starter, especially as its so quick and easy to make.


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Wonderland Wanderings: The Gardens of Isola Bella, Lago Maggiore

View by NightMy first sight of Isola Bella was on our first evening in Stresa, as my sister and I walked along the lakeside, soaking up the warmth of the balmy dusk and watching the sun slip behind the mountains. The next day we made our way across Lago Maggiore on a little taxi boat that misted the view with its spray. From a distance the island seems to float serenely on the surface of the water like a tiered wedding cake. As the boat gets closer this impression is only emphasised when tall statues, white obelisks and pink roses come into view, festooning the tiers like filigree decorations.

Isola BellaThe gardens of Isola Bella were a labour of love. Count Carlo Borromeo commissioned them for his wife Isabella d’Adda, the namesake of the island and it took 40 years (1631-1671) to transform the craggy, uneven landscape into the stunning baroque gardens that gives the island its characteristic pyramid shape today.

You enter the garden through the Tapestry Room of the Borromeo Palace, which leads out onto a connecting courtyard where a statue of Diana stands over a lazily bubbling fountain pool. Two curving flights of stairs, darkened by ceilings of climbers, flank the goddess in her alcove, leading up to towering bay hedges, which deny any glimpse of the garden beyond and enclose the space, giving the impression the visitor is standing in a green-walled room, more hall than atrium. It is as if the garden beyond is a palace in its own right and Diana is receiving her guests in the hall, welcoming them into the her domain.

With the goddess presiding above the pool, one cannot help but think of another who encountered Diana in such a sylvan setting, as the layout vividly recalls the landscape described in the story of Actaeon, who wanders too far into the woods and stumbles upon the goddess bathing:

Diana's AtriumNow picture a valley, dense with pine and tapering cypress, called Gargáphië, sacred haunt of the huntress Diana; there, in a secret corner, a cave surrounded buy woodland, owing nothing to human artifice. Nature had used her talent to imitate art: she had moulded the living rock of porous tufa to form the shape of a rugged arch. To the right, a babbling spring with thin translucent rivulet widening into a pool ringed round by a grassy clearing. Here the goddess who guards the woods would bathe her virginal limbs in the clear, clean water. 

– Metamorphoses 3. 154-163

The virgin huntress is enraged when Actaeon is discovered and splashes him with water from her pool, transforming him into a stag who is hunted down and torn to pieces by Actaeon’s own dogs. Fortunately for us, Diana of Isola Bella was fully clothed and seemed welcoming, so we passed her without any such trouble, up one of the vine-covered staircases and through great iron-wrought gates shadowed by the branches of an enormous Camphor tree, into the Piano della Canfora. Cinnamomum camphor can grow up to 30m tall and this particular specimen is the largest in Italy, planted by Vitaliano IX Borromeo in 1819; camphor oil is extracted from its wood and its leaves are used in perfumery.

From the Piano della Canfora you step out onto a vast piazza, flanked by rectangular parterres, and are faced with the immense Teatro Massimo, a shell-shaped water theatre so imposing you seem to grow smaller and smaller as you approach – like Alice taking the ‘Drink Me’ potion, shrinking to enter Wonderland – until you stand dwarfed beneath and blink up at the figures silhouetted against the brilliant sunlight.

Theatro Massimo

The majority of the statues were made between 1667-1677 by the Milanese sculptor Carlo Simonetta. They  reach up to the sky or hold the weight of pillars on their backs, while others lounge in pebble-studded alcoves bordered by crimson hydrangeas and sprays of viburnum. At the pinnacle of the theatre is a rearing unicorn, symbol of the Borromeo family and taken from their coat of arms, ridden by a winged figure, representing Honour, or Love. Either side are statues symbolising Art and Nature and below is Verbano,  personification of Lago Maggiore, along with the rivers Ticino and Po flanked by shells and dolphins. The colossal statues at the sides represent the four elements: fire and earth to the right, air and water to the left.

View from the TopTwin flights of stairs lined with terracotta pots of rounded box lead up to a vast, empty terrace, 37m above the the level of the lake. Bare and stark comparison to the rest of the gardenscape, with the sun glancing off the stone beneath your feet, it is a desert in the centre of this lush oasis. When you look out across the lake the reason for its emptiness becomes clear as your eyes are filled with Lago Maggiore in all its breathtaking beauty and the terrace fades into the background: it is merely Borromeo’s banquet table, serving his guests with a feast for the eyes. The rose-wreathed terraces sloping down towards the lake guide your eyes South across brilliant blue waters to Stresa stretched out along the headland; to the West the haze-covered Mottarone mountain rises skywards among the Alps, and to the East is Isola Madre, the largest island on the Borromeo Gulf.

It is not hard to imagine lavishly dressed guests at one of the Borromeo’s parties, surveying lake, shore and mountains with from this high and heady vantage point in the evening light, dizzy from the climb and tipsy from fine wine, drinking in a view that allows the beauty of the outside world to be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of rose-scented gardens.

Tower of the WindsIt was hard to leave the top terrace, but the promise of a closer look at the sumptuous garden below beckoned and we walked to the East side of the garden overlooking the Parterre delle Azalee, which in spring is blanketed with the great clusters of white azaleas and snowy drops of fuscias, but in summer is dominated by immaculately manicured hedges of yew, holm oak, bay laurel, holly and box in bold shades of green. Above stands an aviary full of chattering lovebirds and a shady walk walled with lemon trees in terracotta pots border the spectacular view over the Lombard coast and offer a temporary reprieve from the riot of colour found elsewhere in the gardens.

 HibiscusA belvedere leads to the South of the garden, its walkway flanked by stunning hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa sinensis, which only flowers for a single day) and a medley of blazing scarlet blooms entice you along the path through the octagonal Torre dei Venti, leading to the Giardino d’Amore.

As you step into the Giardino d’Amore the first glimpse offered is an understated one, you cannot yet see the tranquil waters of the lake stretching out into the distance or the ten magnificent flower-strewn terraces towering above. Instead, you are faced with an unassuming wall of espaliered lemons and the crisp scent of citrus intermingled with the warm headiness of jasmine boasts of the garden’s glory and beckons you in.

Final

SeasonsStanding beneath the terraces one is again reminded of a tiered wedding cake, but as well as festoons of pink roses, oleanders and hydrangeas wreath the pyramid, edged by box and cone-shaped yew trees. The statues that were faceless from a distance can now be recognised as the four seasons, each identified by the plant they bear that flowers in season, evoking Ovid’s vivid description:

…youthful Spring with her wreath of flowers,
Summer naked but for her garland of ripening corn ears,
Autumn stained with the juice of trodden clusters of grapes,
And icy Winter, whose aged locks were hoary and tangled.

Metamorphoses 2. 27-29

Waterlilies

The crowning glory of this garden, however, are the starry Nymphaea, exquisite waterlilies of reds, yellows, pinks and whites sitting elegantly on the shining surfaces of mirror-like ponds, confident in their bright beauty, not unlike Isola Bella herself.

Making your way out of the garden through the Torre della Noria and along the west side of the pyramid, another olfactory feast awaits: espaliers of citrus trees cling mural-like to its base, lining the wall as far as the eye can see, their fresh and zesty scent pervading the warm air. These golden fruits would not look out of place on a fresco and are reminiscent of those depicted in the Garden Room fresco of Livia’s Villa at Prima Porta (pictured at the top of the blog). Green and gold pomelos, sunshine yellow grapefruits, gigantic lopsided lemons and tangy citrons climb the side of the pyramid, including the strongly aromatic Citrus limonimedica ‘Florentina’ and ‘Maxima’, whose fruits can weigh up to 3kg.

LemonsAs if this was not enough, to the left is the Viale di Ponente where pomegranates and palms frame the Western view and lead to a path of rare and exotic plants: breadfruit, coffee, cacao, gum, endangered ferns and finally an exquisite rare orchid behind glass, suspended in mid-air.

But even as you exit the gardens through a greenhouse walled with tufa and lake stones, bursting with tropical plants, it is the striking citrus trees and their intoxicating scent that clings to you and seems to follow you out, or at least, you wish it did.


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Cherry Trees & Cherry Torte

Sour Cherry

Sour Cherry (Prunus Cerasus)

It has been a fantastic year for cherries in Britain and we are enjoying a bumper crop thanks to a cool spring followed by a gloriously sunny summer, which has meant the trees blossomed later and the fruit ripened in ideal temperatures. In Britain the majority of edible cherries come from the sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) or the wild (or sweet) cherry (Prunus avium).

Cherries were probably introduced by the Romans to Britain at the beginning of the 1st century and there is a legend that old Roman roads are marked by wild cherry trees grown from the stones Roman soldiers spat out while marching along them!

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

Ovid writes of only one type of cherry: the cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), which is not part of the Prunus family, as our sweet and sour cherries are, but a deciduous shrub that produces small yellow flowers in winter and edible glossy red or yellow cherry-like fruits, the taste of which is best described as a combination of a cranberry and a sour cherry. These cherries are pictured as part of the abundant golden age (Met. 1.102), they are among the foods Philemon and Baucis served to the gods (Met. 8.665) and are promised to Galatea by Polyphemus if she becomes his lover:

With your own fair hands you will pick the most delicious of strawberries growing under the trees,  the cornel berries in autumn.

– Metamorphoses 13.828

Whilst the cornelian cherry featured in Italian Renaissance gardens, it was cultivated for its ornamental value rather than its fruit, because of its vibrant yellow winter flowers. Instead sour and sweet cherry trees were grown for their fruit and Scappi calls specifically for visciola cherries in his cherry torte, a variety of black cherry which comes from the Prunus creasus species which in Italy has been used for centuries to make Vino di Visciole, a sweet, ruby-red dessert wine.

To prepare a visciola cherry tourte
Get visciola cherries, cook them in a little butter over a low fire, and strain the thickest part of them. Have ground marzipan paste ready, fresh egg yolks and mostaccioli, the amount of each at your discretion. When the filling is made up, have a tourte pan lined with a sheet of dough made from egg yolks, butter, sugar, rosewater, salt and fine flour, put the filling into it…

– The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, Book VI, Recipe 128

IngredientsCherry Ingredients

500g shortcrust pastry
500g cherries
100g butter
2 egg yolks
250g marzipan
50g biscotti, crumbled

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a tart tin
  • Roll the pastry out to about 3mm thickness on a lightly floured surface, then line the tin and prick the base with a fork
  • Cover with baking paper and fill with baking beans and bake for 10 minutes
  • Remove the baking beans, crumble the biscotti mixed with the egg yolks and spread over the pastry base, bake for a further 5 minutes, then allow the pastry shell to cool
  • De-stone the cherries – this sounds much simpler than it is! If you have a fancy de-stoning gadget, you’re sorted, but I use a paperclip bent into an S shape to hook the stones out. This is tricky at first, but you soon get the knack for it and it leaves the cherries with only one hole, whereas de-stoners poke the stone out from one side through to the other and make the cherries loose their shape more than the paperclip method. Either way, the process is very messy and the juice gets everywhere, so be warned!De-Stoning
  • Sautée the cherries in a saucepan with butter for about 5 mins until juices begin to run, but the cherries still have their shapeSauteeing
  • Roll the marzipan out to about 5mm thickness and cut to size and place over the biscotti crumbsBase & Marzipan
  • Arrange the cherries over the marzipan – this is best to do when the cherries are still warm, as they melt into the marzipan slightly and don’t roll about when you’re trying to place themArranging Cherries
  • Brush the remaining juices over the cherries and serveCherry Tart

As I’ve mentioned before, I am very dubious about cooking summer fruits, much preferring them raw, so I was pleasantly surprised  that sautéing the cherries in butter did wonders to their flavour. Raw, they were already juicy and sweet without a hint of bitterness, but sautéing gave their flavour a much deeper intensity and they took on a bolder, almost fortified quality. This made me feel that perhaps Scappi missed a trick with his recipe and a boozy ingredient wouldn’t have gone amiss…proof that recipes are made to be tinkered with, even Scappi’s! Boozy or not, this is a great summer dessert, you can’t go wrong with cherries and marzipan and when make it again I intend to add a generous splash of amaretto!


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Classics Kitchen: Ancient Roman Pesto

Mark GrantThe purpose of this post is twofold – firstly, to alleviate my guilt for not having published anything for over a month (in my defence, I have been away for most of it) & secondly, as a tribute to my time at the JACT Wells Latin School where I spent 2 weeks brushing up on my Latin and having lots of geeky Classics-related fun! The highlight of this time was meeting the marvelous Dr. Mark Grant, Classicist and food historian, whose writing has inspired my interest in food in the ancient world.

As well as giving a lecture, Dr. Grant also gave a Roman cookery class where each group was given a recipe from his book (right) for a dish that would feature in our Roman banquet. My group opted for Roman pesto, a ‘Herb Puree with Pine Kernels’ from Columella. Interestingly, the Romans did grow basil and it often features in ancient medicine, but it was believed to attract scorpions and considered difficult to digest because of its juices and was therefore not used in cooking.

The recipe is taken from page 98 of Roman Cookery, which I thoroughly recommend and encourage you to try out some Roman recipes from!

Mixtura cum Necleis Pineis
Chop into small pieces Gallic cheese, or any other well-known cheese you like. Pound it. Take pine kernels, if you have a lot of them, but if not, hazelnuts toasted after their shells have been removed, or almonds, and mix them in equal quantity with the seasonings detailed. Add a small amount of peppered vinegar and blend. Pour some olive oil over the mixture. If there are no green seasonings, pound dry pennyroyal or thyme or oregano or dry savoury with the cheese, and add peppered vinegar and olive oil. But, if the other herbs have no pungency, each of these herbs can be mixed when dry with cheese.

– Columella, On Agriculture

Ingredients

100g pine kernels or hazelnuts
80ml olive oil
80ml red wine vinegar
125g feta
handful fresh parsley
handful fresh coriander
2/3 mint leaves
sprig of savory, rue & thyme
salt & pepper

Method

  • Put all the ingredients in a food-processor
  • Purée until you have a smooth consistency and serve with bread *
  • If you are using hazelnuts, roast them first under a hot grill for 5 mins to release their nuttiness, turning them frequently to avoid burning

* Mark Grant’s recipe describes this as a patê and recommends the mix is puréed, however, I preferred to blend it a little less so it more closely resembled pesto and I also reduced the quantity of olive oil and red wine vinegar by half for a thicker, more pesto-like consistency…because recipes are made to be tinkered with!Pesto
I am a big fan of pesto and therein, a big fan of garlic, so I did have my doubts about the taste of this and expected it to be much blander than a typical basil pesto. I was completely mistaken, however, as this had such a rich, nutty flavour and a real tanginess from the different herbs. It was served at our Roman banquet with thin strips of fried pasta (lagana, page 60 of Roman Cookery) which made for a delightful combination.

Feasting

While this dish may represent the ancient origin of pesto, that should not rule out its use today, because it is quite simply too tasty not to make again and I fully intend to reintroduce Roman pesto!


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Mint & Elderflower Fritters and the Misfortunes of Menthe

dsc_0165

Elderflowers from the European Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Late spring brings elderflower. Every year my Mum makes countless bottles of elderflower cordial, but the fact she is annoyingly generous with it and always giving away bottles to people combined with my family unrestrained greed for it means that our supplies rarely last until the autumn, but it does sustain us through the long and lazy hot summer days. Whilst elderflower is making a seasonal appearance in this post, it is mint that takes centre stage…Ovid reveals the origin of mint with a reference to the story of the nymph Menthe in the lamentation of Venus before she transforms her beloved dying Adonis into an anemone:

Persephone, you were allowed to alter a woman’s body, Menthe’s, into fragrant mint: shall the transformation of my hero, of the blood of Cinyrasbe grudged to me?

– Metamorphoses 10.728

Mint

Mint (gen. Mentha)

According to Strabo, Menthe was a Cocythian nymph who was seduced by Hades, only to be discovered by his wife, Persephone who trampled her underfoot as she transformed into the pungent herb, mint. As well as being used in funerary rites, mint was an essential element of kykeon, the drink used by initiates in the Eleusian Mysteries (you can pop over to Circe’s Kitchen for the kykeon recipe). Because of its numerous gastronomic and medicinal properties as well as its use in ritual, mint was a favourite herb in the Roman garden and remained a popular garden herb in the Italian Renaissance.

For Scappi, mint wasn’t just to be used as a flavouring or accompaniment to dishes, but as a food in its own right, the case for which is proved by his fritters recipe:

To prepare fritters.
Get a pound of fine flour, two ounces of cooled melted butter, two ounces of sugar, two ounces of rosewater, a little saffron, salt, eight eggs and a beaker of goat’s milk, with all that make up a batter like well beaten glue. Let it sit in the same pot in a warm place for a quarter of an hour. Beat it again. Make fritters of it in the way described above. In that mixture you can put elderflower or mint and marjoram.

– The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, Book V, Recipe 137

Ingredients Ingredients

100g flour
25g melted butter
25g sugar
1 egg
splash goat’s milk
drop rosewater
pinch saffron
5 elderflower heads*
5 mint stems
oil for frying

* elderflower usually blooms from the end of May to mid June (depending on the weather) – the flower heads should be collected fresh when the buds have just opened and no bitter smell can be detected

Method

  • Heat some oil in a frying pan
  • Rinse the elderflower heads and trim the stems, but leave them long enough to hold whilst frying
  • Combine the flour, melted butter, sugar, milk, rosewater and saffron and beat together until it forms a batter, then fold a beaten egg white into the mixture
  • Dip the elderflower heads one-by-one into the batter and hold by the stem in the oilFrying
  • Fry until the batter is crisp and golden, then immediately dip into caster sugar and place on a piece of kitchen rollFritters
  • Repeat with the mint leaves, leaving them on the stem and serve immediately for optimum crispiness!Final

I REALLY loved these, they were unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before and the only thing I can compare them with is the crispy fried texture of churros, but with a wonderfully aromatic hit. The cool, freshness of the mint worked so well in the warm, crunchy batter and the leaves darkened to a rich green as they fried and crystallized beautifully. I was worried the frying would cause the delicate taste of the elderflower to be lost, but if anything it preserved it and the gently floral, aromatic flavour complimented the crisp sweetness of the fried batter perfectly.

I really recommend people try these – they are so simple to make, plus they look and taste truly fantastic!


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Flavouring the Garden: Images of a Golden Age & Strawberry Crostata

Today was a gorgeous sunny spring day with a heat that promised summer. I love how the Devon countryside comes to life in spring in a bright, mismatched patchwork of greens, oranges and yellows as fields of wheat, barley and rapeseed flourish under the sun and the lambs grow fat grazing on lush grass.  I never fail to marvel out how this season transforms what for months has been a sodden, dreary Devon landscape into one of fruitful abundance as flowers blossom, crops thrive and fruit grows juicy.

According to Ovid, there was once a Golden Age when the earth was uncultivated, yet brought forth fruit in abundance and the world was in a state of perpetual spring:

‘The earth was equally free and at rest, untouched by the hoe, unscathed by the ploughshare, supplying all needs from its natural resources. Content to enjoy the food that required no painful producing, men simply gathered arbutus fruit and mountain strawberries, cornel cherries and blackberries plucked from the prickly bramble, acorns too which they found at the foot of the spreading oak tree. Spring was the only season.’

Metamorphoses 1.100-106

arbutus fruit

Strawberry Tree, House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii

Central to this image is fruitfulness and fruit, and one of these is the strawberry, one of my favourite fruits – sweet, juicy and irresistible. Two types of strawberries were grown in ancient Italy: the arbutus fruit (arbutus unedo), grown from the evergreen strawberry tree whose fruit is edible, but bland; the name arbutus unedo supposedly came from Pliny the Elder’s description unum edo ‘I eat one’ because of its unpalatable taste (although I have it on good authority they make a fantastic brandy). It was cultivated in Roman gardens for its evergreen properties symbolically associated with immortality, as well as its brightly coloured red and yellow fruits and was depicted on frescoes, including one from the House of the Golden Bracelet.

Arbutus

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)

The other was a wild variety found in the mountains, (Fragaria vesca) smaller and harder than the garden strawberry (Fragaria anassa) widely cultivated today, which was not grown until the late 18th century. As such, it was the wild strawberry later cultivated in Italian Renaissance gardens and used in Scappi’s dishes. As these are not readily available here and my local greengrocer has just started selling perfectly ripe Spanish garden strawberries which have proved a welcome substitute as I wait (impatiently!) for the British strawberry season to begin, I will be using these in Scappi’s strawberry crostata.

To prepare a crostata of visciola or morello cherries, strawberries, gooseberries or fresh verjuice grapes

Get viscola or morello cherries (or strawberries) that are not too ripe, without their stalk; pit them. Have a tourte pan ready with dough and wash the top with beaten egg white, immediately sprinkling it with sugar: that is done so that the juice will not penetrate into the pastry. Let it sit a while, then get the fruit, having coating it with sugar, cinnamon and musk-flavoured Neapolitan mostaccioli crumbled and mixed with beaten egg yolks: that is done in order to hold everything together. Put it all into the pan and cover it.

– The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, Book VI

IngredientsStrawberry Ingredients

500g shortcrust pastry
400g strawberries
50g biscotti
2 eggs, separated
50g sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and line a tray with baking paper
  • For the crostata shell, roll the pastry out to about 1cm thickness on a lightly floured surface
  • Hull and chop the strawberries into halves, then place in a bowl and coat with sugar and cinnamon
  • Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar
  • Crumble the biscotti/ cantucci (using the good old bashing in a plastic bag with a rolling pin method!) and mixed with egg yolks, then spread evenly over the base of the pastry shell, leaving a 5cm border (for the sake of aesthetics, I’ve decided to put this on base of the pastry with the strawberries on top, rather than mixed in with the strawberries as the recipe dictates – sorry, Scappi!)Biscotti Base
  • Pile the strawberries onto the pastry shell and spread out evenly
  • To form the crust, fold the edges of the pastry up over the strawberries, pleating it to encircle themPleating
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is golden

It never even occurred to me to make a crostata with strawberries and I must admit I am somewhat of a purist when it comes to summer fruits and berries, much preferring them uncooked to best enjoy their luscious summer flavours! Only occasionally do I add them to dessert and even then only as a raw ingredient and I have only ever cooked them in jam. As such, I did not expect to enjoy this dessert nearly as much as I did and I must confess I have been converted to having an appreciation for baked strawberries. The cinnamon and sugar drew the juices out of the strawberries during baking which soaked into the layer of biscotti underneath, making for a soft and velvety fruit filling that tasted indulgently sweet.Slice