Marcus Gavius Apicius, renown Roman gourmand, to whom the first European cookbook still in existence was dedicated. My friends are well aware of my passion for all things culinary and when they come across interesting or obscure books on the subject are likely to treat me to a copy. This one was a gift from my lovely friend Suzane.
It is considered to be the work of several chefs of the time and so the recipes vary in the detail and style quite a lot, with many of the recipes appearing to be notes to oneself or to other chefs who already know the basics of the recipe. I have a couple of recipe books which are collections of recipes by women in a particular region of Spain, and the style is similar in that they assume for example that everyone knows how to make a basic potato tortilla and so only give you their variation on the recipe.
So although the Apicius cannot be used as a straightforward recipe book, it gives a fascinating insight into the cuisine of rich ancient Rome, and there is enough information in some of the recipes to be inspirational. The use of herbs and flavourings is particularly interesting to me. They used a range of fermented sauces, almost concentrated stocks, one of the favourites being that made from Lovage, a descendant of which is still much used in Germany, Maggi Wurze. The fish version sounds very similar to Nam Pla the Thai fermented fish sauce. For sweetness they went for concentrated sweet wines, such as date wine as well as honey. Sweet and sour, salt and sweet, bitter sweet, the new and trendy Umami, they are all there and often skilfully heightened by the use of fresh herbs.
This onion dish I have made before and served it as a vegetable dish, but with the addition of a little extra water during cooking, it makes a really good sauce come vegetable.
APICIUS INSPIRED ONIONS
Peel a medium sized onion and cut into slices.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauce pan, and add the onions. Cook over a low heat with a lid on to keep in the heat and the moisture. Stirring and turning the onions over from time to time.
When the onions have cooked down and are an even golden colour and translucent, add the seasonings.
A quarter of a teaspoon of Maggi Wurze – which is a lovage essence.
A teaspoon of good honey.
A teaspoon of red wine or sherry vinegar
a good pinch of fresh thyme.
The same of fresh oregano, chopped finely.
Salt and pepper.
A tablespoon water
Continue cooking until very soft and almost a puree.
Serve as a sauce or vegetable accompaniment to meats and fish.
Garlic mash is a regular favourite and there are several ways of making it.
If you want the mash to still be creamy white but with a hidden punch then slow roast the garlic cloves. Leave them in their skins for cooking, but cut a slash across the centre to allow the insides to expand. If I am cooking a Sunday roast, I often throw in a few extra cloves of garlic to have garlic mash the next day. Just add the garlic pulp to your potatoes when mashing.
Another method is to finely cut the garlic and fry it in butter or olive oil until golden brown, and then add that to the mash and mix in. This is the style of mash here. I have used spring garlic as it is in season. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it resembles spring onion but has a pink tinge towards the roots, and has a lovely mild and sweet garlic flavour. I also deglazed the pan in which I cooked the cutlet and added this to the mash for extra flavour.