Ancient Roman Beef Roast with Shallots


This week, we present a simple and delicious recipe from De Re Coquinaria, a roast with shallots and beef described in a chapter dedicated to beef and veal, with several possible variants, as we will see in the original recipe that you find below with our translation. The author, indeed, recommends this recipe for beef or veal, pairing the meat with onions, taro, quinces, or leeks, without specifying the cooking method.
In the agricultural sources, especially in the sixth book of Columella’s De Re Rustica, the bovines are presented mainly as working animals, but we know that they were bred for meat and milk, essential to make cheese and curdle.
Beef appears not only in De Re Coquinaria but also in the Edict of Prices issued by Emperor Diocletian, issued in the 4th century, in which we read that it was one of the less expensive kinds of meat, eight denarii per libra, which was equivalent to about 330 grams, the same price as goat, or mutton, or fresh cheese, or one sextarium (about half a liter) of milk, or eight eggs.
As onion variety, we chose shallot, called cepa Ascalonia in the ancient sources. It is interesting to notice that the word Ascalonia remains in the Italian scalogno, the term we use for the shallot.
In the Naturalis Historia by Pliny, we find the description of many kinds of onions, which have a pungent flavor that causes tears (odor lacrimosus). The main kinds are two: cepa pallacana, used as a condiment (condimentaria), also called getium, and cepa capitata, which refers to an onion with a big head. Getium is described almost without head. Its greens are cut several times as one does with leeks: surely, it is the scallion.
Theophrastus, in his Historia Plantarum, describes the scallion (gethyon), onion (kromyon), and garlic (skorodon). There are several different kinds of onions, colored in many ways, but the author mentions just the white ones, whereas Pliny writes that the red onions are more pungent than the white ones.
Theophrastus, then, describes a Cretan variety with no head and a sweet flavor. The author, imitated by Pliny, wonders if it can be considered the same as the Ascalonian onion, since they are quite similar.
This fact seems in contradiction with the classification by Pliny, who lists the cepa Ascalonia as a cepa capitata. However, this confusion may be given by the fact that cepa Ascalonia is elongated, not as round as the others.
In Anthimus’ De Observatione Ciborum, written in the 6th century, the distinction is no more between cepa pallacana and capitata, but between cepa and Ascalonia, considered better.

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1200 grams beef
4 big shallots
long pepper
olive oil

Arrange the shallots in a cooking pan with the meat. Grind in the mortar the pepper and mix with olive oil and garum, grating a bit of asafoetida. Pour the sauce on the meat and shallots, then roast them for about one hour and a half.
The cooking time may change depending on the cut and the size of the meat.

Note about the recipe and ingredients
The author does not specify the cooking method for this recipe. There are many possibilities: you can roast the meat with the vegetables, prepare a stew, or simmer the ingredients together or separately, then season them before plating.
We used shallots, but you may choose other kinds of onions, leeks, quinces, or taro. In the case of the latter two, we suggest simmering them briefly before roasting or stewing them with the meat. Taro, for instance, must be peeled after boiling it.
Romans had at their disposal black, white, and long pepper. Long pepper was the most expensive, but we chose it for its strong, aromatic flavor, perfect with this simple dish.
In the original recipe, we find laser, the Latin term for silphium. Whereas the most prized variety of silphium, grown in Cyrene, is no longer produced, silphium Parthicum is thoroughly described by Dioscorides as the equivalent to modern-day asafoetida, still used in some Eastern countries.
To know more about garum, check out this article.

Original text
Vitulinam sive bubulam cum porris vel Cydoneis vel cepis vel colocasiis: liquamen, piper, laser et olei modicum.

Veal or beef with leeks or quinces or onions or taro: garum, pepper, laser, and a bit of oil.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-2
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum – first part (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

Staitites – Ancient Greek Sweet
Chicken Meatballs and Mashed Peas
Sweet Fritters – Dulcia Domestica
Columella’s Moretum and Hapalos Artos
Ancient Roman Frittata
A Saturnalia Recipe – Roast with Saffron Sauce
Muria – Ancestor of Colatura di Alici
Globi – Ancient Roman Sweet
The Diet of the Roman Legionaries – Buccellatum, Lardum, and Posca
How to make garum
Fig Sweet
Ancient Roman Gourd and Eggs
Ofella – Ancient Roman Steak
Fruit salads – Melon and Peaches
Isicia Marina – Shrimp Cakes and Cucumber Salad
Sala Cattabia – Snow and Posca
Copadia – Beef Stew
Puls Punica – Phoenician Dessert
Farcimina – Spelt and Meat Sausages
Ova Spongia ex Lacte – Sweet Omelettes
Flatbread and Chickpea Soup
Chicken stew
Salted Fish with Arugula Sauce
Savillum – Cheesecake
Pasta and Meatballs – Minutal Terentinum
Venison Stew with Spelt Puls
Veal with Allec Sauce – Ius in Elixam Allecatum
Isicia Omentata – Meatballs Wrapped in Caul Fat
Placenta – Honey Cheesecake
Pork Laureate – Porcellum Laureatum
Mashed Chestnuts
Poppy Seed Bread with Ancient Dry Yeast
Cured Olives and Epityrum