Ancient Roman Cabbage Wraps


Leek and cabbage are among the most used vegetables in historical Italian cookbooks. In ancient and early-medieval recipes, we find several kinds of leeks: in some cases, the authors use just the leaves of the young leeks or the leeks whole, tied into bundles, or the mature leeks, as in the case of the recipe we are presenting today, but we also find the so-called porri capitati, which are, according to Pliny, regular leeks cultivated in such a way to grow a big head. This kind of cultivation stops to be practiced in the late Middle Ages, and the Renaissance physician Pietro Andrea Mattioli writes that the method to grow the porri capitati is completely forgotten at his time.
In the third book of De Re Coquinaria, there are a few recipes for leeks, including the leeks wrapped in cabbage we chose. The original text refers to the previous preparation, in which the author clearly writes to use mature leeks (porri maturi), but if you prefer, use young leeks.
In the ancient and medieval sources, we find different varieties of cabbage. In general, the term cymae refers to cabbages characterized by their greens or head, for example head cabbage; cauli or the diminutive form cauliculi to cabbages whose stems or leaves are the best part, such as kale, rapini, or cime di rapa. Sometimes, the authors use the green part of the cauliculi. Cabbage is eaten cooked or raw, depending on the kind. In this case, we recommend a cabbage that can be easily wrapped around the leeks, such as savoy cabbage or kale, up to your taste.
This recipe is very simple and the good outcome depends on the quality of the ingredients you use. We recommend good white wine (merum is a term that refers to excellent wines, such as Falernian), extra virgin olive oil, and garum, one part each, for instance one or two tablespoons, depending on the quantity of the wraps. Garum may be substituted with a South-East Asian fish sauce, colatura di alici or muria, or just salt. A pinch of salt is equivalent, more or less, to a tablespoon of garum.
We prepared this recipe exactly as the author describes it. If you want, however, pre-cook the leeks in plain water (or with the addition of salt and oil, like the previous recipe) and give a boil to the cabbage leaves to keep them moister during the cooking on charcoal.
These cabbage wraps are a perfect side dish for a meat plate. We recommend serving them with the pork collar we prepared recently, a wild boar stew, or veal with allec sauce.

The first six books of De Re Coquinaria are available on Patreon, with other translations of ancient and medieval sources in addition to several articles on historical food. For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources.
To know more about the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out our new book, with the translation, commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th-century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic. This book contains some of the earliest medieval recipes, in addition to information about the diet of the Franks and the differences between their food habits and the alimentation of the Mediterranean populations, showing the passage between ancient and late-medieval cooking.
If you are interested in late-medieval cuisine, we recommend Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
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2 leeks
3 leaves of kale or savoy cabbage
olive oil
white wine

Clean the leeks, remove the green part, and cut them into pieces. Wrap each piece of leek in half cabbage leaf. Cook the wraps on charcoal, slowly, for about 40 minutes.
Mix one part each of garum, olive oil, and wine. Plate the wraps dressed with this sauce.

Original text
Aliter porros: opertos foliis cauliculorum in prunis coques, ut supra [cum oleo, liquamine, mero et inferes], et inferes.

Wrap the leeks in cabbage leaves and cook them in the embers, as described above [serve with oil, garum, and excellent wine], and serve.

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De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-6
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria – first and second part (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano – first part (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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