In the second book of De Re Coquinaria, the cookbook conventionally attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, there are several methods to prepare meatballs and fish cakes (in the text called isicia), as well as sausages. In the past, we prepared isicia amulata and omentata, cuttlefish and shrimp cakes, and two different kinds of sausages, called Lucanica and farcimina.
This week, we prepared simple chicken meatballs, steam-cooked with a mixture of garum, concentrated grape juice, water, and black pepper. We accompanied these meatballs with mashed peas, another recipe from this source. The author suggests the same recipe for fava beans.
Legumes, in ancient Roman recipes, are frequently overcooked and pounded with the spoon, as we have seen in the past preparing fava beans. In this case, the author recommends serving the peas with isicia, without specifying which kind. We chose chicken meatballs, but also seafood cakes would be an excellent pairing.
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chicken leg and breast
extra virgin olive oil
Debone the leg and mince it with the breast. Grind in the mortar the black pepper and mix it with garum and olive oil, adding the meat. Shape the meatballs.
Mix ground pepper, one part of garum, one part of concentrated grape juice, and eleven of water. Steam the meatballs with this liquid.
In isicia de pullo: olei floris lib. I, liquaminis quartarium, piperis semunciam.
Aliter de pullo: piperis grana XXXI conteres, mittis liquaminis, optimi calicem, caroeni tantundem, aquae XI mittes, et ad vaporem ignis pones.
Chicken isicia: one pound of excellent oil, one quart of a pound of garum, half an ounce of pepper.
Another chicken isicia: grind 31 grains of pepper, add a cup of excellent garum and the same quantity of caroenum, 11 cups of water, and steam-cook them.
Note about the recipe and the ingredients
In the book, it appears that these are two different recipes for chicken isicia; however, it seems to be a mistake by the copyist, since the first is a method to make the isicia, whereas the second is clearly a cooking liquid: the author, indeed, writes to steam-cook the isicia.
Caroenum is grape juice cooked until it reduces by one-third of the original volume, as describes Palladius in his Opus Agriculturae. You can use grapes or grape juice already prepared, but pay attention that it contains just grapes and not sugar. Caroenum is used as a mild sweetener, and an addition of sugar would ruin the dish. You can substitute it with raisin wine, used in De Re Coquinaria for the same purpose.
To know more about ancient Roman fish sauces, check out these articles about garum and muria. If you prefer not to use garum, substitute it with salt.
fresh or dry peas
spices (cumin, celery seeds, black pepper)
Simmer the peas in water. To prepare the sauce, mince the rue and pound the cumin and celery seeds, then add the rue and a bit of honey, olive oil, and garum, diluting with wine and caroenum. When the peas start to foam, add the sauce. Mash them with the spoon and serve them with the isicia, dusting with ground pepper.
Note about the ingredients
If you do not have celery seeds, use the minced leaves instead. Rue is one of the most used herbs in ancient Roman recipes, but may be hard to find. You can substitute it with other fresh herbs, for example arugula, mint, or parsley.
The cooking time changes depending on the kind of peas you use. Dry peas require a longer time, whereas fresh peas are very quick to cook. As an option, you can use fava beans instead.
Aliter pisam sive favam: ubi despumaverit, teres mel, liquamen, caroenum, cuminum, rutam, apii semen, oleum et vinum. Tudiclabis. Cum pipere trito et cum isiciis inferes.
Another recipe for peas or fava beans: when they have foamed, grind honey, garum, caroenum, cumin, rue, celery seeds, oil, and wine. Pound [the legumes]. Serve them with ground pepper and isicia.
Translations of Historical Sources
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Registrum Coquine (first part) by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Registrum Coquine (second part) by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Varis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum first part (11th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first part (14th century)
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
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
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
Poppy Seed Bread with Ancient Dry Yeast
Cured Olives and Epityrum