Ancient Roman Chickpeas and Green Beans


Green beans are a popular food in Italy in the same way they were in the Antiquity. Dioscorides and Pliny write that beans were eaten young with their pods, a tradition that continues throughout the centuries until today. In the Renaissance, according to the physician Pietro Andrea Mattioli, they were boiled and dressed as a salad or floured and fried (after being simmered), then served with verjuice and pepper. The whole green beans were also kept raw in vinegar to preserve them for all the year, as the naturalist Costanzo Felici reports in his book on salads, during a period in which a new kind of faggiolo begins to appear on the tables, the kind imported from the New World, called by this author faggiolo turchesco.
The beans eaten in the Antiquity and Middle Ages were a different kind of legumes than these ones, which are now the most common that we find in the recipes: Pliny and Dioscorides refer to plants of the genus Vigna (such as black-eyed peas), whereas the new varieties arrived with the discovery of the Americas belong to the genus Phaseolus. Green beans obtained from black-eyed peas are still used in Italy, but generally by people who cultivate them in their garden, as we did this summer.
In the recipe we are preparing today, from the fifth book of De Re Coquinaria, we interpreted faseoli virides, literally green beans, not as green-colored beans, but as young beans in their pods. The adjective viridis, generally in Latin and specifically in this text, tends to refer to fresh vegetables, and in this case, it seemed to us clear that the author intended green beans, in particular because other authors write that they were commonly used.
If you do not have this kind of beans at your disposal, you may use dry black-eyed peas, clearly changing the cooking time, or, if you just want to try a different recipe without necessarily obtaining a philologically correct Roman dish, try another kind of green beans.
From the short recipe reported in De Re Coquinaria, it is evident that this dish is intended to be a salad with legumes, dressed before serving it, probably cold. However, if you want, you may add salt, cumin, and wine during the cooking according to your taste.
Green beans and dry chickpeas have very different cooking times. There are two possibilities: first, cook them separately; second, cook the chickpeas and add the green beans when they are tender.
Chickpeas usually need between 40 minutes and more than an hour to cook, depending on the variety and size. In any case, remember to steep them in water overnight before using them. Green beans, instead, generally require 15 or 20 minutes.

For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. Moreover, the first eight 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.
In addition, our new book Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers is available on Amazon, in English and Italian. The text collects many recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era, accompanied by an introduction about vegetables in the historical Italian cookbooks and their relationship with dietetic, philosophical, and religious practices.
To know more about the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out our 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 Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan Recipes and Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
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200 grams of young black-eyed peas with their pods
80 grams chickpeas
2 tablespoons wine
2 tablespoons olive oil

Simmer the chickpeas and the green beans.
Pound in the mortar the cumin, two or three pinches, and add two pinches of salt, the wine, and olive oil. Discard the water and dress the legumes with this sauce. Serve them warm or cold, to taste.

Original text
Faseoli virides et cicer ex sale, cumino, oleo et mero modico inferuntur.

Serve fresh beans and chickpeas with salt, cumin, oil, and a bit of excellent wine.

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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
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 1-8
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 Preparan
di et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first part (15th century)

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