Ancient Roman Pasta and Meatballs – Minutal Terentinum


In the cookbook conventionally attributed to Apicius, we find two kinds of pasta used in different ways, lagana and tractae. Lagana are originally Greek and used for layered patinae, in a similar way as lasagne are prepared since the Middle Ages.
We find scarce information about the tractae in various passages of this cookbook: we know, for example, that they are dried (in a few cases, Apicius specifies it; usually, he writes to break the tractae) and that at least one kind of tracta has a little circular shape (the word he uses is orbiculi). There is no description about the way to prepare the dough, but in Cato’s De Agri Cultura we find a simple recipe: tracta is simply a dough sheet made kneading flour with water, exactly the same method we use still today to prepare pasta. Cato describes two different kinds of tractae we used to prepare the placenta, an ancient Roman cheesecake.
There are many recipes with tractae in Apicius’ cookbook: in many cases they are paired with meatballs or fish cakes, but also with meat. They are even used to make a puls with milk and to prepare a dessert.
Today we prepare a minutal recipe with spicy and aromatic isicia.
Below, you will find the original source with our English translation, the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian, and a note about the method and ingredients. Enjoy!

Minutal Terentinum - Piatto


Ingredients for 16 tractae
300 gr white wheat flour
sea salt

Knead the flour with warm water until it reaches a smooth consistency. Divide the dough into 16 pieces and roll them into little circular sheets. Let them dry overnight.
Cato uses siligo, superfine white wheat flour.


400 gr pork tenderloin
bay laurel berries
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

To prepare the caroenum, destem and pound the grapes to obtain the juice. Filter it with your hands or a sift and boil it down until it reduces by one-third. Let it cool down.
Mince the meat and pound it well in the mortar. Mince the rue and pound in the mortar one bay laurel berry and black pepper, adding a bit of grated asafoetida. Mix the meat, spices, a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, garum, and caroenum, shaping little meatballs.

Minutal Terentinum - Preview 2

Note about the method and ingredients
In the original recipe, the author refers to an isicia recipe absent from the manuscripts of De Re Coquinaria. The adjective Terentinum, however, appears in other occasions, associated to a sauce, meatballs, and a filling for wild boar ham. The only recipe survived is the last one. We used the ingredients of this filling to prepare the isicia, but you can choose also different recipes, for example isicia amulata or isicia omentata, skipping the sauce in which they are cooked. This is the text about the filling for the ham: teres piper, bacam lauri, rutam; si volueris, laser adicies, liquamen optimum, caroenum et olei viridis guttas (pound pepper, bay laurel berry, rue; if you want, add laser, excellent garum, caroenum, and drops of extra virgin olive oil). In any case, the isicia have to be very little: isiciola valde minuta.
In Apicius’ text, the optional ingredients appears to be just laser. The liquid ingredients are essential for a good outcome of the recipe. Laser was a spice widely used by the ancient Mediterranean populations, described in detail by many Greek and Roman authors, for example, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny. Whereas the laser Cyrenaicum, the most prized variety, is no longer produced, the laser Parthicum  is still used by many Eastern populations and called asafoetida.
Caroenum was one of the preparations of reduced grape must that ancient Romans used as a sweetener. You find this recipe in Palladius’ agricultural book.
Garum was an ancient Mediterranean fish sauce. We wrote more about its production in this article. You can substitute it with a South-East Asian fish sauce, prepared in the same way as garum, or add a pinch of salt.


8 tractae
black pepper
white wine
raisin wine
olive oil

Mince the leeks and cook with olive oil, garum and a good amount of water. When it boils, add the isicia and boil for about ten minutes, until they become tender. In the meantime, prepare the sauce: mince the oregano and pound black pepper and lovage in the mortar, adding white wine, raisin wine, olive oil, and garum. Add the sauce to the meatballs. Once the broth resumes boiling, break the tractae into pieces and cook them for about ten minutes.
Serve sprinkling with ground black pepper.

Note about the method
Adjust the quantity of pasta and meat to your taste. We prepared this quantity (400 gr of meat and 8 tractae) for two people. The cooking time of the tractae depends on the size and the thickness of the sheet. The cooking method is completely different from the one common today in Italy: the pasta is cooked directly with the meatballs and needs to absorb the most part of the liquids. In this way, it results particularly savory. For this reason, pay attention not to add an excessive quantity of garum.
Lovage and pepper together are quite intense, and pepper is used three times for this recipe. If you do not like excessively spicy foods, pay attention to use a moderate quantity of pepper each time.


Original text
Minutal Terentinum: concides in caccabum albamen de porris minutatim, adicies oleum, liquamen, cocturam, isiciola valde minuta, et sic temperas ut tenerum sit. Isicium Terentinum facies: inter isicia confectionem invenies. Ius tale facies: piper, ligusticum, origanum, fricabis, suffundes liquamen, ius de suo sibi, vino et passo temperabis. Mittes caccabum. Cum ferbuerit, tractam confringes, obligas. Piper asparges et inferes.

Minutal Terentinum: mince finely in a pan the white part of the leek and add oil, garum, water, little isicia, and cook until they become tender. Make isicia Terentina: you find the recipe among the methods to prepare isicia.
Prepare the sauce in this way: pound pepper, lovage, oregano; dilute with garum, cooking broth, wine, and raisin wine. Pour in the pan. When it boils, break the tractae and mix. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

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