Tracta is an ancient Roman kind of pasta that is featured in some recipes of De Re Coquinaria, essential to prepare placenta, spira, and scriblita, cheesecakes described in Cato’s De Agri Cultura and mentioned in other Roman and Greek sources.
In the preparation of placenta, tracta is made in two ways: first, with flour and water; second, with flour and alica soaked in water, being alica coarsely ground spelt, whitened with clay, used to make sweets, pultes, and other dishes. In this recipe the tracta made with alica is pre-cooked, the other, instead, is used raw, in a similar way as we use fresh lasagna still today. It is important to notice that the word tracta seems, from this context, to have the same meaning as Italian pasta: not only the final product we use in our recipes, but also the sheets rolled from the dough.
In De Re Coquinaria, tracta is used to prepare dishes called minutalia, which are plates with several ingredients, small or finely minced, but also prepared with other ingredients to accompany lamb or chicken, in addition to being used for sweets and the interesting recipe we are preparing today: pork stuffed with tracta pre-cooked with wine and honey, whence the adjective tractomelinus, which includes tracta and mel, honey.
The author of De Re Coquinaria describes the tractae as dried orbiculi, which means that they are small, dried sheets of dough with a circular form. To know more about the preparation of the tracta, check out our articles on minutal Terentinum and placenta.
The recipe for porcellus tractomelinus requires the whole pork, stuffed with tracta and roasted. We made a pocket in the tenderloin and stuffed this part, but you may use the cuts you prefer. The original recipe requires pepper. We used long pepper, stronger and more aromatic than black pepper, since all three kinds of pepper (black, long, and white) were used in the Antiquity, as described by authors such as Pliny and Dioscorides.
We used our hand-made testum to roast the meat, an ancient portable oven perfect to be placed in a brazier, as we did, or in the fireplace. If you prefer, use your regular oven for this recipe.
For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. Moreover, the first seven 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 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 Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
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500 grams pork tenderloin
200 grams tracta
Pound the long pepper in the mortar. Pour in a pot two cups of wine, adding a bit of honey and two pinches of pepper and salt. As soon as it starts boiling, break the tractae into pieces and cook them in this liquid, stirring with a bay-laurel twig. When they are cooked, absorbing all the liquid, remove them from the fire. The cooking time changes depending on the thickness of the tractae and the hardness of the dough. We cooked them for about 5 minutes.
Cut the tenderloin to make a sort of pocket and stuff it with the tractae, then tie it. Coat the testum with bay-laurel leaves, adding a bit of olive oil, and arrange the meat, then cover it with the lid, adding hot charcoal on top. Roast the stuffed tenderloin for about half an hour, then serve it still hot and cut into slices.
Porcellum assum tractomelinum: porcellum curatum a gutture exenteras, siccas. Teres piperis unciam, mel, vinum, impones ut ferveat, tractam siccatam confringes et partibus caccabo permisces. Agitabis surculo lauri viridis, tam diu coques, donec levis fiat et impinguet. Hac impensa porcellum imples, surculas, obduras duras charta, in furnum mittes, exornas et inferes.
Roasted pork with tracta and honey: gut the cleaned pork, let it dry. Grind one ounce of pepper, honey, wine. Make it boil, break dry tractae, and stir the parts in the pot. Mix with a twig of fresh bay laurel when it cooks until the tractae become soft and swollen. Stuff the pork with this filling, fasten with a stick, wrap it into paper, cook it in the oven, arrange it well, and serve.
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Ancient Roman Recipes Playlist
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Medieval Recipes Playlist
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 1-6
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 (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano – first and second part (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Moretum – A Religious Offering to Cybele
Aristophanes’ Roasted Birds
Pork Roast with Myrtle Berries
Chicken with Taro
Honey and Millet Libum
Ham in Crust
The diet of the ancient Germans
The diet of the Franks
Oysters and Clams
Ancient Sicilian Sea Bass
Pork Roast and Lentils with Sumac
Cuttlefish and Eggs
Gustum de Praecoquis – Appetizer with Apricots
Octopus and Cucumber Salad
Copadia Agnina – Lamb Stew
Apothermum – Spelt Cakes
Pullus Parthicus – Roast Chicken
Tisana Barrica – Barley Soup
Beef Roast and Shallots
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
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