Medieval Cheese Pasta – Vivanda Bona


Pasta was very popular in the Middle Ages, among all social classes. We find plenty of examples in the cookbooks and literary texts, such as the 14th-century works by Giovanni Boccaccio (who mentions pappardelle in the Corbaccio and then, in the Decameron, maccheroni and ravioli cooked in capon broth, all served with Parmigiano), followed at the end of the same century by Franco Sacchetti, who mentions maccheroni in his Trecentonovelle, specifying in a passage that they are eaten with forks.
Pasta, however, as we have seen in the past, is not originally medieval, since we find some recipes in ancient Roman and Greek sources.
There were several kinds of pasta in the Middle Ages: prepared in simple ways such as lasagna or vermicelli, stuffed as ravioli, or kneaded with other ingredients, for example cheese or eggs, as gnocchi or the one we are presenting today, which does not have a precise name: the author calls it vivanda bona, good dish, made in the same way as graffi, a term whose meaning is unclear in this context. We find this recipe in Anonimo Veneziano‘s manuscript, a beautiful cookbook written about the end of the 14th century which shows the complexity of the medieval courtly cooking in its magnificence.
The author writes nothing about the kinds of cheese and spices we have to use for this recipe. We used pecorino, one of the most popular kinds of cheese, but you can choose Parmigiano that, as we have seen above, is mentioned by Giovanni Boccaccio as a quite common kind of cheese used to finish the plates, in the same way as we still do today.
Among the spices used by Anonimo Veneziano, we chose grains of paradise (meleghette in this source), black pepper, and cinnamon, but you can also use others, for example ginger, white or long pepper, cloves, or nutmeg, all very common in the Middle Ages.

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Ingredients (for two servings)
130 gr flour
120 gr aged pecorino
2 eggs
spices (black pepper, cinnamon, grains of paradise)

Grind the spices. Grate about 120 grams of aged pecorino and knead it with the flour, eggs, and spices. Do not exaggerate with the quantity of spices in the dough, since you will add them again before serving the dish.
Shape with your hands one-finger-long threads of dough and cook them in broth or salted water for about 15-20 minutes.
Drain the pasta and plate sprinkling with grated cheese and ground spices.

Original text
Vivanda bona. Toi farina, ove, formaço e gratalo: toi spesie e pista in mortaro: poi fa con le mano a modo de graffi longi un dito: poi li chusi lesi: e sopra le scutelle polvereça de spetie e de caso: e dale chalde.

Good dish. Take flour, eggs, cheese and grate it. Take spices and pound them in the mortar, then form [the pasta] with your hands in the shape of one-finger-long graffi. Simmer them and serve in plates with spices and cheese. Serve them hot.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum – first part (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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