Medieval Erbe Minute – Meatballs with Herbs


These spring days, we have plenty of herbs in our aromatic garden, so we chose a recipe with many herbs, perfect for this season. We used a lot of varieties, but you can choose the ones you have at your disposal.
There are several variants for this recipe, reported in both the Liber de Coquina and Anonimo Toscano, in which it is called erbe minute, minced herbs, the main ingredients used here: they can be prepared alone, dusted with spices, or with the addition of eggs, salted meat, meatballs or fish cakes, or just meat or fish pulp, in addition to sausages mentioned just in the Liber de Coquina (which is an older cookbook written in Latin, partially translated by Anonimo Toscano, with variations and additions).
Mortadelli and comandelli are meatballs or fish cakes, a kind of preparation very common in the Middle Ages, as well as sausages. The term comandelli appears just in Anonimo Toscano‘s manuscript, whereas in the Liber de Coquina it is used the more common term tomacelli or tumacella, a word that we find starting from ancient Rome to refer to some kinds of meatballs.
In the Liber de Coquina and Anonimo Veneziano, mortadelli or mortaroli are made with liver, herbs, eggs, and spices, pounded in the mortar and wrapped in caul fat, a recipe completely different from the one recommended by Anonimo Toscano, who mentions just the herbs, meat, or fish.
From the Liber de Coquina, we know at least the size or shape of these meatballs, made ad modum glandis, which means similar to acorns or the same size as acorns. Differently from Anonimo Toscano, this author recommends seasoning the meatballs with spices.

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pork tenderloin
herbs (chard, arugula, celery, parsley, onion greens, mint,
fennel, rosemary, marjoram, dill)
spices (black pepper, cloves, nutmeg)
olive oil

Mince the meat finely and pound it with the knife. Mince the rosemary, marjoram, and part of the parsley, then mix well with the meat and a couple of pinches of salt. Shape small meatballs.
Mince all the other herbs and grind the spices. Stir-fry the herbs with two pinches of salt, then add the spices, a bit of water, and the meatballs. Cook for about five minutes. If you use other kinds or cuts of meat, the cooking time may change considerably. Serve the meatballs with the minced herbs.

Note about the text and ingredients
Anonimo Toscano lists among the ingredients the anesi, which translates with anise seeds, but in the Liber de Coquina it appears anetum, dill. In the Italian sources, not only medieval, frequently anesum and anetum are confused. Here, we used dill, since the author is listing a series of greens, in the same way as we chose to use just the greens of the garlic (instead of onion greens, which we did not have in our garden). As the author writes, the choice of the ingredients is at the good cook’s discretion, so feel free to experiment. There are plenty of possibilities to make this recipe, changing the main ingredients.
We used many aromatic herbs to make this plate, but you can use fewer and different kinds, wild or cultivated, according to the words of the author. We did not pre-cook the chard in water before adding them to the other herbs, as recommended by the author, since we used very tender chard.

Original text
Togli spinacci, treplice biete; scieglile bene, et fa’ bollire. Poi le cava, e battile col coltello fortemente: poi togli petroselli, finocchi, anesi, cipolle, e battile e tritale col coltello, e soffriggi con olio bene; e prendi altre erbe minute e soffriggile insieme, e mettivi un poco d’acqua, e lassa bullire, e mettivi del pepe e de le spezie; e da’ mangiare. In questo modo si possono ponere dentro ova dibattute, polpa di pesce senza spine, carne di castrone e di porco; o carne insalata, e diversificare, secondo pare a la discrezione di buon cuoco; e torre maggiorana, trasmarino, petrosello con bone pesce o carne battuta, porestine fare mortadelli, comandelli e molte altre cose: a questo modo puoi torre erbe domestiche, ovvero salvatiche, se d’orti non si potesseno avere.

Take spinach and orach, choosing well, and boil them. Then, remove from the water and beat them with the knife energetically. Take parsley, fennel, anise, onions, beat and mince them with the knife, then stir-fry well with oil. Take other minced herbs and fry them with the others, adding a bit of clear water. Boil them for a while, then add pepper and spices and serve. In this way, you can add beaten eggs, deboned fish pulp, pork or mutton, or salted meat, and make this preparation different at the discretion of the good cook.

You can take marjoram, rosemary, parsley, with good fish or beaten meat and make mortadelli, comandelli, and many other things. In the same way, you can take cultivated or wild herbs, if you can not have them from the garden.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-2
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum – first part (11th century)
De Flore Dietarum – second 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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