Medieval Onion Soup


Since the Antiquity, the onions are described as red and white, round and elongated. The better is the white and round, the physician Michele Savonarola writes in the 14th century. They appear frequently in the medieval Italian cookbook, but there are just a few recipes in which they are the main ingredient. In his treatise about agriculture, Pietro de Crescenzi (14th century) writes that onions are hot and wet in the third degree. If eaten frequently, they may cause bad humors in the stomach and head, provoking even madness and nightmares. Both Crescenzi and Savonarola consider them harmful for the mind, and the physician advises scholars and falconers against its use. Raw, they provide no nourishment, as noted also by Paulus of Aegina in the 7th century, but there is a remedy for the harm, Crescenzi adds: cook them two times, discarding the water of the first cooking. The second time, simmer them with very fat meat and spices.
This week we prepared a simple but delicious onion soup from an anonymous 14th-century Tuscan cookbook, called Anonimo Toscano, who seems not bothered by these medical opinions. Below, you find the original text with a note about the ingredients, the method we followed, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian. Enjoy!

Medieval Onion Soup - Piatto

pork knuckle
1 egg
spices (saffron, black pepper, long pepper, nutmeg, cloves)

Debone the pork knuckle and cut it into little pieces. Simmer it for 15 minutes in salted water.
Soak the saffron in warm water and grind in the mortar the black pepper.
Cut the onions lengthwise and the cheese into small pieces. Add the onions, cheese, and pepper to the soup, cooking it for about 20 minutes. The cooking time changes depending on the size of the pieces of meat and onions.
Beat one egg and grind in the mortar the other spices: long pepper, nutmeg, and cloves.
When the soup is done, add the egg stirring all the time and cook it for about 30 seconds or less.
Plate and serve the soup still hot dusting with the spices.

Medieval Onion Soup - Preview

Note about the ingredients
In the medieval recipes, sometimes the suggestions for the method do not follow the chronological (and logic) order: in this case, the author writes to use saffron and pepper, but later he adds that these spices are optional whereas the spices on the finished dish are mandatory. We suggest using in any case saffron and pepper to obtain a great soup. As an alternative, you can use any other spice common in the Middle Ages, for example cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
There are no directions about the kind of cheese, but we guess it has to be a firm cheese. When it is necessary to use fresh cheese, usually the author specifies it, whereas hard cheese is added, grated or cut, at the end of the cooking: in this case, he suggests cooking the cheese with the meat and onions. We chose a cheese made with cow and sheep milk, but you can use the one you prefer. If you use a salty cheese, pay attention not to add too much salt to the soup.
The kind and quantity of meat are up to your taste. For a good outcome of the recipe, we suggest mutton, beef, or chicken. If you want to follow Pietro de Crescenzi’s directions, choose a fat cut.
We used about 250 gr of meat, 150 of cheese, and 800 grams of onions.

Medieval Onion Soup - Thumbnail

Original text
Togli cipolle tagliate e lavate bene con acqua calda, e metti a cocere con carne e cascio, pepe e zaffarano; e poi ponevi ova dibattute, pepe e croco, se vuoli, e spezie in scudelle.

Take onions cut and well washed in hot water and cook them with meat, cheese, pepper, and saffron. Then add beaten eggs, pepper and saffron if you want, and spices in the plates.

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