Medieval Pasta – Tria di Vermicelli


Pasta, called with many names, was one of the most popular dishes in medieval and Renaissance Italy. It was prepared in many ways: simple, like the one we are presenting today, or stuffed, sweet or savory. We made in the past green ravioli and lasagna. Pasta, however, existed already in ancient times, in Greece as well as Rome. Today we prepare tria di vermicelli, a recipe from a 14th-century manuscript, conventionally called Anonimo Fiorentino. Tria is a term that appears in ancient Greek sources, spelled itria, and is used still today for a traditional dish in Salento, called tria e ciceri (chickpeas), quite similar to Horace’s lagana and chickpeas we prepared a few months ago.According to Galen, lagana (from which comes lasagna) are a kind of tria. Hesychius, in his Lexicon, associates tria with kapyrode, considered by Athenaeus the Greek word for tracta. Recently, we made an ancient Roman recipe with pasta (tracta) and meatballs. The translation of tria di vermicelli sounds like “pasta of vermicelli”. The vermicelli recipe is absent from this cookbook: the author probably bought it already prepared and did not feel the necessity to write the method. We find it described thoroughly, instead, in Maestro Martino’s cookbook, written in the 15th century. The variant described by Anonimo Fiorentino is sweet, but Maestro Martino suggests also a fat-day recipe with broth instead of almond milk, grated cheese, spices, and saffron. Below, you will find the original texts with our translation, notes about the methods and ingredients, and the video of the recipe with captions in English and Italian. Enjoy!

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Ingredients 300 grams durum wheat flour 1 egg water salt

Method Knead the flour with a pinch of salt, one egg white, and a bit of water until the dough becomes very hard and reaches a smooth consistency. Take little pieces of dough and shape thin threads with your hands, similar to little worms. For the exact process, we suggest watching the video.

Medieval Vermicelli - Piatto

Note about the method Maestro Martino’s recipe is for dry vermicelli, the same kind probably used by Anonimo Fiorentino. We made them fresh, but if you want, dry them. With fresh vermicelli, we reduced the cooking time to about 20 minutes, but they could be cooked even more or less, depending on how hard the dough is. The cooking time suggested by the author, one hour, may seem strange, but it is probably due to the hardness of the dough, the use of egg white, and the fact that vermicelli are dried. Maestro Martino assures that this pasta keeps itself well for a very long time. The author suggests many ways to cook vermicelli and other kinds of pasta, included lasagna, one of which is similar to the one followed by Anonimo Fiorentino more than a century before. This variant is for the lean days, as suggested by the presence of almond milk, but vermicelli can be cooked also in broth.

Vermicelli original text (Maestro Martino) Distempera la pasta como è ditto di sopra [piglia de la farina bellissima, et inpastala con biancho d’ovo et con acqua rosa, overo con acqua communa. Et volendone fare doi piattelli non gli porre più che uno o doi bianchi d’ova, et fa’ questa pasta ben dura; dapoi fanne pastoncelli longhi un palmo et sottili quanto una pagliuca], et filala sottile rompendola a pezoli peccini con le dita a modo di vermicelli, et poneli a secchare al sole, et durarando doi o tre anni. Et quando li vorrai cocere falli cocere in brodo di carne, o di bon pollo grosso, per spatio d’una hora. Et poi fa’ le menestre et mittivi caso grattugiato et spetie. Se non fusse tempo di carne cocigli con latte de amandole con zuccharo, overo in lacte de capra. Et perché questo lacte non vole bollire quanto che richiedono li vermicelli, falli bollire prima con un pocha d’acqua como si fa il riso. Et simelemente se deveno cocere le lasagne, le tritte overo fermentine. Et tutte queste vivande di pasta deveno essere gialle di zafrano, excepto quando se coceno in lacte.

Translation Prepare the dough as written above [take beautiful flour and knead it with egg white and water rose or common water. If you want to make two dishes, do not use more than one or two egg whites, and make a very hard dough. Shape then little pieces long as a palm and thin as a straw] and make thin threads breaking little pieces with your fingers, similar to little worms. Then, dry them in the sun. They keep themselves for two or three years. When you want to cook them, make them boil in good broth made with meat or good, fat chicken for an hour. Plate them with grated cheese and spices. In the lean days, cook them with almond milk or goat milk. Since this milk does not boil as much as vermicelli need, boil them before in a bit of water as we do with rice. In the same way, cook lasagne, tritte or fermentine [other two kinds of pasta]. And all these pasta dishes have to be colored with saffron, except when they are cooked with [goat] milk.

Medieval Vermicelli Preview


Ingredients 150 grams vermicelli 300 grams peeled almonds 80 grams white cane sugar spices (saffron, cloves, cinnamon) salt

Method To prepare almond milk, grind in the mortar the almonds and dilute with a bit of water, then sift the liquid. Steep the saffron in warm water and grind the spices. Boil a little water and add the vermicelli. After about ten minutes, add the almond milk and sugar. When the vermicelli are almost cooked, about ten minutes later, add the saffron. Plate them and dust with spices. Serve this dish warm or cool.

Note about the method and ingredients We changed the ratio suggested by the recipe, following our taste as medieval cooks write continuously in their texts. The original ratio is one part of vermicelli, one of sugar, and two of almonds. The only spice recommended by the author is saffron, the others are not mentioned. We suggest choosing among cloves, cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise, or black pepper.

Medieval Vermicelli - Thumbnail

Tria di vermicelli original text (Anonimo Fiorentino) Se vuoli fare tria di vermicelli per XII persone, togli due libre di mandorle e una di vermicelli e una libra di çucchero. E togli le mandorle ben monde e ben macinate e bene colate, e togli i vermicelli ben netti, e mettili a bollire in acqua poca. E quand’anno levato il bollore, mettivi quantità di latte di mandorle e fallo cuocere con esso, e mettivi quantità di çucchero; e quando è cotto, mettivi çafferano stemperato. Questa vivanda vuol esere gialla e spessa; e poni spezie sopra scodella. Se vuoli fare per più o per meno persone, togli le cose a questa ragione medesima.

Translation If you want to make tria di vermicelli for 12 people, take two pounds of almonds, one of vermicelli, and one of sugar. Take almonds well peeled, well ground, and well sifted [the author is referring to the process of making almond milk, mentioned below in the text]. Take the vermicelli and boil them in a little water. Once they have boiled, add the almond milk and sugar. When it is cooked, add diluted saffron. This dish has to be yellow and thick. Sprinkle spices on the plate. If you want to make more or less tria di vermicelli, keep the same ratio.

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