Eggs are one of the most popular ingredients in historical cuisine and poached eggs appear frequently in the cookbooks, starting from De Re Coquinaria, as we saw in the past. In the medieval Italian sources, they are usually called ova perdute or sperdute (which, roughly, means lost), which refers to the fact that they are broken and poured into a liquid to thicken, a technique that we will examine today preparing a recipe from Maestro Martino’s Libro de Arte Coquinaria, written in the 15th century.
Differently from another recipe that we presented a few months ago, this time the eggs are cooked in sweet wine. The author suggests a few options for these poached eggs, which can be cooked in water, milk, or wine, depending on our taste. The eggs cooked in water are dressed with sweet ingredients (sugar and spices, balanced with an acidic juice) and cheese, whereas for the other variant the author recommends avoiding the cheese.
As a consequence, the recipe we are preparing today results quite sweet and spicy, the other version, instead, would be more or less savory, depending on the salt content of the cheese we use. However, when the medieval cooks recommend grated cheese, they refer to an aged cheese, such as pecorino or Parmigiano, and aged cheeses tend to be salty.
Medieval physicians recommend using eggs as fresh as possible to be healthier and easier to digest, following the medical tradition that dates back to Hippocrates and Galen. This is the same advice that we find, for example, in Anthimus’ De Observatione Ciborum.
We decided to mix the ingredients before pouring them on the eggs to keep in check the quantity of verjuice and rose water, but if you prefer, you can add the liquid ingredients and then dust with spices and sugar.
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sweet white wine
brown cane sugar
sweet spices (nutmeg, cloves, ginger)
Mince the ginger. Grind the nutmeg, cloves, and sugar, then add the ginger in the mortar. Dilute with a bit of rose water and verjuice. Fill a pot with wine and warm it without reaching the boiling point. Lay carefully a shelled egg stirring the liquid gently and cook it for a couple of minutes. Remove it from the wine and cook the other egg.
Plate the eggs, pouring the sauce on top.
Note about the ingredients
For this recipe, we used brown cane sugar, because we thought that its flavor pairs better with the other ingredients, but the most common kind of sugar used for medieval high-end cuisine was white sugar, despite the fact that the cooks had at their disposal several varieties. Use the one you prefer, according to your taste.
We used verjuice, but the author recommends either it or orange juice. In the 15th century, in Italy, there were several varieties of oranges, both sweet and sour. For this recipe, we recommend an orange not excessively sweet. Verjuice, instead, obtained from the juice of unripe grapes, works perfectly. Another possible substitute is lemon, but orange is better.
In the lists of sweet spices that we read in 14th-century sources such as Anonimo Toscano and Anonimo Veneziano, in addition to cloves, ginger, and nutmeg, we find saffron, Indian bay leaves, and cinnamon.
Rose water is an ingredient that we frequently find in the late-medieval and Renaissance cookbooks. It is obtained by distillation and is quite easy to make at home by boiling down water and roses, collecting then the steam that gathers on the lid. As an alternative, you can buy it in an Indian or Arabic grocery store.
Per fare ova sperdute. Fa’ che l’acqua bolla et rompegli dentro l’ova freschissime, et prese ch’elle sonno cavale fora dell’acqua che siano tenerelle, mettendoli sopra del zuccaro, dell’acqua rosata, de le spetie dolci, et un poco di suco di naranci overo agresto; et si più ti piacesse, lasciando le cose sopra ditte gli mittirai sopra di bon caso grattato et de le spetie dolci.
Per fare ova sperdute in lacte o vino dolce. Farai similmente como è ditto nel capitolo precedente, excepto che non gli se convien mettere sopra del caso.
To prepare poached eggs. Boil the water and break inside very fresh eggs. When they are thickened, remove them from the water when they are still tender, adding on top sugar, rose water, sweet spices, and a bit of orange juice or verjuice. If you like it, add to the mentioned ingredients grated cheese and sweet spices.
To prepare poached eggs in milk or sweet wine. Follow the same method described in the previous chapter, except that it is not convenient to add cheese on top.
Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-3
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus – first part (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (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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