Medieval Roast Beef with Arugula Seed Sauce


One of the most common methods to prepare meat in the Middle Ages was roasting or boiling it, serving then with a sauce. The technique for the roasts is widely described by the sources, for example, the Liber de Coquina or, as in this case, the 14th-century manuscript conventionally called Anonimo Toscano. Today we prepare spit-roast beef following the method of the latter manuscript and serve it with an arugula-seed sauce, unusual and particularly tasty, selected from another anonymous 14th-century source, called Anonimo Veneziano.
Known since the Antiquity, arugula seeds rarely appear in the medieval cookbooks, but they were commonly used throughout the centuries, as 16th-century physician Mattioli recalls quoting also Dioscorides, as a substitute for mustard seeds.
If you don’t find arugula seeds – you can use either wild or cultivated varieties, both used and known – you can substitute them with a few arugula leaves and mustard seeds.
Below, you will find the original recipes and a note about the ingredients. Enjoy your medieval roast!

red wine
olive oil
half a boiled egg
white cane sugar
white wine vinegar
spices (arugula seeds, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon)

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To prepare the roast, mince lardo and pound it in the mortar, mixing with a little olive oil. Now, coat the meat with this lardo and oil mixture, spit it, and place on charcoals. The Tuscan author of this roast recipe suggests pouring a little wine on the charcoals, to control the cooking temperature.
While the roast is cooking, prepare the sauce. Grind in the mortar half a nutmeg, sugar, cinnamon, and arugula seeds, then mince and pound the fresh ginger in the mortar with the other spices. Add a half a boiled egg and pour vinegar, mixing everything together.
Serve the roast beef with the sauce.

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Note about the ingredients
Anonimo Veneziano‘s manuscript does specify neither the kind of meat for this sauce nor the cooking method. You can choose to use the meat you prefer: pork, veal, mutton, game, chicken, or any other.
Lardo is traditional Italian pork fatback, one of the most common cooking fats in the Middle Ages. We suggest using extra virgin olive oil for this recipe.
Sugar was widely used since the Middle Ages to prepare sauces, roasts, soups, and other dishes, more as a spice than a sweetener. We suggest using a little quantity. While white sugar was considered apt for a court banquet, brown sugar was less priced and cheaper, a better fit for common people.
Known since the Antiquity and used by Romans, ginger became during the Middle Ages one of the most common spices with pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It was available both fresh and dried. For this recipe, we preferred to use fresh ginger.

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Original texts
A cocere prestamente e bene uno arrosto. Togli carboni e con essi coci; e quando sono bene accesi gittavi su vino, e dureranno più e più focosi. E anche togli olio e lardo bene pesto e battuto, mesta insieme e ungi con esso la carne [Anonimo Toscano].

Savore de ruga overo Rochetta. Toy la semenza de la ruchetta e mandole e ove cocti e zucharo e zenzevro e noce moschate e cenamo e masena ogni cossa insema e distempera con bono aceto ed è bono a ogni carne optimo [Anonimo Veneziano].

To prepare quick and well a roast. Take charcoals and light them. When they are hot, pour wine to make them last for a longer time and raise the temperature. Take oil and well-pound lardo, mix them, and grease the meat [Anonimo Toscano].

Arugula sauce. Take arugula seeds, almonds, boiled eggs, sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon. Grind all ingredients together and dilute with good vinegar. It is good to pair with any kind of meat [Anonimo Veneziano].

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