Medieval Soup With Hen and Florence Fennel


In the medieval sources, the parts used of finocchio (or feniculum in Latin, spelled in many ways) are generally the seeds and leaves, although sometimes the authors mention the flowers, used to make sauces or fritters. Biancho de finocchio (or feniculum album, which is the same), instead, means Florence fennel, a variety that seems to be absent from the ancient sources. We find it especially in the Liber de Coquina and Anonimo Toscano’s Libro de la Cocina, where the Florence fennel is simmered, stewed, or stir-fried. In the Liber de Coquina we even find a recipe for the familia, the servants of the household, with fennel, pasta, pepper, and meat.
The methods are simple. In some preparations, the Florence fennel is parboiled and then fried with pork fatback or oil, depending on whether it is a lean or fat day, with the addition of other ingredients such as eggs, leeks, and spices. A typical combination is Florence fennel and cabbage, with the addition of various ingredients such as broth, eggs, spices, and meat. Maestro Martino recommends cooking it the same way as cabbage, but finely minced with pepper and salted meat or oil.
The recipe we are going to prepare today appears in both the Liber de Coquina and Anonimo Toscano’s cookbook, with a slight difference: the recipe in the Latin source requires just saffron, cinnamon, Florence fennel, poached eggs, and chicken; the variant in the Libro de la Cocina adds pepper, which gives the dish a pleasant, spicy complexity, and is prepared with all kinds of meat.
In the text, we find only a list of ingredients with scarce instructions on how to prepare this dish. We have chosen to make a soup with hen and fennel, serving it with poached eggs, but if you prefer, cook the hen and use the broth to simmer the fennel and poach the eggs, then serve the deboned and minced meat with the fennel cut into slices and the eggs, with or without broth. According to Maestro Martino and the Liber de Coquina, the liquids to poach the eggs are water, wine, broth, or even milk.
All the possibilities are equally plausible because, as is often the case in this cookbook, we find only loose indications, not prescriptive rules on how to prepare this medieval dish. As Anonimo Toscano recalls in the text, we have to follow our taste and the taste of the people for whom we are cooking.
We have used white pepper, whose flavor blends particularly well with the other ingredients, but in the medieval sources we also find black and long pepper, so we recommend following your taste and using the variety you have at your disposal.
Anonimo Toscano does not specify the kind of meat to use. Chicken, hen, mutton, beef, or pork are all suitable for making an excellent dish, especially if you choose a fatty cut. This dish may be prepared with or without meat depending on whether it is a lean or a fat day.

The Libro de la Cocina, also known as Anonimo Toscano, a complete and fascinating cookbook written in the Tuscan vernacular in the 14th century, collects 175 recipes for all kinds of medieval dishes, from meat, fish, and vegetables to pies and pasta. The author recommends several variations for lean or fat plates, making this source a satisfying and exhaustive handbook to recreate historical plates and experiment with medieval preparations according to our taste, using ingredients that are mostly common and easy to find. Our translation of Anonimo Toscano’s Libro de la Cocina is accompanied by an introduction about medieval cooking, the basic methods and ingredients, as well as notes to the text and a glossary.
To know more about medieval food, we recommend Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook and De Observatione Ciborum. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Frank. You find further articles and translations of historical sources, among which the first nine books of De Re Coquinaria, Appendicula de Condituris Variis, and De Flore Dietarum, on our Patreon page.
For more historical recipes with vegetables, check out Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers, which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to the early Modern Era. If you are interested in ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources.
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Florence fennel
spices (saffron, white pepper, cinnamon)

Cut the hen into pieces and simmer it with two pinches of water for about an hour and a half, then add the Florence fennel cut into four pieces and cook for another 20 minutes. Grind the spices in the mortar and add them to the fennel and hen. After a couple of minutes, remove it from the fire. In the meantime, poach the eggs. Lay them gently one by one in hot water just below the boiling point and cook them for a couple of minutes. The yolk must remain runny. Serve the soup with the poached eggs.

Original text
Anche tollendo finochio intero, bullito, cotto con cennamo, pepe e çaffarano, e mettivi ove perdute e carne di polli, o altra carne, per lo dì che tu vuoli.

Take whole Florence fennel, simmered with cinnamon, pepper, and saffron, adding poached eggs and chicken or other meat depending on the day.

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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius (Ancient Rome)
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria (13th-14th century)
Enseignemenz (14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first and second part (15th century)

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