Medieval Tuscan Fried Meatballs


The Libro de la Cocina, also known as Anonimo Toscano, is one of the most complete and fascinating cookbooks written in Italy in the 14th century, with plenty of delicious recipes that can be easily prepared still today, full of vegetables and aromatic herbs. It is one of the first cookbooks written in an Italian vernacular (in this case, in Tuscan) instead of Latin and collects 175 recipes for all kinds of medieval plates, from meat, fish, and vegetables to pies and pasta, many of which very similar to dishes that are still popular in the traditions of Central Italy, especially Tuscany and Umbria.
One of the most interesting features of this cookbook is that it suggests several variations for many recipes to prepare lean or fat plates, making this source a satisfying and exhaustive handbook that allows us to recreate historical plates and experiment with medieval preparations according to our taste, using ingredients that, for the most part, are common and easy to find.
Our translation of Anonimo Toscano’s Libro de la Cocina is now available on Amazon in English and Italian, in e-book and print editions. The text is accompanied by an introduction about medieval cooking, the basic methods, and ingredients, in addition to notes to the text and a glossary.
The recipe we are preparing today is called crispelli di carne, pork belly meatballs, but the mixture described in the text can also be used as a filling for ravioli and tortelli as suggested by the author. The same recipe also appears in the Liber de Coquina, in which the anonymous author recommends wrapping this mixture either in pasta or caul fat, a common ingredient used for meatballs since ancient Rome, as we saw in the past. In the original text, there are no directions about the ratio among the ingredients. The author suggests using pork belly, but if you prefer a leaner cut of meat, use more cheese. We chose fresh caciotta, but the outcome will be tasty also with aged cheese, for instance pecorino or Parmigiano.
We used some aromatic herbs we had in our garden, but there are plenty of possibilities: the anonymous Tuscan author generally uses herbs such as parsley, dill, marjoram, rosemary, bay laurel, lesser calamint, mint, basil, lavender, and rue, but you can use all kinds of Mediterranean herbs available in the Middle Ages according to your taste.
A bit of sugar to accompany savory plates is a typical medieval use (in the same way as, in ancient Rome, we find honey in most dishes), intended to make the dish more pleasant, however, if you do not like it, skip this ingredient without substantial changes in the outcome.
We tried these meatballs with lentils prepared with oregano and watermint and with minced herbs, a recipe recommended by this author that we prepared in the past, but you can also serve them with cheese gnocchi or green ravioli, or even with medieval pizza.

If you want to know more about medieval cooking, in addition to our translation of the Libro de la Cocina, check out our books De Observatione Ciborum. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks and Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook. For more information about ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. You find further translations of historical sources and articles about ancient and medieval cooking and dietetics in our Patreon page.
For more historical recipes with aromatic herbs, check out our book, Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers, which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era.
To support our work, you can buy us a beer or purchase our merchandise.

400 grams pork belly
100 grams cheese
2 egg whites
aromatic herbs (rosemary, sage, fennel)
50 grams white wheat flour
brown cane sugar

Remove the rind from the pork belly and simmer it for 30 minutes, then discard the water and mince it finely with the aromatic herbs and cheese and mix with the egg whites, flour, and two pinches of salt. Melt the lard. Shape small meatballs and fry them in lard for a few minutes. Serve them with a pinch of sugar.

Original text
Prendi ventresca di porco scorticata; lessala, e tritala forte col coltello; togli erbe odorifere bona quantità, e pestale forte nel mortaio; mettivi su del cascio frescho con esse, e un poco di farina, e distempera con albume d’ova, sì che sia duro. E, preso del grasso del porco frescho in bona quantità, metti ne la padella, sì che bolla, e fane crispelli; e cotti, e cavati, mettivi su del çuccaro.

Take pork belly without rind; simmer it and mince it well with the knife. Pound a good amount of aromatic herbs energetically in the mortar, add fresh cheese and a bit of flour, and mix with egg whites, obtaining a hard filling. Take a good amount of fresh pork fatback, place it in the pan to boil, and make crispelli. When they are cooked, remove them from the fire and dust with sugar.

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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 – books 1-9
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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