Radish, in particular raw, was a common appetizer in the Antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, despite being considered heavy to digest and a poor food by Pliny, who calls it cibus inliberalis, unsuitable for free men. It was generally eaten in salads, as we read in Galen’s De Facultatibus Alimentorum and De Re Coquinaria, but also in the book about salads written in the Renaissance by the naturalist Costanzo Felici.
In De Re Coquinaria, radish is simply dressed with garum and pepper. According to Galen, a common dressing for the roots was olive oil and fenugreek, or vinegar and garum, and radish was eaten both raw and cooked. The leaves, the Greek physician writes, were used only for necessity. The stalks, which grow in spring to bring flowers (and then the pods that contain the seeds), were simmered and dressed with oil, garum, and vinegar. Even the pods, Felici writes, were added to salads for their pleasant flavor.
In the medieval cookbooks, we find scarce references to this vegetable, which continued to be used mainly for salads. In Anonimo Toscano’s Libro de la Cocina, instead, there are two recipes, one for the lean days and the other for the days of the vigil, in addition to a simple method for radish leaves, simmered and stir-fried with olive oil and leek or onion.
The first recipe requires simmering the radish and frying it with olive oil, onion, and salt, plating with ground spices. The second does not mention simmering the radish, but this passage is probably taken for granted by the author. It is unclear whether the radish must be stir-fried, but probably not, since there are no onions in the list of ingredients.
We made a soup with simmered radish, eggs, and grated cheese, using 100 grams of radish for each plate with a poached egg and omitting the spices, but you can make another choice. A different way to prepare this recipe may be by following the previous method, plating with cheese and poached eggs or adding an egg beaten with a bit of broth just before removing the radish from the fire.
We used the cooking broth of the radish, but if you want, plate it with a bit of chicken or beef broth. Among the spices, choose some of the ones more common in this and other Italian medieval cookbooks, for instance pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, or nutmeg. The best kind of cheese for this plate is pecorino, but you may also use Parmigiano or another aged cheese.
If you want to know more about the source of this recipe, we recommend our new book Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan recipes. For more historical recipes with vegetables, check out our book, Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers, which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era.
If you are interested in medieval cooking, check out 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 on our Patreon page, among which the first nine books of De Re Coquinaria.
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Clean the radish, discarding the leaves, and simmer it in salted water with a bit of olive oil for about 15 minutes. Break an egg and lay it gently in hot water just below the point of boiling. Remove the egg after a minute. The yolk must remain tender.
Grate the cheese. Plate the radish with a bit of broth, a poached egg, and the cheese.
Togli raponcelli, bene bulliti in acqua, e poni a sofriggere con oglio, cipolla e sale; e quando sono cotti e apparecchiati, mettivi spetie in scudelle.
Altramente. Togli raponcelli, ovvero paperdelli, con olio e sale e cascio gratato e ova debattute; e giongevi su cascio e ova perdute, nel dì del sabbato.
Boil the radish well in water, they fry with oil, onion, and salt. When it is cooked, plate dusting with spices.
Another recipe. Take radish, namely paperdelli, with oil, salt, grated cheese, and beaten egg. And add cheese and poached eggs on the days of the vigil.
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)
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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