Medieval Veal Roast with Fennel-Flower Sauce


This week, we present a recipe for veal roast with a simple and delicious sauce based on fennel and rosemary from Anonimo Veneziano’s Libro di Cucina, a beautiful 14th-century cookbook.
Fennel is a very popular plant in ancient and medieval cuisine. There are two kinds of fennel, as the authors recall, for example Ugo Benzi and Michele Savonarola (15th century), one cultivated and the other wild. The first is considered more temperate.
All the parts of the fennel are used for the historical recipes, but especially the leaves and seeds. The flowers appear in some medieval recipes, mainly to prepare sauces for meat. In the Liber de Coquina and Anonimo Toscano (end of the 13th and 14th century), we also find Florence fennel.
Ugo Benzi writes that its leaves are used in foods and salads. They produce good humors and benefit the chest. The physician recommends eating the root simmered with chickpeas, since it stimulates the appetite, but the best part is the seeds. In addition fennel, both wild and cultivated, benefits the sigh.
In this recipe, Anonimo Veneziano forgot to specify with which kind of liquid we have to dilute the sauce, writing just distempera. In the other recipes for sauces written in this part of the book, he always recommends using vinegar or verjuice, which is the juice obtained from unripe grapes. Ancient and medieval authors, such as Artemidorus of Tarsus (1st century BCE) and Mainus de’ Maineris (14th century), usually suggest vinegar in winter and verjuice in summer, for medical reasons. You can use one of these two liquids or the juice of lemon or orange, but we find verjuice and vinegar better with the other flavors.
The recipe is for whichever kind of meat, as the author specifies. We chose veal because the delicate flavor of this meat is enhanced by this sauce, aromatic and sweet, but you can use the meat you prefer. We recommend in particular pork or chicken.
We greased the meat with lard, but you can also use olive oil or pork fatback, finely minced and beaten with the knife. Maestro Martino (15th century), in his Libro de Arte Coquinaria, recommends avoiding to pre-cook veal in water before roasting it (the method suggested for coarser meats), but covering it with pork fatback and aromatic herbs. We skipped the herbs because we are already using a herb-based sauce.
Chicken or capon do not need to be precooked.
If you do not have fennel flowers, you may substitute them with the seeds or leaves.

To know more about fennel and verjuice in the historical sources, check out our Patreon page, in which you find several articles about ancient and medieval foods and translations of books of cooking and dietetics, including the first two parts of Anonimo Veneziano‘s cookbook and Mainus de’ Maineris’ Opusculum de Saporibus.
If you are interested in medieval food, check out our new book, with the translation (into English and Italian) and a commentary of the Registrum Coquine, written in the 15th century by Johannes Bockenheim.
If you want to read a book about ancient cuisine, it is available our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources (Italian edition here).
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700 gr veal
1 egg
fennel flowers

Grease the veal with lard. Cook it in the oven for 30-35 minutes. The cooking time may change depending on the size.
Hard-boil an egg. Remove the fennel flowers from stalks and the rosemary leaves from the twigs, then pound them in the mortar with the hard-boiled egg yolk, adding a pinch of salt and diluting with verjuice enough to make the sauce quite liquid.
Slice the roast and serve it covered with the sauce.

Original text
Salsa a ziaschaduna carne. Toy lo fiore del fenochio non serato, po’ toy un rosso d’ovo duro bene e toy rosmarino e masenali con quello fiore e distempera ogni cossa inseme e sarà bono.

Sauce for any kind of meat. Take fennel flowers opened [literally, not closed], an egg yolk hard-boiled well, and rosemary. Pound them with the flowers and dilute all the ingredients together, and it will be good.

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Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-3
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (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 and second part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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