Today we prepare a medieval walnut bread, selected from Anonimo Veneziano, an anonymous 14th-century Venetian cookbook. It is an aromatic and spiced bread, seasoned with many spices, onion, and fresh herbs, intended for a banquet, not as a common people’s everyday meal.
We know from the sources, both medical and culinary, that there were many kinds of bread during the Middle Ages, made with wheat, millet, barley, with or without leaven. Unleavened bread, prepared also by ancient Greek and Romans, was considered more difficult to digest than well-leavened white bread. In this recipe, as common for ancient, medieval and Renaissance recipes, the author says nothing about the leaven, but it is probably a leavened bread, seasoned and then shaped like a fugaza: focaccia. Otherwise, with this method, the outcome would be an indigestible, heavy preparation, unlikely for a dish meant for noble people. We chose to use sourdough, one of the most used leavening since the Antiquity. Another leavening used by ancient Romans and possibly survived during the Middle Ages, as described by Pliny and Palladius, was prepared with grape must mixed with bran or wheat flour and dried, but in the Antiquity people also used as a starter the bread dough conserved from the previous day.
We suggest pairing this bread with a meat dish, for example, roast lamb, chicken with fennel flowers, quails with sumac, or tripe. Enjoy!
white wheat flour
white cane sugar
spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, black and long pepper, ginger, cinnamon leaves)
fresh herbs (mint, rosemary, thyme)
Prepare the dough, mixing the flour, sourdough, two pinches of sea salt with warm water until it reaches a smooth and elastic consistency. Let the dough rest for at least one hour in a warm place.
Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients. Pound in the mortar the spices and a bit of sugar, then add the ginger, peeled and minced, and the grated onion. Now, you can add the walnuts. Mince finely the fresh herbs and mix them in the mortar with the walnut paste, grinding everything together.
When the dough is well leavened, flour and roll it into a sheet. Coat it with the walnut paste and knead mixing all well. Form a round bread and flatten it. Let the bread rest for 15-20 minutes, then put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.
When it is done, let it cool for a while and serve.
Spices and aromatic herbs
The medieval author recommends using sweet and strong spices for this recipe. Luckily, in the same cookbook, we find the recipes for both the mix of spices. Sweet spices, wrote the anonymous author, are cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cinnamon leaves; strong spices are instead cloves, nutmeg, round pepper, and long pepper. Clearly, you don’t need to use all of them: you can choose some spices from the one and the other spice mix according to your taste.
The author says nothing about what kinds of fresh herbs we have to use, just that we need to choose good herbs. Basing on other recipes, we selected mint, rosemary, and thyme, but you can use the aromatic herbs of the Old World you prefer: marjoram, savory, sage, bay leaves, lesser calamint, dill, cilantro, pennyroyal, oregano, and others.
Pane de noxe maravigliosso e bone. Se tu voy fare pan de noce, toy le noce e mondalle e pestale, e toy de herbe bone e un poco de cevola gratà e specie dolze e forte e uno pocho de zucharo, e miti in lo mortaro con le noxe e fa pastume. Poy toy fior de farina e fane un folglio a modo de lasagne grande e largo e sotile, e miti questo batuto suso, e muolzilo tuto insembre e falo a modo de uno pane, e poy lo caricha ch’ el vengna sotille a modo de una fugaza; metilo a choxere in lo forno, e quando l’ è cocto, trailo fuora e laselo afredare.
Marvelous and good walnut bread. To prepare walnut bread, shell and pound the walnuts [in the mortar]. Add in the mortar with the walnuts good herbs, a little of grated onion, sweet and strong spices, and a little sugar to make a paste. Prepare a dough with white flour and roll it into a big, large, thin sheet as you do when you make lasagne. Spread the walnut paste on the dough, then knead everything together preparing a bread. Afterward, flatten it to make the bread as thin as focaccia. Cook it in the oven and when it is done, remove from the oven and let it cool.
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