Ova Elixa et Cucurbita – Ancient Roman Recipes


Ancient Romans and Greeks had at disposal two kinds of gourds, as described by the authors (for example, Pliny, Theophrastus, and Athenaeus): lagenaria longissima and bottle gourd. Athenaeus, in the Deipnosophists, writes about elongated gourds and round gourds, calling the first sikya (or Indian gourd) and the latter kolokynte or common gourd.
Pliny makes a similar distinction between cucurbita camararia (which dangles from the roof) and plebeia. The elongated gourd is grown in vine casings, Pliny writes, to give it a different form, usually a serpent shape. If let grow freely, it reaches seven pedes of length, about 2,7 meters, and it is eaten still young.
In the source we are using today, De Re Coquinaria, the author does not specify whether to use lagenaria longissima or bottle gourd, so you can choose the one you have at disposal. We paired this delicious side dish with hard-boiled eggs, from another recipe of the same source, but it will be perfect also with other plates, for example steak, beef stew, or shrimp cakes.
Below, you will find the original texts with our translations, the method, and the video of the recipes with subtitles in English and Italian.

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spices (black pepper, lovage, cumin)
fresh oregano
white wine
olive oil
wheat starch

Cut into slices and stir-fry the gourd, then pound it with the spoon. Mince the oregano and onion. Grind black pepper, lovage, and cumin, adding the oregano and onion, pounding all the ingredients until you obtain a homogeneous paste. Dilute the sauce with wine, a bit of garum, and olive oil. The sauce needs to be quite liquid.
Warm the sauce. As soon as it starts to boil, thicken with a bit of starch and remove it from the fire. Serve the gourd coated with its sauce.

Note about the ingredients
We suggest using a gourd young and tender to better mash it. If you are using an older gourd, add a bit of water to cook it and briefly pound it in the mortar.
For this and the egg recipe, use the kind of pepper you prefer. The author does not specify which variety to choose, but ancient Romans had at disposal black, white, and long pepper.
Garum was an ancient Mediterranean fish sauce, which you can substitute with a South-East Asian fish sauce (prepared in the same way as some kinds of garum) or, simply, with salt. Recently, we have prepared garum using a recipe from the Geoponics. On Patreon, you will find more about the process of production, the historical sources, and our work-in-progress, as well as an article about the usage of Mediterranean spices in ancient Roman cuisine.

Original text
Cucurbitas frictas tritas. Piper, ligusticum, cuminum, origanum, cepam, vinum, liquamen et oleum. Amulo obligabis in patina, et inferes.

Sauce for fried and mashed gourds. Pepper, lovage, cumin, oregano, onion, wine, garum, and oil. Thicken it in a pan with starch and serve.


black pepper

Hard boil the eggs. Shell and cut them into half. Grind the pepper in the mortar, adding a bit of garum and grated asafoetida. Pour the sauce on the eggs and serve them.

Note about the ingredients
Asafoetida is the equivalent to the ancient laser Parthicum, the cheaper kind of silphium. Whereas laser Cyrenaicum, the most costly and prized variety, gradually began to disappear since the 1st century, laser Parthicum is still used in many Eastern countries. We find both the varieties described in many sources, for example Historia Plantarum by Theophrastus, Materia Medica by Dioscorides, and Naturalis Historia by Pliny.

Original text
Ova elixa: liquamine, oleo, mero vel ex liquamine, pipere, lasere.

Hard-boiled eggs: garum, oil, excellent wine or garum, pepper, and laser.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Registrum Coquine (first part) by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

How to make garum
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