Considered a variety of eggplant, tomato does not appear in the Italian cookbooks for a long time, despite being present and cultivated in our country. Only in the 18th and 19th century, indeed, tomatoes will become popular, especially in Southern Italy, but we find a recipe for tomato sauce in Antonio Latini’s cookbook, recommended for simmered meat (17th century).
To know how to prepare a Renaissance recipe for tomato, we must read the books by the naturalists and physicians, not the cookbooks. Pietro Andrea Mattioli, Castore Durante, and Costanzo Felici, for instance, provide not only descriptions of the tomato, but also directions about how to prepare it: as anticipated above, tomatoes are considered eggplants and cooked in the same way.
In Italy, as we read in the books by the same authors, there were several varieties, red and yellow, whence the name still used today: pomodoro, golden apple. From the botanical illustrations, we see that they were quite big, and the texts describe them as flat, round with ribbing, round and smooth.
It does seem that in Italy there were no small varieties like modern-day ciliegini, described instead by Francisco Cervantes de Salazar in the Crónica de la Nueva España, in which the author writes about tomatoes as big as unripe grapes or limes, used to make sauces and soups with the addition of peppers.
Renaissance Italian recipes are not specifically written for tomatoes. The authors write that they are cooked in the same ways as eggplants: cut into pieces or sliced, floured, fried in olive oil or butter, and served with pepper, or dressed with salt, pepper, and oil, or with verjuice.
The recipe we are preparing today, selected from Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera (16th century), is for eggplants and very similar to the ones mentioned by Felici and Mattioli. The author recommends slicing and parboiling the eggplants, a passage that not only is unnecessary for tomatoes but also would ruin this delicate vegetable. We suggest using big tomatoes a bit unripe to prevent them from breaking while you fry them. The cooking time depends on how much your slices are thick and the tomatoes are unripe, but in any case, you should fry them for no more than a few minutes.
Verjuice or unripe grapes may be substituted with lemon or orange juice. We used four cloves of garlic for 300 grams of tomatoes, but it is up to your taste.
Scappi recommends two dressings for fried eggplants: the other requires just orange juice and pepper and is very similar to the ones described by the other Renaissance authors.
For more historical recipes based on vegetables and herbs, check out our new book, Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers, which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era, accompanied by an introduction about vegetables in the history of Italian cooking in the cookbooks and their relationship with dietetic, philosophical, and religious practices. The book is available on Amazon in English and Italian, in e-book and printed editions.
If you want to know more about medieval cooking, check out Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook. In addition, it is available our translation, commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th-century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic.
For more information about ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources and checking out our Patreon page, in which you find several articles about historical food and translations of ancient and medieval sources.
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300 grams tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
100 grams unripe grapes
80 grams basil
white wheat flour
Pound the garlic, basil, and two pinches of salt in the mortar. Pound the unripe grapes in another mortar and sift the juice, adding two or three tablespoons to the basil and garlic sauce.
Slice the tomatoes, then flour and fry them in olive oil. When they are cooked, plate them still hot with their sauce.
Mondinosi le molignane, e taglionsi in fette, et faccionsi perlessare in acqua, e lascinosi scolare su la tavola, et s’infarinino, e friggano in buono oglio de olive, et come saranno fritte, servanosi con pepe, et sugo di melangole sopra, overo con sapore fatto d’agresto, basilico, et aglio.
Clean and slice the eggplants, then parboil them in water, place them on a table to drain the water, flour, and fry in good olive oil. When they are fried, serve with pepper and orange juice, or with a sauce made with verjuice, basil, and garlic.
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 1-8
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)
Anonimo Toscano – parts 1-3 (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first part (15th century)
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