Renaissance Stuffed Cucumbers


Giacomo Castelvetro’s Brieve racconto di tutte le radici, di tutte l’erbe e di tutti i frutti che crudi o cotti in Italia si mangiano (short list of all roots, herbs, and fruits eaten in Italy both raw and cooked), published in 1614, is a fundamental source about the diet of Italians outside the courts in the late Renaissance and includes many recipes to prepare stews, soups, pies, and other dishes. Castelvetro’s cooking frequently recalls traditional Italian cuisine, in particular the recipe we are preparing today, which now would be made not only with cucumbers but also zucchini, a vegetable that comes from the New World that the author does not mention.
For this recipe, Castelvetro recommends big cucumbers, writing that the small ones are used to make salads with pepper and onions or soups with gooseberries or unripe grapes. To make stuffed cucumbers, it is necessary to remove the internal part that contains the seeds, tenerume in the text, and this means that the best variety to use is something like Armenian or snake cucumber, particularly suitable for this kind of preparation and illustrated in Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s Discorsi sulla Materia Medica di Dioscoride (which dates back to the 16th century) and probably cultivated in the Antiquity, since Pliny describes a kind of cucumber very similar to this one. We used the Abruzzese tortarelli that we cultivate in our garden, which is an Italian variety of snake cucumber. In autumn, they are quite short and small, but in summer they may reach 90 centimeters.
There are many possible variants for this recipe. Castelvetro does not specify which kinds of herbs to use, but in another passage, he lists a series of good herbs that includes parsley, mint, thyme, chard, and basil. You may choose between these or others commonly used in this period: fennel, oregano, marjoram, savory, sage, and others. Parmigiano was one of the most popular kinds of aged cheese since the Middle Ages (and still today), but another excellent possibility is pecorino. In addition, the author mentions pepper and strong spices, but you may use just pepper or the spices you prefer.
This time, we prepared a filling quite thick to stuff our cucumbers. We used one egg and three tablespoons each of bread and cheese, but another possibility is to add more eggs or less bread and cheese, according to your taste.

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1 big cucumber
fresh herbs (parsley, mint, thyme)
1 egg
stale bread
olive oil
spices (cloves, black pepper, nutmeg)

Cut the cucumbers in half and discard the internal part. Mince the herbs and grind the spices in the mortar. Beat the egg and add the grated bread and cheese, olive oil, a pinch of spices, and two pinches of salt, then stuff the cucumbers. Cook them in a pan for about half an hour at low heat.

Original text
De’ più grossi ne facciamo un buon cibo, aprendogli pel mezzo e tutto quel tenerume cavato; e con buone erbette ben tagliate vi mettiamo un uovo e pan grattugiato con cacio e olio o butiro; il tutto impastiamo e il vòto del citriuolo ne empiamo, e ad arrostire su la graticola lo mettiamo, o in una teggiuzza di terra o di rame stagnata col suo coperto lo lasciamo adagio cuocere. Vi si può ancora aggiungere pepe o spezie forti.

We prepare a good dish with the biggest [cucumbers], opening them in the middle and removing the tender part. Then we take good minced herbs, an egg, grated bread, cheese, and oil or butter, mix them, stuff the empty part, and roast the cucumbers on the grill or in a clay or tinned copper pan with its lid, cooking them at low heat. You may add pepper or strong spices.

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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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