“Ruman vel roman arabice malum granatum idem romania cibus qui fit inde”: “ruman or roman is the Arabic name for [Latin] malum granatum [pomegranate] and in the same way, romania is the food made with it”.
We find this definition in a beautiful 13th-century glossary of medicine, the Clavis Sanationis, written by the physician Simon of Genoa, a fundamental source that collects and explains medical terms written in various languages, in particular Arabic and Greek.
The recipe we are preparing today is part of the Liber de Coquina, an anonymous cookbook written in Latin around the end of the 13th century, and it is the Italian version of an oldest Arabic recipe, collected in the 10th-century Baghdadi cookbook Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ written by Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq. The two versions are quite different, but the fundamental ingredients are the same: chicken and pomegranates, with differences due to the cultural contexts and the temporal distance between the two recipes.
Below, you will find the original Latin source with our translation, a note about the Arabic text, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian.
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100 gr almonds
cured pork fatback
spices (cloves, black pepper, coriander, caraway)
Grind the almonds in the mortar and crush the pomegranate seeds in another mortar. Strain the juice and use it to dilute the almonds, filtering the almond milk.
Mince the onion and the cured pork fatback, then chop the chicken into pieces. Melt the cured pork fatback at low heat and make a soffritto with the onions and chicken. When they are well seared, add the almond milk.
Grind the spices and add them to the stew, cooking it for about one hour, depending on the size of the pieces of meat.
The differences between the two recipes
The Arabic recipe recommends to take one chicken and two small chickens (whereas the Italian text suggests just to take pulli, chickens) and cook them with water and chopped onions, without frying them (differently from the Italian text, in which onions and chickens are fried with cured pork fatback, called lardo in Italian), then add olive oil and the juice of two sour pomegranates and a third, sweet or sour. The Liber de Coquina suggests mixing sweet and sour pomegranates. We wrote more about the uses of pomegranates on Patreon.
The Arabic recipe then uses murri, the Arabic equivalent to garum, made with fish or fermented barley, an essential ingredient to give sapidity to the dish. We wrote about murri when we prepared garum. In the Italian version there is no murri, substituted with lardo, rich in glutamate but also in fats.
The absence of a product similar to garum, indeed, is probably one of the reasons why Italian medieval cooks use lardo and cheese abundantly, otherwise, foods would result quite bland, despite the presence of spices.
The spices added in the Arabic recipe are the same we chose for the Italian version: caraway, coriander, cloves, and black pepper, all present in the Liber de Coquina, despite the fact that Eastern spices like pepper and cloves are far more common than Mediterranean ones, more popular in the ancient times but not completely forgotten in the Middle Ages. Instead of coriander and caraway, you can use other spices common in medieval cuisine, for example nutmeg or cinnamon.
De romania: de romania, suffrigantur pulli cum lardo et cepis et terantur amigdale non mondate et distemperentur cum succo granatorum acrorum et dulcium. Postea, colletur et ponatur ad bulliendum cum pullis et cum cocleari agitetur. Et ponatur species.
Romania. To make romania, make a soffritto with chicken, cured pork fatback, and onions. Grind unpeeled almonds and dilute them with the juice of sour and sweet pomegranates. After that, sift it [the almond milk] and pour it to boil on the chicken, stirring with the spoon. Add spices.
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