Numerous ancient Roman recipes have made their way down to us although we cannot be absolutely certain of their accuracy given that the primary sources, such as Apicius’ De Coquinaria have made it down to us via copies made by monks and quite likely distorted by tastes and available ingredients of their own times.
It is interesting how incredibly popular ingredients or elements of Roman cookery such as the fish based sauce called “Garum” should become completely unknown to us, at least as far as its preparation is concerned.
As outlined in our page on Roman food the foods and recipes found on Roman tables varied and went in parallel with did Roman fortunes, wealth and culture both on the way up and the subsequent way down. The early Romans were austere shepherds/warriors. The Romans of the Republic were increasingly rich and in spite of the warnings of a nostalgic few such as Cato, avidly took on the habits of the populations they took over, for example the Greeks.
Conquest and riches gave access to imports from distant countries and exotic spices and ingredients with the obvious consequences this would have on traditional foods and recipes.
It seems that Roman recipes were handed from cook to cook with little information by way of quantities, presumably because it would be the cook’s on job to decide how and how much of each ingredient to add.
The philosophy behind Roman cookery (and tastes) was one of addition. This contrasts with the modern western approach whereby the various ingredients and spices are generally meant to enhance and support a major flavour which takes the principal role in the dish. This could possibly be likened to oriental cookery where the notion of opposites (ying and yang) plays a strong role and opposing flavours are often played against one another in equally powerful quantities. For example in sweet and sour!
The space that follows will be employed to add ancient Roman recipes….
Please note: these recipes are shown for information purposes only. Should you try them you are doing so at your own risk – but do let us know how you get on!
Fabam Vitellianam – Cream of broad beans à la Vitellio – Cook the broad beans and when it has frothed add leaks, coriander and mallow wild flowers.