Papal Rome and the Spanish Golden Age

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 19

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In this podcast we’re going to explore the rise of regional and national cuisines in Europe, focusing on Italy and Spain. We’ll read the culinary writings of Bartolomeo Scappi – a brilliant Italian chef who brought together specialty dishes from all over Italy. Then we’re going to take a look at excerpts from two classic books of Spanish cookery – which will vividly evoke Spain’s rich food culture.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Brisavoli

The descendant of this recipe still survives in Italy and among Italian Americans, but the flavor combinations speak of centuries past—when sweetness was still in vogue with meat, as were a wide range of spices and other exotic flavorings. Light-colored veal was by far the preferred flesh, and what Scappi calls for in the earlier recipe, polpette, are very thin slices, about the size of your hand (or as we would call them today, scallopine).

As usual, Scappi offers many options for techniques, but grilling really does work wonderfully. Scappi used both liquefied lard and lardo , an unsmoked but cured pork fat. The orange juice he would have used was the sour Seville rather than a sweet orange. A combination of orange and lime juice will work well. The pressing technique aids the marination, and you can accomplish this by putting some plastic wrap and a book on top of the slices of meat and then piling heavy objects on top.

To Make Brisavoli of lean Veal meat, fried and cooked on the grill. When you have cut the Brisavoli in the same way that you cut veal for polette, and have beaten with the side of a knife on one side and the other, sprinkle with a little vinegar, Greek wine, in which you’ve soaked some crushed garlic, along with fennel pollen, or crushed coriander, pepper, and salt sprinkled on, then let it sit under a press, one on top of the other, for an hour. Then if you like fry in lard or unsmoked bacon fat, first having floured with very fine flour, and fry just until you give it a little color, so it remains tender. Serve hot with sugar, cinnamon, and orange juice over, or with a sauce made of vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

But if you want to use the grill, after it has been seasoned, and pressed, place it on the grill with a slice of lardo for each, so the brisavoli remain more tender, letting them cook over a low fire and turning them often. The smoke that comes from the fat dripping into the grill gives them the most perfect aroma and best taste. When cooked, they should be served with one of the sauces mentioned above, which were served with these when fried.

These Brisavoli in place of putting them on a grill, you can cook them in a casserole, moistened with lard with the same slices of lardo above, and serve with a sauce, and orange juice.

• Conejo en Escabeche

Escabeche is a very typical Spanish dish made normally with fish or fowl, but it also works wonderfully with rabbit. This recipe comes from a manuscript written by Juan Valles entitled Regalo de la Vida Humana, which was composed in the middle of the century. It shows how spices were still common. Compare it to the recipe that follows—from Spain in the next century. Incidentally, escabeche is meant to be kept out at room temperature for about a week, but if you are squeamish, feel free to use a refrigerator.

Roast the rabbits very well and then cut them in pieces and place in a new pot or in a similar glazed earthenware vase, placing between the pieces of rabbit laurel leaves and a bit of chopped sage, and then make the escabeche and put it on each in a way so the pieces are well covered with the escabeche, and make the escabeche in this way: Take two parts of good white wine and one of strong vinegar, but in this you must take consideration if the vinegar is strong or weak, because if it is weak it will be necessary to add more, and add enough lemons cut, and grind cloves, pepper and ginger and a little nutmeg and let it boil, salt to taste and put over the rabbits, but be advised that the rabbits must be cold when you add the escabeche. Some add a little oil in this escabeche and for rabbits it works but not for partridges or other birds.  

Consider how this use of spices is related to that in medieval Persia and in ancient India.

• Pork Chorizo

Try to make these sausages yourself. You don’t need any equipment at all; you just need some sausage casings, which can be bought online or from a butcher. Use beef middles, which are about the size used for thick bratwurst. The only concession that you should make to modernity is using a pinch of potassium nitrite (pink salt) to prevent botulism. It also brings out the bright red color and flavor of the pork.

Cut the pork, preferably shoulder with about 20 percent fat, by hand with a cleaver; stuff it into the casings by hand; and tie it off with string. Prick the sausages with a pin a few times to prevent bursting when you poach them, very gently. Notice the restrained hand in flavoring and seasoning, which is characteristic of the court of Felipe III of Spain. The most obvious ingredient missing is chili powder, which was not yet used in Spain—at least not at court, though it had been discovered in the New World a century before.

Take pork meat that is more lean than fat, and put it in a marinade of just wine with a touch of vinegar. The meat should be cut into little radish-sized knobs and the marinade should be sparing, no more than to cover. Season with spices and salt and let it sit for 24 hours. Fill up the chorizos. They should be a bit plump. Cook them in water. These can be kept all year. Eating them cooked, there should be so little vinegar that that you barely sense it before eating them.

Suggested Reading:

Albala, The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe.

Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II.

Scappi, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi: The Art and Craft of a Master Cook.

Images courtesy of:

• Italian Cuisine: Shutterstock
• Catherine de Medici: Attributed to François Clouet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Bartolomeo Scappi: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Opera: By [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Sense of Taste: Jusepe de Ribera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Pious V: El Greco [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Map of Spain: By C3PO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Charles V: Titian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Bacon: Shutterstock
• Spanish Empire in 1600: By en:User:Câmara [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Maravedi: By Francisco Javier Gª-Ortiz Cebeira (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Olla Podrida: Shutterstock
• Philip III: Juan Pantoja de la Cruz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Velázquez painting: Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons