Monday, May 31, 2010

So what have I learned??

So ancient Rome wasn't all dinner parties and grand banquets.  They lived ordinary, normal lives, working and raising families just like we do today.  There were bakeries and take-out restaurants throughout ancient Rome and most homes had a central wood stove in which they did the majority of their cooking.  Their diet consisted mainly breads, olives, cheeses, nuts, fruits and pickled meats or seafood and, of course, wine (although they watered it down). Most of the foods we think of as traditionally Italian really are not, at least not Roman.  There were no sun dried tomatoes, no mozzarella, no noodles...  Just lots of fish, herbs, honey and wine.  One of the major ingredients in ancient cooking was garum, a fish sauce used in nearly everything.  It was made by frying small fish (like anchovies) over high heat until they basically disintegrated into a liquid.  Today we have asian fish sauces that are similar, so there is no need to simmer anchovies all day long!  Garum was combined with vinegar, honey, wine or oil to create a balance of sweet or salty, depending on the dish.  I assume this was used primarily for a preservative effect, much like all the herbs and spices.  I used bay leaves in just about everything (and happily left out the fish sauce) as well as olive oil or honey and wine.  Their dishes were plentiful and there are many source out there in which you can rediscover ancient Roman cuisine.  The food is flavorful, healthy and a pleasant combination of whole, natural ingredients that is a nice change in today's processed and fast food world.  A quote from one of Emperor Nero's advisors, Gaius Petronius, sums up Roman cooking best.  He says """After a generous rubdown with oil, we put on dinner clothes. We were taken into the next room where we found three couches drawn up and a table, very luxuriously laid out, awaiting us.We were invited to take our seats. Immediately, Egyptian slaves came in and poured ice water over our hands. The starters were served. On a large tray stood a donkey made of bronze. On its back were two baskets, one holding green olives, and the other black. On either side were dormice, dipped in honey and rolled in poppy seed. Nearby, on a silver grill, piping hot, lay small sausages. As for wine, we were fairly swimming in it."

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