A lot of work, but also a lot of fun
The previous historical recipe on Coquinaria consisted of three parts: two recipes for macaroni from World War One, and a page on the production of industrial pressed macaroni. There is also a page with part two of the history of making macaroni and other kinds of pasta in pre-industrial times. Now we travel further back in time, when hollow macaroni pipes were made piece by piece and by hand.
Macaroni: more than just hollow pipes
In an Italian-English lexicon from 1611 Maccaróni is defined as ‘a kind of meat [=dish] made of round pieces of paste, boyled in water and put into a dish with butter, spice and grated cheese upon them’. And according to the same lexicon a Maccaróne is “a gull, a lubby, a loggarhead that can do nothing but eat maccaróni”. Later this meaning came into use outside of Italy as well, and then changed to meaning dandy, or anyone portrayed in a satirical picture. This blogpost by The Cook and the Curator is about this interesting subject, and this page shows a collection of maccaróni-pictures.
Macaroni in Scappi’s Opera
The recipe on this page is from the cookery book that was written by the sixteenth-century Italian cook Bartolomeo Scappi, Opera dell’arte del cucinare (1570). This cookbook contains several recipes for pasta dishes. In 2004 I published his recipe for Tortelli in brodo, with some extra information on the contents of this cookbook, and in 2009 I published two recipes for pasta dough from Scappi. So, my interest in the pasta dishes of Scappi goes back a long way. However, this particular recipe was a challenge for me. The peculiar ingredients used in the dough (goat milk and sugar) and the making by hand of hollow pipes promised to result in an interesting dish.
Macaroni in the menus of Scappi
The combination of pasta with meat stock, cheese and sugar in the recipe below will raise many modern eyebrows. Is this meant as a savoury dish or as a sweet one? Is it a desert or a first course like in the modern Italian menu? Acually, it is neither.
In the menus that Scappi added to his cookbook , soups and pasta dishes are mainly mentioned as part of the second course. In a very rich menu that was mentioned for the second coronation of pope Pius V (which was not served because the ascetic pope did not approve such abundance) ‘Roman macaroni’ was to be served during the second course with 29 other dishes. This Roman macaroni is practically the same dish as the recipe on this page, the only difference being that the rolled-out pasta dough is not made into pipes but cut into small squares like mini-lasagne sheets. The pasta was to be accompanied by fish fritters, pasties with eel, lobster or tuna, sausages of sardines and sea locusts (Gammarus locusta), fried mackerel, fried trout with bitter oranges, fried eggs, fried spinach with raisins, sugar and rose vinegar, apple pie, stuffed pike and tench, and more dishes. No meat was to be served, because 17 January 1566 was a Friday, so a Fish day. Therefore, the macaroni on the menu would also not have been boiled in meat stock, but in milk.
The meal that Scappi had planned for the pope consisted of eleven piatti (serving-dishes) of each prepared dish, that were to be served by eleven table servants and eleven carvers. Scappi also mentions the amounts for each preparation. For example, in the first course, there is mention of candied nuts, to be served in eleven dishes, containing two pounds each. Other dishes contained the same amounts each of candied peel, candied melons and peaches. To these were added platters with three different kinds of cookies (thirty-three dishes with five cookies each) and two with different kinds of marzipan (twenty-four dishes with five pieces each). These dishes were not meant for one person, but were shared between multiple people. Scully explains in two footnotes to his edition of the Opera that one dish was probably meant for two, four or five persons. On Italian paintings from the sixteenth century can be clearly seen that the piatti or serving dishes were meant for multiple persons. Only the people at the high table were served individually, and with the most luxurious dishes, but it was customary for them to favour other people by sending some of the choicest morsels to them.
Sugar and savoury dishes
The enormous amount of sugar that was used in preparing the menu is very bad for one’s health. However, sugar began its career in the Middle Ages as a medicinal spice. In Italy, pasta was also sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon to make the dish ‘healthier’. During the sixteenth century sugar primarily became a stimulant that was enjoyed for its taste and it was used excessively. The first course of the meal described above is a fine example of this. During the seventeenth century, sugar disappeared from savoury dishes. However, nowadays savoury dishes have become sweetened once more, especially where it concerns industrial prepared foodstuffs and supermarket microwave meals. Just have a look at the list of ingredients on the packaging and you’ll be surprised at the many guises in which sugar and similar additives are present: sugar, glucose, fructose invert sugar, caramel, corn syrup, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, palm sugar, stevia, and those are just the natural sweeteners. It is practically impossible to find prepared food or foodstuffs that have not had sweeteners added in any form. This is all because of our acquired taste. It is better to learn to enjoy unsweetened dishes than to accept so-called alternative sweeteners. Just think of an alcoholic who drinks ‘alcohol-free beer’. He or she will not consume alcohol, but the brain will still think that it tastes alcohol.
Macaroni before Scappi
Scappi was not the first one to describe how hollow pasta is made. One century earlier Martino de Rossi described how to make maccaroni romaneschi in his cookbook Libro de arte coquinaria (1464/1465). It is simpler than Scappi’s version: the pasta dough is prepared with flour and water, and the macaroni is cooked in fat meat stock or water with butter. Rossi serves his macaroni with ‘good cheese, butter and sweet spices’. His description of making the hollow pasta pipes is less clear than the Scappi’s. The Italian humanist Platina who was a friend of Martino de Rossi, used his recipes for his own Latin book on food De honeste voluptate et valetudine, but in the macaroni recipe he leaves out the explanation altogether.
The original recipe by Scappi
The recipes for macaroni are from the chapter which describes dishes for a meat day in the second book of the Opera. The part of recipe 2.174 is for the pasta dough, and recipe 2.175 is for the preparation of hollow macaroni; edition Scully p.229, see bibliography). For the English translation I used the edition by Scully.
Facciasi una pasta simile alla soprascritta, ma piu sodetta, & piu dolci di zuccaro, & sia colorita di zafferano, e stendasi essa pasta, & facciasene sfoglio di grossezza d’una costa di coltello, & lascisi asciugare cioè impassire, e taglisi a liste larghe mezo dito, & lunghe quattro dita, & habbiasi uno stiletto di ferro, cioè a gucchia, come quel che si adopera a far le berette lungo un palmo, & pongasi esso stiletto sopra le liste di modo che copra la lista, & diasi la forma al maccarone con la palma della mano, in modo che la pasta babbia circondato tutto lo stiletto di ferro, & dapoi cauisi esso stiletto, & lascisi asciugare il maccarone, il qual sarà uoto, ma habbiasi auuertenza quando si fa esso maccarone, che lo sfoglio sia infarinato leggiermente, ae ciò non si attacchi al ferro, & quando saranno asciutti si potranno cuocere, & seruire come quelli di sopra. Auuertendo che questi & li so prascritti parimente si potranno cuocere con brodo grasso di carne, ouero con latte, & butiro.
Make up a dough similar to the one above but firmer, and sweeter with sugar; colour it with saffron. Spread the dough out, making sheets the thickness of the spine of a knife. Let it dry up – that is, dry out – and cut it in strips half a finger wide and four fingers long. Get an iron stiletto – that is, a needle a handswidth long, like what is used to make birettas – and put it on the strips so that it lies over the full length of the strip, and with the palm of your hand give it the shape of macaroni, so that the dough goes right around the iron stiletto; then draw out the stiletto. Let the macaroni, now hollow, dry. When making that macaroni, make sure that the sheet of dough is lightly floured so it will not stick to the iron rod. When they are dry they can be cooked and served like the ones above. Note that these as well as the ones above can be cooked in a fat meat broth or else in milk and butter
Although this seems to be a very complicated way of making macaroni, I decided to give it a try. After a while I developed a routine, and could form at least 200 macaroni pipes per hour.
First course or main dish for 6 to 8 persons; preparation in advance 3 hours + drying the macaroni; preparation 35 minutes.
250 tot 300 gr flour
4 Tbsp sugar
60 gr bread crumbs
1.25 dl (½ cup) (goat’s)milk
2 egg yolks
a little saffron
1 Tbsp hot water
extra flour to dust the worktop
meat stock or milk
250 gr mozzarella (preferably from buffalo milk)
100 gr Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp rose water
Preparation in advance
Make the pasta dough – Steep the breadcrumbs in tepid milk (from cow or goat) until the liquid has been absorbed. Squeeze it and temper in a large mixing bowl with egg yolks and sugar. Crush the saffron in a small bowl with a spoonful hot water. Add this water to the yolks, bread crumbs and sugar. The saffron itself can also be added. Now add the flour, start with 250 gram. Knead by hand or in a kitchen machine, and add more flour if the dough is sticky. It will remain a little sticky anyway, because of the milk. That is all for the best, as it will be easier to form the macaroni.
Make the macaroni – Roll out the dough by hand or by using a pasta machine. Sprinkle the working surface with flour, as well as the top of the pasta sheet if rolling out with a stick or roller. When using a pasta machine, also sprinkle the sheet of dough with flour after the first turn through the rollers in the thickest setting. When I rolled out the dough using the pasta machine, I stopped feeding the pasta sheet through the rollers at position 5 out of 7.
Spread the pasta sheets on clean (cloth) towels for fifteen minutes. The cut the sheets in pieces of about 10 centimeter/ 4 inches, and then cut these in strips of 1 centimeter/½ inch. I used a pizza cutter for this. Spread some flour over the strips. Take a meat pin from the barbecue, or a knitting needle, and place that lengthwise on a strip of dough. Fold the dough strip around the meat pin and pinch the edges together. Then carefully pull the pin out.
Dry the macaroni – The macaroni must dry before boiling. Place the pipes next to each other on a clean towel or a rack, take care that they do not touch each other. Place the pasta in a cool, dry space or use an electric dehydrator. I ended up with about 350 gram macaroni. Once the pasta has completely dried, it can be kept in a large bowl. They won’t stick together anymore, but they are brittle.
Bring 3 pints (1.5 liters) meat stock that has not been degreased to the boil. Please do not use stock cubes if you can, as you have just gone through all the trouble to make the macaroni by hand. Add the pasta to the meat stock and boil for thirty minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse briefly under cold running water. Drain the pasta again. Sprinkle the bottom of an oven dish with grated Parmesan cheese mixed with a little sugar and cinnamon. Put some pieces of mozzarella on this, and a third of the macaroni. Repeat twice, and sprinkle some more grated cheese with sugar and cinnamon on top. Place the dish in the centre of the oven at 180 °C/355 °F. For a brown upper crust, raise the heat in the oven to 200 °C/400 °F and bake for an additional last five minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle some rosewater over the dish.
Vegetarians can boil the pasta in milk instead of meat stock, just as the Catholics did in Scappi’s time on fish days.
Serve this filling dish piping hot. It can be presented either in one large dishe or in individual bowls.
The ancient Romans did not want to drink milk of animals with more than two teats. Cows have four. In Italian cookery books from the Middle Ages and the sixteenth century the preference for goat’s milk is still noticeable.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on Coquinaria
- John Florio, Queen Anne’s New World of Words, or Dictionarie of the Italian and English tongues […]. London, 1611. Online version.
- T. Scully, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L’Arte Et Prudenza D’Un Maestro Cuoco/The Art and Craft of a Master Cook (Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library). English translation, without original Italian text. University of Toronto press, 2008. Link to the original Italian text (facsimile).
- Silvano Serventi and Françoise Sabban, Pasta. The Story of a Universal Food. Columbia University press, 2002. French edition Les pâtes. Histoire d’une culture universelle. Actes Sud, 2001.
A recipe for very special pasta from the sixteenth century