Blue summer sauceAn Italian recipe from the fifteenth century
The colour of food is important to the way in which we experience it. Food wich is green, golden, white or red is thought of as tasty food. Food wich looks blue is less attractive. Ingredients wich are blue-coloured by nature are very few. All that comes to mind are some kinds of fruit, like blueberries and brambles (or blackberries), and plums and grapes that have a blue skin. Some fish get a blue layer on their skin when poached in a sour liquid (trout, pike).
And other blue food, cheeses like roquefort, stilton or gorgonzola, is actually "off".
In the recipe below blackberries are the main ingredient in a spectacular sauce that is slightly sour in taste. It is a beautiful accompaniment to succulently poached white meat like breast of chicken, or fricandeau of veal. However: when I made it, the sauce did not turn blue, but a very dark reddish purple. The only thing turning blue was the sponge for the washing-up.
Libro de arte Coquinaria of Martino de Rossi (1464/1465)
The recipe is taken from the Libro de arte coquinaria by Maestro Martino de Rossi. Maestro Martino was employed by various illustrious masters: Fransesco Sforza in Milan, Ludovico Trevisano the patriarch of Aquileia Ludovico Trevisano, and the grandduke Giacomo Trivulzio. His book, written about 1464/65, was the most influential cookbook in Italy until halfway into the sixteenth century. Since it was so succesful, several manuscripts are still extant.
The recipes were used by several writers of later cookbooks, including Bartolomeo Sacchi who knew Martino personally. He is better known as the humanist Platina. In his book De honeste voluptate (1474, "On honest indulgence and good health" edition), Platina discourses on the properties of good food. For the practical part of his book he used the recipes of Martino.
In the Netherlands Gerard Vorselman used the book of Platina as one of his sources for his Nyeuwen coock boeck (1560, "New cookbook", edition). And this is how the recipes of Maestro Martino came to the Netherlands. However, the recipe cited below does not appear in Vorselman's book.
The original recipe
The original text of the recipe from Libro de arte coquinaria by Maestro Martino de Rossi, taken from La gastronomie au Moyen Age (O. Redon, F. Sabban, S. Servanti) Éd.Stock, 1995, p.235/6. This book is translated in English as The medieval kitchen (Ed. Stock). In the edition of E. Faccioli (Arte della cucina. Libri di ricette. Testi sopra lo scalco, il trinciante e i vini dal XIV al XIX secolo, I, Milan, 1966, pp.115-204) this is recipe nr 156.
|Sapor celeste de estate. Piglia de li moroni salvatiche che nascono in le fratte, et un poche de amandole ben piste, con un pocho de zenzevero. Et queste cose distemperarai con agresto et passarale per la stamegnia.||Heavenly blue sauce for the summer. Take blackberries that grow in the shrubs, and some almonds, well grounded, with a little ginger. And bring to taste with verjuice, and pass through a sieve.|
Preparation in advance
Poach the chicken breast in chicken stock (that you can use again to make soup). Let the meat cool in the stock.
Crush the blackberries in a mortar or use a blender. Stir in almonds and ginger. When you are lucky the liquid will turn dark blue. If not, be happy with a purple sauce. Stir in verjuice or apple vinegar.
Make a puree by forcing the mixture through a sieve. Taste it, and a little sugar.
Cut the cold meat into thin slices, arrange them on a platter. Spoon the sauce over the meat.
Because of the sour taste it is hard to combine this sauce with wine. Enjoy this dish with bread as a special and low-calorie-lunch. Drink water with it.
All descriptions of ingredients
Verjuice - The juice of sour, unripe grapes. You can still buy it, but you may have to look for it. In the Netherlands verjuice was also made from unripe apples and sorrel. You can use applecider vinegar as a substitute.More about verjuice and a recipe to make your own verjuice
The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)
- Gheeraert Vorselman, Eenen nyeuwen coock boeck. Edition E. Cockx-Indestege, Eenen nyeuwen coock boeck. Kookboek samengesteld door Gheeraert Vorselman en gedrukt te Antwerpen in 1560. Wiesbaden, 1971
- M.E. Milham, Platina: On Right Pleasure and Good Health (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, V. 168) . Critical edition and translation of De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine . Med.&Ren. Texts & Studies vol.168, Tempe/Arizona, 1998
- O. Redon, F. Sabban and S.Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy (La Gastronomie au Moyen Age. 150 recettes de France et d'Italie. Ed. Stock, 1995 (1991))
- L. Ballerini and J. Parzen, The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book (California Studies in Food and Culture) . (Libro de arte coquinaria from Martino de Rossi). English translation, without the Italian original text. With some recipes from the Cuoco Napoletano and the Libro de cosina. University of California Press, 2005. Online edition of the original, Italian text from the edition by Faccioli.