Broccoli in the Opera

A winter vegetable for Lent

Saint Benedict and monks about to eatThe Opera from this recipe has nothing to do with music, and everything with the opus magnus of Italiaan cook Bartolomeo Scappi, which appeared in print in 1570. Opera means 'the work' (in Italian, in Latin it would have been 'the works'). Nowadays the cookbook is mainly known for its magnificent engravings which illustrate all kinds of kitchens, kitchen utensils, and even chamber furnishings (indcluding a footwarmer). The recipe on this page is to celebrate the lovely English translation of the Opera that was published by the Canadian culinairy historian Terence Scully in 2008.

Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577) already had a professional life to be proud of when his book was published. He served with several cardinals, and was cuoco segreto (personal cook) for pope Pius IV (1556-1565) and his successor Pius V (1566-1572).
A brief description of the Opera can be found at Scappi's recipe for Tortelli in brodo. The picure on the left is of a sixteenth century fresco from the Abby of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, which depicts Saint benedict with his brethren starting a meal. On the small plates are little fish, the serving dish is filled with a vegetable. Probably not broccoli, but some kind of leafy green. For the record: Bartolomeo Scappi did not work in a monastery kitchen, but in palatial kitchens. His patrons were worldly prelates, not monks.

"I don't like broccoli"

Broccoli is probably the most hated vegetable on Earth. Maybe that is because of the cabbage odor that permeates the kitchen when it is cooked. "Just don't eat broccoli!", you would say. But alas, broccoli is so disgustingly healthy that conscientious parents traumatize their offspring by offering these green flower buds again and again. American ex-president George H.W. Bush (father of the other Bush) is one of the most well known broccoli haters of this time. A quote from 1990: "I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." (view this little speech on YouTube in an fragment of the British quizz Have I got News for You). But there is also an American fansite dedicated to broccoli. And I know of not one but several cats who love to aet broccoli. My own cat Clio even nibbled Brussels sprouts.

But broccoli is so healthy!

All members of the cabbage family are healthy, but broccoli is the champion. This vegetable is rich in fibers, and contains relatively high amounts of calcium, iron, and vitamins C and E. Some even say that one of the chemicals in broccoli, Indole-3-carbinol, can not only prevent cancer, but even cause a decrease in tumorgrowth. Broccoli is not unique in this, other kinds of cabbage also contain indole-3-carbinol.

The original recipe
The Italian recipe is from the facsimile edition from 2002 of the Opera (online edition), from book III (recipes for fishdays and Lent, leaf 153, recipe CCXXXVII). The English translation is taken from de edition by T.Scully, page 363, recipe# 237. More on Lent can be found at the medieval recipe for Fake Fish.

Per cuocere Broccoli asciutti.
PIglinosi li broccoli dal mese di Febraro per tutto Marzo netti delle frondi, & habbiasi la parte piu tenera che non sia fiorita, & facciasi bollir l'acqua con sale, & come i broccoli saranno accommodati in mazzuoli ponganosi in quella acqua bollente, & non si faccia no troppo cuocere, ma cauinosi, e sciolganosi, & ponganosi in piatti, & dapoi habbiasi oglio bollente, e spargasi cosi caldo con la cocchiara sopra i broccoli, giungendoui sugo di melangole, pepe, & un poco di quel brodo nel qual son cotti, & seruanosi caldi, percioche altrimente non uagliono. Si pu˛ soffriggere con ol'oglio uno spigolo d'aglio ammaccato per dare odore al broccolo, & quando si uorranno conseruare per una o due hore, si poranno in acqua fredda, & si lascieranno stare poi che saranno perlessati sin'a tanto che si uorranno ricuocere. In questo modo si conserueranno i broccoli uerdi,& non piglieranno tristo odore, & si seruiranno nel modo sopradetto.
To cook dry broccoli.
Get broccoli between February and the end of March, with its leaves removed. Take the tenderest part of it that has not flowered. Boil salted water. With the broccoli done up into little bunches, put it into that boiling water. Do not overcook it but take it out and put it into dishes. Then get boiling oil and drip it hot with a spoon over the broccoli, adding oange juice, pepper and a little of the broth in which it was cooked. Serve it hot because otherwise it is no good. You can also sautÚ a crushed clove of garlic in the oil to flavour the broccoli.
Whenever you need to hold it back for an hour or two, put it into cold water after it was parboiled and leave it there until you want to recook it. Green broccoli is kept the same way and it will not take on a bad smell. It is served in the above way.

Modern adaptation of the recipe Print the recipe on this page
Tenderstem broccoliI do not think that dry broccoli is the same as dried broccoli. The broccoli seems to come directly from the kitchen garden. But what is the difference with green broccoli?
At least it is clear that Scappi's broccoli did not have the compact, bunched shape that modern broccoli has. I ran across some tenderstem broccoli, imported from Maroc (see picture on the left). According to wikipedia this vegetable has been developed by a Japanese seed farm, from a cross-over between broccoli and kai-lan (Chinese broccoli). Another name for tenderstem broccoli is broccolini.
According to the original recipe a little of the cooking liquid must be poured over the cooked broccoli. I think you can forget that. Just drain the broccoli after cooking, you'll have enough cooking liquid anyway.
For 4 persons.

Broccoli according to Bartolomeo ScappiIngredients
500 gram (1 pound) broccoli
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp. cooking liquid (optional)
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
water and salt

Preparation in advance
Separate the florets from the big stalk. You can peel the stalk, slice it, and blanch it with the florets, or use it for making soup. If you can find broccolini, use that. You'll only have to cut the ends off the stalks.
Place orange juice and garlic clove near at hand.

According to Bartolomeo, the broccoli can be blanched in advance and heated when necessary. But it is better to blanch the vegetable just before serving in salted water, just for a few minutes, to keep the broccoli firm. Drain and continue at once.
Heat olive oil in a small skillet with the crushed garlic clove. Remove the garlic after 30 seconds.
Arrange the broccoli or broccolini on a serving dish, sprinkle with hot olive oil and orange juice. Grind pepper over it, and serve at once.
If ytou wish, you can blanch the broccoli in advance, and keep it in iced water to preserve the bright green colour. Reheat in the microwave after draining the broccoli.

To serve
"Serve it hot because otherwise it is no good". So: serve straight away.
Think of this dish as a 'warme salad'. You can serve it without problems in a modern menu, as appetizer or side dish.

Portrait bust of Drusus Minor, Prado Museum, MadridExtra recipe - Roman broccoli?
In my research for the history of broccoli I kept stumbling on sites declaring that Romans held broccoli in high esteem. To illustrate this, many recount the amusing story of the only natural son of emperor Tiberius, Drusus Minor (13 vC-23 nC), who loved broccoli so much that he ate nothing but broccoli prepared to a recipe of Marcus Gavius Apicius, during a whole month. It wasn't until his father forbade him to continue his broccoli diet because of his smelly bright green urine, that he started eating normally again. ═t didn't help him anyway, he was poisoned by his wife Livilla on instigation of his rival Sejanus.
The strange thing is, not one of the sites mentioning the story of broccoli-loving Drusus mention a source. They all parrot the same story after each other. The only combination of Drusus, Apicius and cabbage to be found is a story by Pliny the Elder, stating that Drusus actually hated cymia, because Apicius hated it too (C. Plinius Secundus, Historia Naturalis boek XIX, c.41). And Cymia, what is that? Not the flower buds, but young shoots of the cabbage, growing from the stem. Not only give all those sites the exact reverse of the story, but they even are sloppy with the definition of what vegetable it was that Drusus loved/hated so much! All mention of 'cabagges' are translated to 'broccoli' by the broccoli-evangelists.
By the way, the story of Drusus being poisoned is true.

Whas there Roman broccoli? It seems there was, but just like in Scappi's time, it looked more like the Brassica rapa var. Cymosa, also known as Cima di rapa or rapini (broccoli raab): thin stalks with small leaves and loosely bunched flower buds (if any). Actually, tenderstem broccoli is a lovely modern substitute for historical broccoli recipes.

Despite Drusus' aversion, most Romans thought cabbage (all cabbages, not just broccoli) were invaluable for a good health, and not just as nutrition. Cato describes the medicinal uses of cabbages in De agricola ('on farming', second century BC), like the following way to prevent drunkenness: before the party, eat as much vinegared raw cabbage as you can, and when about to dine, eat five cabbage leaves, then you can drink as much as you want. However, this is a fable.

The original recipe
Of all recipes in De re coquinaria for cima and caulicules, five are for boiled cabbage (cauliculus) that is closed enough to form a head (in one recipe the cabbage must be cut in half). There is but one recipe for cimae, 'young greens' in the translation of Grocock and Grainger. Let's pretend to be certain that these young greens are some kind of broccoli, and you get the following recipe: (Apicius, 3.9.1 and 3.9.1a, edition Grocock and Grainger p.164).

Cimas: cuminum salem uinum uetus et oleum.
si uoles, addes piper et ligusticum mentam rutam coriandrum folia coliclorum liquamen uinum oleum.
Young greens (or 'broccoli'): cumin, salt, old wine and oil.
If you like, add pepper and lovage, mint, rue, coriandre, cabbage leaves, liquamen, wine, oil.

Blanch broccoli or young cabbage leaves, broccoli raab or whatever. Mix wine(vinegar) and oil, salt, and lightly toasted cumin seeds (or use powdered cumin). The variation is for a sauce with wine(vinegar), oil and liquamen (Roman fish sauce), chopped herbs and some blanched cabbage leaves. To finish it off, the dish is sprinkled with black pepper. Romans loved peppery dishes.
This simple recipe does not need a printout version.
More Roman recipes on Coquinaria.

James Bond and BroccoliFunny fact
At first sight, this has nothing to do with vegetables: Albert Romolo Broccoli (1909-1996) is known as the producer of all James Bond-films up to and including GoldenEye (1995). According to his obituary he is a descendant from an Italian family of horticulturists who crossed cauliflower with rabe, thus creating the vegatble after which the family was named. After reading the above, it will be clear that that is not true.

All descriptions of ingredients

Lovage - Levisticum officinale. An umbelliferous plant (like wild celery and parsley) that was popular in the classic Roman kitchen, and still used in the Middle Ages. You can grow it in your garden. When flowering, it can grow as tall as 2 meters. The taste is rather overbearing, use it in small amounts. It is very nice in stock.
Liquamen or garum - A clear liquid made of small fermented fish with much salt and sometimes alsoe several kinds of dried herbs. The Romans used liquamen or garum in the same way we use salt. There is however a difference: salt dehydrates food, liquamen adds liquid to a dish. It was produced in factories and sold in amforas. There were many qualities of garum, from cheap to very expensive. Apicius would no doubt only have used the very best quality. Nowadays in the Far East a kind of fish sauce is still in use in much the same way as the Romans used garum. You can use these sauces as a substitute for garum: Vietnamese nuoc-nam, or Thai nam-pla. You can also try to make your own garum, as the Romans made it at home when they were out of stock (recipe).
Rue - A little shrub (Ruta graveolens), indigenous to Southern Europe. The odiferous plant has a strong, bitter taste. The ancient Greeks and Romans loved rue, and it is still an ingredient in the Italian drink Grappa Ruta. In modern cuisine rue has mostly dissappeared, which is a pity. A few rue leaves in broth are very good. However, it is thought to be an anaphrodisiac (quenches lust), and pregnant women must be careful not to use too much of it, because it could also be abortive. But a leaf or two won't do any harm.
Rue can be found at garden centers. It is quite decorative, a semi-perennial with small yellow flowers that can be used to decorate any dish.

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