Italian pasta from the sixteenth centuryTwo recipes from the Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi
Let's all say it once more, loud and clear: "Marco Polo did NOT bring pasta to Italy from China!" Dried pasta was already eaten in Europe before the good man returned from his travels in 1295.
According to some, pasta was already known to the ancient Romans. But Roman lagana and tracta can not simply be compared to the later pasta. In their edition of De re coquinaria from 2006 (see bibliography)Grocock and Grainger suggest that lagana had more resemblance to a Mexican tortilla or Indian chapatti than Italian lasagna (Grocock/Grainger, p. 349/50). According to Capatti and Montanari (Italian cuisine), dried pasta was invented by Arabs in the ninth century to take with them on their travels through the desert. In the twelfth century there was a complete industry in dried pasta in Sicily, which has been under Arabian rule for centuries. Merchants from Genoa traded dried pasta to the Italian paeninsula, and soon it was also produced there. (Italian cuisine, pp. 51/52).
On this page are two recipes, one for pasta dough with eggs, and another without eggs that is especially for stuffed pasta. The second recipe is incorporated in a recipe for tortelletti with capon flesh. Just the ingredients are named, apparently everyone knew by experience how much of everything was needed.
The recipes are from the cookery book Opera (first published 1570) from Bartolomeo Scappi, who was active from 1536 to 1570. More about this famous renaissance cook can be read in the introduction to the recipe for tortelli in brodo.
Pasta the medieval way
The picture is from the Tacuinum Sanitatis (about 1400 AD). One woman is kneading pasta dough, another woman is spreading the cut and stratched pasta on a rack to dry. At the already mentioned recipe for tortelli in brodo there is a picture out of the Opera of Scappi, with a rolled-out sheet of dough on a table, with the rolling stick, and a small serrated pasta cutter in front. I think the modern way of drying pasta, rolled loosely as bird's nests, is more practical, because you'll need a very deep pan to boil this long pasta!
The original recipes
Below a recipe for pasta dough for stuffed pasta (in Scully's edition p.230, part of recipe II.177), and a recipe for pasta with eggs, to make tagliatelle and lasagne (Scully p.228, recipe II.173). The Italian text is from the facsimile edition of the Opera mentioned in the Bibliography, the English translation is from Scully's 2008 edition.
When I tried to translate this text myself (before 2008), I had trouble with one passage: fettaccisi fuora per lo criuello il farinaccio. A kind Italian neighbour of my father's helped me, and I see in Scully's version that my Dutch translation was correct. Ann Willan has left this passage altogether out of her version of the recipe (Great ooks and their Recipes p.46).
|(Per fare tortelletti con la polpa di cappone)|
[...] uno sfoglio di pasta alquanto sottile, fatto di fior di farina, acqua di rose, sale, butiro, zuccaro, & acqua tepida [...]
|(To prepare tortellini with capon flesh)|
[...] a rather thin sheet of dough made of flour, rosewater, salt, butter, sugar and warm water [...]
|Per far minestra di tagliatelli|
Impastinosi due libre di fior di farina con tre uoua, & acqua tepida, & mescolisi bene sopra una tavola per lo spatio d'un quarto d'hora, & dapoi stendasi sottilmente con il bastone, & lascisi alquanto risciugare il sfoglio, & rimondinosi con lo sperone le parti piu grosse, che son gli orlicci, & quando sarà asciutto però non troppo, perche crepe rebbe, spoluerizzisi di fior di farina con il fetaccio, accioche non si attacchi, piglisi poi il bastone della pasta, & comincisi da un capo, & riuolgasi tutto lo sfoglio sopra il bastone leggiermente, cauisi il bastone, e taglisi lo sfoglio cosi riuolto per lo trauerso con un coltello largo sottile, e tagliati che saranno, slarghinosi, & lassinosi alquanto rasciugare, & asciutti che saranno, fettaccisi fuora per lo criuello il farinaccio, & facciasene minestra con brodo grasso di carne, o con latte, & butiro, & cotti che saranno, seruanosi caldi con cascio, zuccaro, & cannella, & uolendone far lasagne taglisi la pasta sul bastone per lungo, & compartasi la detta pasta in due parti parimente per lungo, e taglisi in quadretti, & faccianosi cuocere in brodo di lepre, ouero di grua, o d'altra carna, o latte, & seruanosi calde con cascio, zuccaro, & cannella.
|To prepare a thick soup of tagliatelle|
Work two pounds of flour, three eggs and warm water into a dough, kneading it on a table for a quarter of an hour. Roll it out hin with a pin and let the sheet of dough dry a little. With a cutting wheel trim away the irregular parts, the fringes. When it has dried, though not too much because it would break up, sprinkle it with flour through the sifter so it will not stick. Then take the rolling pin and, beginning at one end, wrap the whole sheet loosely onto the pin, draw the pin out and cut the rolled-up dough crosswise with a broad, thin knife. When they are cut, broaden them. Let them dry out a little and, when yhey are dry, filter off the excess flour through a sieve. Make up a soup of them with a fat meat broth, or milk and butter. When they are cooked, serve them hot with cheese, sugar and cinnamon. If you want to make lasagne of them, cut the dough legthwise on the pin, and and likewise divide it lengthwise in two, and cut that into little squares. Cook them in the broth of a hare, a crane or some other meat, or in milk. Serve them hot with cheese, sugar and cinnamon.
Modern adaptation of the recipe
For 4 persons (more or less).
A tip: if the pasta dough remains too dry (crumbly) add a little water (one teaspoon at the time). Is the dough too wet (sticky), add some flour.
Dough for stuffed pasta, without eggs
250 gram (1 cup + 2 Tbsp.) flour (or durum wheat)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
1 deciliter (3.4 fl.oz US/3.5 fl.oz UK) tepid water
2 Tbsp. rose water
For mixing and kneading dough, see the page on making fresh pasta. Also on that page: how to roll out and cut your pasta. The dough from this recipe can be used to make Tortellini in brodo.
Dough for tagliatelle and lasagne, with eggs
250 gram (1 cup + 2 Tbsp.) flour (or durum wheat)
4 Tbsp. tepid water to begin with
For mixing and kneading dough, see the page on making fresh pasta. Also on that page: how to roll out and cut your pasta. The oldfashioned way is to roll out the dough with something like a broomstick. Then sprinkle the sheet of dough with flour (to prevent the dough sticking together) and wrap it loosely around the same stick. Pull out the stick, and, using a thin, sharp knife, cut the roll into strips. Depending on how wide these strips are, you've made tagliatelle or papardelle. You can also cut the sheet into smaller pieces, making lasagne. The pasta must be dried and the surplus of flour shaken off in a sieve before boiling. The pasta is boiled right before serving the dish.
How to prepare Scappi's pasta
Scappi gives us no clue as to how much broth the tagliatelle are to be served in, or if the pasta is drained before serving. The word minestra in the recpe title means 'thick soup', so at least a little broth is to be expected. So, the pasta has to be cooked in broth. Although I do not like using stock cubes, in this case I do, because the cooking-broth will become turbid. If you want to serve the pasta in a clear broth, it best to use a separate, concentrated home made stock.
According to Scappi you can also cook pasta in milk. This is still done in modern Italian cuisine, especially in minestre with rice.
And what about macaroni?
Scappi also describes how to make those lilttle hollow pipes we know as macaroni. But it was a lot more work that today, and very special. The dough is made with flour, but also with bread steeped in tepid goat's milk, egg yolks and sugar (Scully p.228, recipe II.174). Al dente, that seems to be a modern way of serving pasta, Scappi suggests letting the pasta boil for half an hour (in salted water) before checking if the macaroni is done. The pasta is served with provatura (a kind of mozzarella), grated cheese, sugar and cinnamon. Macaroni was not necessarily hollow, but in the next recipe (Scully p.229, recept II.175) is explained exactly how you make it. Roll out the dough, let dry a little, and cut the sheet in strips half the width of a finger and the width of four fingers long. Then take a small pin (een stiletto) and lay it lengthwise on a strip of dough. Roll the dough around the pin and pull it out. This you do for each single macaroni. Normally I'm not a fan of 'convenience food', but when I see what a job it is to make hollow macaroni by hand, I'm glad I can buy dried elbows in the supermarket.
These hollow macaroni must dry, and then they can be boiled in water, broth or milk with butter.
All descriptions of ingredients
Rose water - This is indeed water that is perfumed with rose petals. In the modern Western cuisine its use is obsolete (except in e.g. marzipan), but during the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was a popular condiment (as was orange blossom water). In the Middle-East and India rose water is still in use.
The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)
- Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari, Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) 2003 (translated from Italian La cucina Italiana. Storia di una cultura,1999)
- C. Grocock en S. Grainger, Apicius, a Critical Edition With an Introduction And English Translation, Prospect Books, 2006
- Bartolomeo Scappi, Opera dell'arte del cucinare. Edition Arnaldo Forni, 2002 (facsimile edition in two volumes)
- T. Scully , The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro cuoco English translation, without the Italian original text. University of Toronto press, 2008. Link to original Italian text (facsimile)
- Anne Willan, Great cooks and their recipes. From Taillevent to Escoffier. Bulfinch Press, 1992.