A fifteenth-century recipe from Italy
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-red purple, due to the acidic ingredient verjuice. The only thing turning blue was the sponge for the washing-up. This is caused by anthocyanin which is present in blackberries. Read more on food that reacts differently in basic and acidic environments with the recipe for red cabbage.
Libro de arte Coquinaria van Martino de Rossi (1464/1465)
The recipe is taken from the Libro de arte coquinaria by Maestro Martino de Rossi (edition Scully, see bibliography). Maestro Martino was employed by various illustrious masters: Fransesco Sforza in Milan, 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. Sacchi is better known as the humanist Platina. In his book De honeste voluptate (1474, “On honest indulgence and good health”) Platina discourses on the properties of good food. For the practical part of his book he used the recipes of Martino (edition Milham, see bibliography).
In the Netherlands Gerard Vorselman used the book of Platina as one of his sources for his Nyeuwen coock boeck (1560, “New cookbook”, edition Cockx-Indestege, see bibliography). 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.
Another recipe from Martino de Rossi’s cookery book: Mortadella.
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 (see bibliography). 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. In the bibliography at the bottom of this page are listed more recent editions.
How ‘heavenly blue’ the sauce will turn out to be, depends on the acidity or basicity of the dish. The sour verjuice or apple vinegar will result in a purplish red-coloured sauce.
First course or lunch dish for 2 to 4 persons; preparation in advance 10 minuten; preparation 7 minuten.
250 gr blackberries
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 Tbsp verjuice or apple vinegar
1 tsp sugar
breast of chicken, poached in chicken broth
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.
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 apple cider vinegar as a substitute. More about verjuice and a recipe to make your own verjuice.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- E. Cockx-Indestege, Eenen nyeuwen coock boeck. Kookboek samengesteld door Gheeraert Vorselman en gedrukt te Antwerpen in 1560, Wiesbaden, 1971.
- L. Ballerini and J. Parzen, The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book (California Studies in Food and Culture). (Libro de arte coquinaria by Martino de Rossi). English translation without Italian original text. With some recipes from the Cuoco Napoletano and the Libro de cosina. University of California Press, 2005.
- Maestro Martino, Libro De Arte Coquinaria. Octavo Editions, 2005. (cd-rom with introduction, facsimile-edition and English translation). Online version without notes of the Italian text according to an edition from 1966 (see there for source).
- M.E. Milham, Platina: On Right Pleasure and Good Health: Critical Edition and Translation of “De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine” (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, V. 168). Med.&Ren. Texts & Studies vol.168, Tempe/Arizona, 1998.
- O. Redon, F. Sabban and S. Serventi, La Gastronomie au Moyen Age. 150 recettes de France et d’Italie. Ed. Stock, 1995 (1991). English edition The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy.
Chicken breast with blackberry sauce, a recipe from Italy