I recently took a culinary workshop at The Getty Center in Los Angeles called “From Garden to Table: Dining in the Renaissance.” It was fascinating to learn how gardens and food evolved during that period!
One of the art forms to undergo a big transformation during the renaissance (circa 1400-1600) was garden design. The renaissance garden was designed to be a place of beauty and relaxation and promote physical health. Studies of ancient botanical, and medical writings underscored the importance of diet to a person’s well being, so the culinary arts were suddenly deemed worthy of examination and reinterpretation. A food revolution was happening in Italy, and simply prepared dishes of local, fresh and seasonal ingredients were gaining popularity over the heavily spiced meals so common elsewhere in Europe.
Four o’Clock, Brown Hairstreak, Herb Robert, and Chanterelle-1591-by Joris Hoefnagel
Great teachers of that time were monks who lived in monasteries, where they tended to their gardens daily and planted them with medicinal herbs used in the healing of illnesses. Over time, they became so educated in medicinal herbs that the first medics studied under them. In Padua, Italy, in the 16th century, a University Medical School was established to study plants, and a large medicinal plant garden was created, enclosed by a large wall, to prevent thieves from getting in and stealing the precious herbs.
Italian cooks started sharing their recipes in books, and the first cookbooks came out of Italy during the renaissance period, and became very popular in Europe, where people were learning about eating salad and vegetables.
Speckled Wood, Talewort, Garden Pea, and Lantern Plant-1591-ny Joris Hoefnagel
Following is an authentic recipe dating to that period from Maestro Martino:
Asparagus have been a delicacy throughout the Mediterranean area since ancient times, where they were a sign of elegance and had been recognized for their medicinal properties, for being ” cleansing and healing.”
1 bunch of green asparagus
1 small bunch of Italian parsley
1 small bunch of marjoram
1 small bunch of mint
2 tablespoons of olive oil
6 eggs beaten
½ cup of milk
¼ cup of Parmesan
salt & pepper to taste
1-Trim the tough ends of the asparagus so that each spear is 4″ long. Blanch the asparagus by boiling them in salted water for a few minutes, until barely soft; then plunge them into ice water and dry on an absorbent towel.
2-Finely chop the parsley, marjoram and mint. Mix the eggs with milk, Parmesan cheese in a large bowel and add the chopped herbs.
3-Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan until quite hot, making sure the oil is spread out over the entire surface. Pour the egg mixture evenly into the pan. Arrange the asparagus spears on top of the frittata like spokes of a wheel with the delicate tips facing the outer edge of the pan and the ends touching in the center.
4-Set the heat to medium/low. Cover the pan to allow the eggs to cook completely through. Check often to make sure it’s not burning or sticking.
5-When set, slide the frittata onto a large round serving platter and cut into wedges, one asparagus spear per slice.
The second recipe is from physician and botanist Costanzo Felici:
Insalata Mista Di Erbe E Fiori (Herb and Flower salad)
The Italian word insalata literally translates as “salted” and refers to “every raw green or mixture of raw greens or something else dressed with oil and salt,” as proudly defined by Costanzo Felici. Northern Europeans were wary of raw vegetables and fruit, warning those who traveled south to take care to avoid these potentially dangerous foods. The English Boke of Kervynge of 1500 even advised court chefs to “beware of green salletts and raw fruytes for they wyll make your soverayne seke.” But Italian botanical and medical research was insisting otherwise, and the inclusion of such simple, earthy dishes in Renaissance banquets is proof. They also learned to wash all salads, vegetables and fruit before eating them, to wash off any bacteria, just as we still do now.
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 head of radicchio
¼ pound of fresh spinach
¼ pound arugula leaves
¼ cup each chopped herbs: parsley, mint, marjoram, thyme)
½ cup of rose petals
1 cup of mixed edible flowers (violets, marigolds, nasturtiums, calendula)
¾ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1-Wash the romaine, radicchio, spinach and arugula leaves well, and dry in a salad spinner. Cut into bite sized pieces and place in a large salad bowl.
2-Coarsely chop the parsley, mint, marjoram and thyme; add this to the salad bowl.
3-Add the rose petals and edible flowers
4-Add the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss well to mix all the flavors and serve at once.
* I shared from notes I took during my culinary workshop, and also from from a helpful and very informative handout that was given, which included the recipes as well. Many thanks to the wonderful instructor Robin Trento.
To find out about other culinary workshops: The Getty Center Culinary workshops: http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/courses/studio.html#culinary