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The first Italian gastronomic guide was written in 1500

First Italian gastronomic guide

All photos by the author.

In search of forgotten dishes and recipes across Italy.

In 1500 we ate food seasoned for us in a very strange way. Like pasta with sugar.

There is one place in Rome that has rightfully become one of my favorites: Garum, a spectacular kitchen library-museum that stands in a former convent facing the Circus Maximus. I went there not long ago, for the opening, discovering that they kept the first recipe for the supplì. Today I came back because they added a very important book to their big collection: the first Italian food guide ever written.

The Commentary on the most notable and monstrous things in Italy is a 1550 pamphlet by the humanist Ortensio Lando, a bizarre fellow who was the first to translate, into Italian, Utopia by the philosopher Thomas Moore (or, as we like to call him, Thomas More) and who embraced the Lutheran ideas of Erasmus of Rotterdam at a time when, if you lived in Catholic Italy, you risked leaving your head behind you. And in fact he risks getting out of it several times, pursued by the Inquisition.

“It is thanks to his sympathies for Luther and Erasmus that Ortensio Lando was forced to go to the courts of Italy and Europe”, tells me Matteo Ghirighini, director of the structure and bookseller also expert in books of old kitchen. “And while traveling – not only in Italy – he was able to discover several dishes from different courts, but also popular dishes”, which he reports precisely in his Commentary, which makes it, in fact, the first gastronomic guide of Italy.

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Part of the Garum Museum. All photos by the author

The comment by Ortensio Lando recounts, appropriating the stylistic traits of the utopian genre, the journey of a citizen of the invented Isola degli Sperduti, led by a Florentine “from the land of Utopia”, and with him he prepares to know the realities of Italian cities. It doesn’t take science to figure out that the main character is actually Hortense Lando himself. “We bought it at an auction in Paris,” Matteo Ghirighini tells me. “We had been behind this for a while: Rossano Boscolo (the creative collector of the Garum library, ed), which is still on the piece, he absolutely wanted it in the collection.” It is a book that can be worth up to 5,000 euros, printed on linen fibers, to understand.

In a few pages, this Commentary oscillates between fantasies and veiled political satire (sometimes not too much). All seasoned with stereotypes for each region, such as “Beware of the Lombard bald, Tuscan sleazy […]”Or” Don’t let the Vernata in Abruzzo or the state of Puglia pass you by. Remember the proverb: Who wants to live hell in summer in Puglia and winter in Abruzzo.”
But what interests us most are the local dishes and the courtiers scattered throughout Italy, which give us a glimpse of what we ate in the 1500s, from those dishes that strike us as decidedly strange, to those that still found today in some popular regional dishes. kitchens.

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A page from the Siena Commentary.

And so you can read about a calf that only ate Sorrento-specific herbs (“you will eat Surrento veal, which melts in your mouth with more pleasure than sugar, and what a surprise if it tastes so grateful, when the herds are fed nothing but serpillo, nepitella, rosemary, spico, marjoram, lemongrass, mint and other similar herbs”) or raw and cooked bologna sausages, which to all they whet their appetite.

There are tips on the good wines to drink in Friuli-Venezia Giulia “best in Vicenza, where you will also eat children very soon “; prized fish that we eat much less today, such as sturgeons in Ferrara — which is also “the only teacher of salami making and making herbs, fruits and roots”.— and the Piacenza cheese, which was also hailed from the learned pen of Count Giulio da lando and that I have no idea who he is, but we trust him.

Among these, which are mostly products, there are, however, some interesting things. Like the fact that in 1500 they ate seasoned dishes for us in a very strange way. Like pasta with sugar: ‘in the rich island of Sicily, but[n]gerai de que macaroni […]: soglionsi cook with fatty capons, and fresh cheeses from all sides dripping with buttiro and milk, and a big hand covered in sugar and cinnamon of the best you can find …At the idea of ​​a pasta dish made with capon fat – and for the moment nothing to say – and abundant doses of sugar and cinnamon, I had some sacrosanct doubts. Fortunately, Matteo Ghirighini helped me again. “At the time, we followed the precepts of Galenic cuisine,” he told me. “Basically, it was thought that each living being had its own nature depending on the balance of four elements, called moods, found in food: hot, cold, dry and moist, which are then the transliteration of the elements of nature. Water, earth, fire and air.”

“So the cooks, who were a bit of an alchemist, thought about this balance. In addition to the galenic balance to keep in shape, the use of spices in profusion was also, of course, a symbol and a display of wealth; only if you were rich could you afford cinnamon. Or saffron, which was yellow like the sun. continues Matteo.

So, on the one hand, there is the aspect of the courses and their sweet dishes, but on the other, Ortensio Lando tells us about the popular preparations that are still around today. The most incredible case is that of the cake Gattafura from Genoa, of which Lando gives us the first testimony and which today we call Torta Pasqualina, but which in Genoa, sometimes, is still used to call it that. Genoa […] you make cakes called gattafure because the cats are happy and they are vague, but who is apathetic if he doesn’t like it?
“Such an example, Matteo Ghirighini tells me, is important because it underlines the continuity of a dish. He makes us understand that popular dishes have a long life, while court dishes are subject to the fashions of the time. But there is also Naples bread: in Naples you will eat this bread of white puccia in the most excellent quality […]. Which, if I understood correctly, would be the traditional Pane Cafone.

“It’s cool because it tells us about popular housewives and cooks and how they came up with recipes: the previous books didn’t tell us about a popular cooking sample, Lando does and is very helpful.”

There are two places you’d expect to find, but didn’t: Piedmont – which wasn’t really considered Italy at the time – and Rome. Because as a disciple of Luther and the humanists, the author hated the Church, the Pope and his characters. Lando speaks of Rome in a rather pejorative way; tell how people behaved like prostitutes and said he saw pumpkin head men– with zuccotti, bishop’s and pope’s hats, ed.- basically go there too, with the prostitutes.

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The second part on the inventors of things that are eaten. And the signature, on the contrary, of course.

In the second part, Ortensio Lando gives us a lot of other valuable information, especially for popular cuisine: Catalog of the inventors of things that are eaten and drinks that are used, which has a separate section, is a list of ways to cook and theoretically fictional characters, but in reality I miss them too much. And so there are the poorly done in Lombardy, for example. “But above all, concludes Matteo Ghirighini, it’s cool because it tells us about popular housewives and cooks and how they invented recipes. It doesn’t matter if they existed or not: the previous books didn’t tell us about a popular cut of the kitchen, Lando does and is very useful to us. »

If you want to leaf through a book from the 1500s and find Italy’s first food guide, run to Garum. If you can’t, you can read some excerpts here.
If you want the end of the story instead, well: Lando died poor but the Inquisition never managed to catch him. A big.

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