One thing has always fascinated me about Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The food served to Jesus and his disciples in the painting is neither Kosher nor period accurate – but it’s a favorite of the Renaissance table: eels with orange slices. This is the historical quirk, from an old edition of the food magazine Gastronomica, that captured my imagination and stoked my love of food history. Not because of the mix of everyday realism in Renaissance religious art, but because…eels with orange slices? I’ve never seen that on an Italian menu. Columbus didn’t even land in the new world until 1492. It took almost a century for most New World produce to filter into Europe, and even then, most Europeans were deeply suspicious of them for centuries to come; so that means no tomato sauce, no polenta.
And it occurred to me what was “Italian cuisine” anyway? Scappi, who has the fix on the best eels on the boot, helps us answer this question.
On today’s episode of A Time And A Plate, we go into the most secret room in the Renaissance world, and sneak a peek at the menu. We see the rise of humanism, the decline of Rome, and the first glimmer of “Italian Cuisine” from one of the world’s first celebrity chefs. I am also joined by Katie Parla, the co-author of Tasting Rome, and an amazing culinary writer based in Rome, who’s sharing her recipe for delicious, hearty, picchiapo.
Simmered Beef with Tomato and Onion
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound beef shin or trim, nerve removed, salted in advance
1 cup dry white wine
10 whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram
Pinch of peperoncino or red pepper flakes
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
Place the salted beef in a large pot with water to cover. Slowly bring the water to a gentle simmer over low heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the top. Then add the wine, carrots, 2 of the onions, the peppercorns, and the cloves. Cook at a low simmer until the beef is fork-tender, 1 ½ to 2 hours. Transfer the meat to a plate and shred it with tongs or two forks. Coarsely chop the cooked carrots and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the remaining onion. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, then add the marjoram and peperoncino and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until the sauce has reduced slightly and become less acidic, about 15 minutes. Add the shredded beef and carrots. Stir well, then cook for 15 minutes more to allow the sauce to come together and reduce slightly.
Serve immediately as a standalone dish, or use as a sandwich filling.
Reprinted from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright © 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.