The Art of Cooking
The First Modern Cookery Book
the Eminent Maestro Martino of Como.
I followed the specific amount instructions even when they didn’t seem proportional to the rest of the ingredients I had to hand, and it bit me.
Squash*. Not Hubbard, not orange, and not dense. Think pattypan in texture. Immature loofa from a South American grocery works, zucchini would work. I had some from an Indian market.
There were two types available, I got both.
The bell-shaped one was spongy and soft, light and pleasant in flavor when tasted raw, and very slightly astringent.
The straight one was slimy when peeled, sticky where cut, somewhat more dense, and did not need to be cored to use. It was sweet and astringent as well, though slightly brighter in flavor. The difference was little enough that it might have been growing or transport conditions, not variety.
I shredded them as called for, and poached the vegetable in milk, which was an option mentioned in the recipe. The milk immediately curdled and separated, though in a pleasant manner consistent with fresh cheeses.
It was slightly challenging to tell when the flesh was fully cooked, as it changed texture and color quickly, but didn’t really soften for about 10 minutes.
The recipe called for passing the vegetable through a stamine. I had to decide whether I was going to press it well, or try to pulverise it. I went with pressing, as I do not have the strength to force that density through cloth.
While that was going on, I folded the cheeses together, added way too much butter*, and the eggs.
I did use two whites as a sub for one whole egg, as I had two left from making the crust.
The cinnamon went in as part of the sugar, to prevent clumping. Clumps of cinnamon are the opposite of fun. Salt also went in; it’s not mentioned, but it almost never is.
The recipe specified either animal fat or butter. My own very strong preference when feeding people who are not me is that any dish which resembles a cheese dish ought to be completely ovo-lacto friendly if possible. The fact that this recipe called for a substitute for animal fat made me quite happy, but the amount it called for did not work with the quantities of cheeses and veg that I was working with. I’m not kidding, there’s an oil slick going on in my baking pan =/ Happily I used a baking tray, as I did anticipate this problem.
(The crust is explained below)
Though I have a period style pottery pie pan, I didn’t feel comfortable using it for this recipe. I went with a drop-bottom, straight sided tart pan. Because I don’t know for sure whether bain-maries were in use at the time of this book*, I sadly placed the pan directly on a baking sheet and put it in a 350* oven for 30 minutes, then dropped the temp to 300*.
I need to learn more about the history of bain maries, it would have helped a lot.
The crust I used is rather late period, as I wanted a tender “eating” crust for this pie.
It’s the one presented by Master Basilius Phocas at Pennsic XL, which he adapted from the Libro Novo (Banchetti) by Cristoforo Messisbugo. Not my recipe, so I did not include it here.
There’s a CD available of the book and his notes, but it’s in some obsolete format, and it took a while to extract the information.
I’m a fan of this pie crust, though it is quite sweet. I left out the saffron, it’s hard to talk myself into using it for an experiment.
As the crust called for two egg yolks, I saved the whites and subbed them for one of the whole eggs in the pie filling.
Next time, I will make far less filling, and weigh the ingredients based on proportions for a quiche or other custard pie, the excess of butter is disheartening and unappetising.
The dairy variant instructions called for an extra cup of milk, but I could not use it. The batter was so wet, and so loose, that I would have had a puddle, not a pie.
In hour and 20 minutes, it puffed up and began to brown on top, but a stick test still came out gloppy.
An hour and 30 minutes, it was done. The house smelled great, rich and sweet and a little herbal.
It was very tempting looking before being cut, but after cooling, was grainy with curds, slightly astringent from the vegetable, and a bit greasy.
A higher proportion of vegetable and a creamier cheese are two changes I will work with next time.
shredder for squash
one cookpot for the squash
bowl for cheese/egg mixture
processor for pie crust
a few knives, a peeler, a bunch of spatulas, bowls for ingredients, and cutting boards.
Recipe as I did it;*
2 lbs gourd, shredded fine
a quart of milk (to cook the gourd in)
a pound of farmers cheese (not recommended)
2 oz asiago cheese, grated fine
2 sticks of butter (really. Too much.)
6 oz sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp rosewater and
1 tsp sugar overtop at the end.
-Somewhat scarce vegetable
+but it’s inexpensive if you do find it, has minimal waste, and travels pretty well.
-Lots of dishwashing, too many appliances
-Long slow cooking time, so oven-thief
-I would need to do a lot of work to get it to a useful balanced dish, and I don’t like the gourd enough to do so.
+ wants rather more vegetable than custard.
If you need a dairy veggie dish, this could work out. Don’t use farmer’s cheese, it gets gloppy and gritty.
All in all, not worth fighting for in our home, though I can see the value for larger scale service. A processor shredder, a large boil-pot, and a better choice of dairy products could well make this a high-value dairy dish to be served as part of lunch or dinner service. It does take a lot of oven space. Maybe if you have convections?
*I identified the type of squash to use by looking at paintings of the time, and matching varietal names.
*many recipes call for varying amounts of most ingredients, and only give one measurable quantity to key from. Unfortunately, this can lead to unbalanced dishes, as the proportions for success can be a mystery.
*I think they are, but I can’t find the documentation. Do you have a thought on where I need to look?
*(things left out; I cannot cook with ginger, so it’s gone.
I do not have sesame oil, and the dish was so wet I could not find a way to add the last cup of milk)