As a follow-up to my post on the use of spices in ancient Rome, here’s a recipe derived from that era that appears in Deborah Madison’s “The Savory Way.” Although she doesn’t specifically state her source, the book in her bibliography that looks like the likely source is “Ancient Roman Feasts and Recipes,” by Jon and Julia Solomon (E. A. Seemann Publishing, 1977).
I don’t particularly like carrots — you’ll never catch me snacking on carrot sticks — but this is a recipe that I truly enjoy. The subtle flavor of cumin and mint, the hint of sourness from the vinegar, and the sweetness of the carrots meld into something delicious. And to cook a recipe that might have been enjoyed by Caesar, Cicero, Augustus and other prominent Romans is pretty cool too…
Carrots, Roman Style
Adapted from “The Savory Way,” by Deborah Madison
1/2 pound carrots
8 small mint leaves
1 lovage leaf or several pale inner celery leaves
2 t. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. cumin seed
Salt to taste
1 cup water
1 T. Champagne or white wine vinegar
Ground black pepper
Chopped mint or lovage leaves for garnish
Peel or scrape the carrots. Cut into pieces 2 to 3 inches long, then cut the pieces lengthwise in quarters, sixths or eighths, depending on the size of the carrot. The goal is to have each piece be roughly the same size (so that they all cook at the same rate). Tear or chop the herbs into pieces.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, cumin seeds and herbs. Cook for a short time until the fragrance of the spice and herbs are noticeable, then add the carrots and toss well. Add the water, vinegar, salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the carrots are tender (20-40 minutes). Ideally, the liquid will evaporate and form a glaze on the carrots. If all of the liquid evaporates before the carrots are tender, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time.
Season with freshly ground black pepper and chopped mint and/or lovage leaves.
Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.
Madison’s notes on the recipe say that the original recipe contained a fermented fish paste that the Romans added to many savory dishes. Leite’s Culinaria describes this fish paste:
Garum (or the similar Liquamen) appeared as an ingredient in most Roman dishes. It was a prepared sauce made of fish entrails and trimmings fermented in strong brine. It is an ancestor to our Worcestershire sauce, but is more closely approximated by the fish sauces of Southeast Asia, such as nam pla and nuoc mam. They provided a savory saltiness in Roman cookery, much as soy sauce does in Chinese and Japanese cooking today.
As a modern substitution, Deborah Madison recommends adding a finely chopped or pounded anchovy with the water at the beginning of the recipe.
On the subject of pepper, it’s worth noting that the early Roman diet did not use the same pepper that we use today. The Leite’s Culinaria article gives this explanation:
the pepper used by Apicius was probably not black pepper (Piper nigrum), but long pepper (Piper longum). It has a more resinous flavor than black pepper, with a lingering burn at the back of the throat.
Random link from the archive: Moong Dal Soup