Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo are not only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- they were the artistic leaders of the Renaissance. In recognition of Raffaello's place in history and of the 500th Anniversary of his death, Rome has spent years preparing for a monumental retrospective of his works, only to be shuttered days after it opened, due to the Corona virus.
This week, I have designed a menu highlighting foods these masters would have enjoyed before the arrival of the new and unfamiliar ingredients discovered in the New World (ie. tomatoes, potatoes, corn, turkey, to name a few.)
This week will be our first multi-sensory dining experience. While dining and sharing in our Travel Notes, you will also have the opportunity to travel to Rome and enjoy a virtual tour and curated presentation of the amazing Raffaello exhibit at the Scuderie del Querinale.
Ready to travel and learn?
Mixed field greens, watercress and mint with chopped figs, EVOO and Saba
Artisanal extruded mint-infused pasta with braised wild mushrooms
Pan-seared salmon with white wine and aromatic herbs; tarragon, fennel, parsley served with sauteed spinach and dandelion greens
Tuscan foccacia with rosemary, olive oil and sea salt
"Charleston Gold" rice pudding with almonds, poached apricots and Tuscan almond biscotti
Sartarelli, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, 2018, Le Marche
A wonderful example of the verdicchio grapes cultivated in Le Marche region - birthplace of Raffaello d'Urbino. Characterized by a fresh elegant palate with underlying flavors of yellow apple, white peach and tarragon. Sunshine in a glass! Read more...
Italy boasts some of the longest living citizens in the world. A crucial reason is the Italian diet with its roots in the past. Much like today, food was the cultural center of life in Renaissance Italy. It played an important role in religious holidays and family celebrations and relied heavily on the use of seasonal ingredients. The Italians had some of the best chefs and cooks in Europe at the time.
“As is painting, so is cooking” wisely said art historian, John Varriano. Over the course of the Renaissance, humble cooks and indentured painters became celebrity chefs and artisans for well-heeled patrons. And so is the story of Raffaello d’Urbino – a young, poor student from the region of Le Marche who became one of the most sought after painters and architects of his time – idealized as the epitome of perfection – inspiring generation of artists.
In recognition of Raffaello’s place in history and of the 500th Anniversary of his death, Rome has spent years preparing for a monumental retrospective of his works, only to be shuttered after it opened, due to the Corona virus. (Interesting fact – Raffaello died unexpectedly at the early age of 37 after suffering from a ravaging high fever – possibly from an unknown virus! – making a connection to COVID-19 even more poignant.)
Not much is known about the Italian masters’ relationship to food, though we do know that Leonardo da Vinci owned a vineyard south of Milano and Michelangelo produced a well-known cheese from his cows and sheep on his own farmland. Their diets most certainly changed depending on the moment in their careers. As young unknowns they most certainly ate more like average peasants with black bread (white bread being too expensive) and mush-like soups with vegetables, foraged green, eggs and herbs. They ate little meat, as salt was needed to preserve it and salt was very expensive.
Later, as they were hired by Popes and wealthy nobles to complete the artistic works of cathedrals, portraits, tombs and stately mansions, their diets most certainly were elevated. The wealthy often indulged in grand banquets and huge feasts highlighted by large roasts and dishes prepared with exotic spices and sugar.
It is interesting to note the absence of what we might consider ‘typical’ Italian ingredients. Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, chocolate, artichokes, chestnuts, etc, were unknown to early Renaissance cooks. They were products of the “New World” just being brought back by Christopher Columbus!
This week’s menu is an interpretation using ingredients that Italians most certainly enjoyed in the early 16th century, including many fresh aromatics. Florentine noblewoman, Caterina de Medici, might be considered the first foodie as she understood the importance of food and was influential in supporting cooks and their imaginations. It is said that upon marrying a French king, she brought refined cuisine and the fork to that country, who’s citizens at the time used their hands to eat! Her namesake salad has mixed lettuces embellished with chopped figs, parmesan cheese and dressed with olive oil and saba, an ancient condiment of reduced grape must.
Our pasta has been infused with fresh mint before being extruded into the shape of “gemelli” or twins. Mushrooms foraged in the woods were popular and easily accessible and so frequently found in the dishes at the time.
Fish was widely used also because of the abundance of fasting days imposed by the church when congregants were forbidden to eat meat. We prepare it with aromatics that were popular in the day with the addition of sautéed spinach, one of the most well-known ingredients in Renaissance Florence.
Rice pudding and parfait were popular, dating back to the Romans. Here I have added almonds, apricots and spices accompanied by the famous Cantucci di Prato. These “twice baked” biscotti were created to sustain the Roman League soldiers and then reemerged when cuisine blossomed in Renaissance Tuscany.
It is intriguing to note that Italian cuisine hasn’t changed that much. The same type of food and ingredients that were used in the Renaissance are still being used today. Today we are equally enthralled by the master works of Raffaello, just as Popes and nobles had been during his lifetime. As you enjoy your Renaissance feast, we invite you to give your eyes a feast of their own by enjoying a narrated virtual tour of the Raffaello exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome and walking into the Stanze di Raffaello at the Vatican.
[You call type in the links below, or you can find these as clickable hyperlinks in my online travel notes in the WEEK FIVE MENU blog post. Just go to iricchifoodclub.com, click on MENUS on the top right and click on WEEK FIVE MENU and scroll down to travel notes. ]
THE ROME EXHIBIT CAN BE VISITED IN ENGLISH HERE: https://youtu.be/s58gYvvNrKQ
THE STANZE DI RAFFAELLO AT THE VATICAN CAN BE VISITED VIA VIDEO TOUR HERE: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/stanze-di-raffaello/video.html
THE STANZE DI RAFFAELLO AT THE VATICAN CAN BE EXPLORED 360 DEGREES VIRTUALLY HERE (AMAZING!): http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/stanze-di-raffaello/tour-virtuale.html
If you want some more, our very own National Gallery of Art also has an intimate installation of 26 prints and drawings that you can tour virtually as well as a narrated slideshow found here: https://www.nga.gov/features/raphael-virtual-tour.html