The Origins

The city of Arezzo was one of the principal centres of the Etruscan civilisation of which some traces are still evident in today's cooking (for example "rabbit al' Etruscan"); also with the Romans this city has entertained a good rapport and the successful merging, with regard to the art of cooking, of the two alimentary cultures and adherence to the signs of opulence that characterised the last centuries of the western Roman Empire; opulence and the desire to surprise the participants was the stimulus to the realisation of certain dishes that triumphed on the tables of the Romans and of which there remain some testimony in many pages of the authors of that time. Let us remember Gaio Petronio (first century after Christ) who left in his Satyricon various testimonies to the way of life of high society at that time with the episode of the Dinner of Trimalcione and the minute description and amusements of the gruelling abundance of the banquets of the newly rich, Trimalcione exactly; this banquet was a following of incredible courses, made even more spectacular by the "special effects" which have not found equal in the history of the culinary arts, with the exception, perhaps, of that of Lucullo, which in our language was given the adjective "luculliano". We report here some brief passages of this banquet which are quite amusing and descriptive. "There was brought, even though we were still on the hors d'oeuvre, a tray in which there was a chest on which was crouched a wooden hen with its wings open, like that when they cover the nest. Straight away arrived two slaves and between the hubbub of the music began to rummage in the straw, taking out peacocks eggs and distributing them to the diners. Turning his head towards the table, Trimalcione saw the scene and said "Friends, peacocks eggs I put under this hen. But, for Hercules, I am afraid that there are already the chicks. Let's see if we can still drink it". With two spoons that weighed al least half a pound, we broke the eggs, which were of sweet pastry. I was ready to throw away what seemed to already have a chick inside, when I heard a regular guest say: "There must be something really special inside". In fact, breaking the crust, they found a large (woodcock) immersed in the yolk, well seasoned and larded". In front of this luxury we may well understand the indignation that circulated one century after expressed by Catone, who exactly said in the Censore, in his works the agriculture that supported the return to the food of our ancestors, realised with ingredients less rich but not less exquisite. In his works we find various recipes also of food to be eaten on a dialy basis insipired by great simplicity. The libum for example, a typical dish of ancient Rome described by Catone in a simple way, but already a long way from the poverty reserved some centuries before for the slaves. "Let us prepare the libum. Melt well in a mortar two pounds of cheese. When it all becomes smooth mix well with one pound of flour or, if you want it lighter, half a pound. Add an egg, and again mix all the ingredients well. Form a round loaf, place above a bed of leaves and leave to cook slowly in a hot oven".