Category Archives: antiquity

Apple, Celery Salad with Dates and Pomegranate Seeds

apple celery salad

Apple, Celery Salad with Dates and Pomegranate Seeds

A golden apple was thrown into the wedding banquet of Peleus and Thetis by Eris, the goddess of discord, because she had not been invited. The apple had for the fairest written on it. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all claimed it but when Paris, the prince of Troy, awarded it to Aphrodite who promised him the love of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world who just happened to be married, it began a chain of events that led to the Trojan War. The apple appears throughout history connected to love and sex.

Hades fell head over heels over Persephone, and she was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds so she’d have to spend a portion of each year as his queen in the underworld. A deceitful maneuver, yet some would see an element of dark romance in the story. Some say that a pomegranate was the original forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 apples, cored, halved and thinly sliced
8 ribs celery, cut into half moons
6 dates, pitted, coarsely chopped
seeds of one pomegranate

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Thinly slice the apples and place in the bowl with the vinaigrette. Add the celery and chopped dates and toss well. Lastly, gently toss in the pomegranate seeds.

Serves 4

Spiced Cupcakes with Rosewater Frosting

julia-titi

Spiced Cupcakes with Rosewater Frosting

Fashionable Julia Titi lived in the 1st century AD and was the daughter of Roman emperor Titus. She was quite a wild child in her day and had an affair with emperor Domitian, her uncle, who divorced his wife and lived openly with her. She must have been quite a seductress.

Portraits of woman like Julia set fashions throughout the Roman Empire. Traces of paint on her dramatic curls suggest she was a fiery redhead. A hairstyle worn by an imperial woman would soon appear all over the court and spread through the rest society as a sign of taste and status. (If you were a part of Julia’s high society, you’d better forget about the blow out and pull out the curling iron.) Her diadem was originally inlaid with gold, silver and/or gems. The sculpture, which has pierced ears, would have worn gold earrings.

Now, take a close look at her neck. Yes, those are rolls you see and no, they’re not from saggy skin. (Julia was only 30 when she died.) They’re rolls of fat. Fat? Yes, fat. Those perfect little rolls are called “Venus rings” named after Venus, the Roman goddess of sex, love and beauty. Like her Greek counterpart Aphrodite, she represents a sexuality free from anxiety and self-consciousness. These rolls tell us that she not only had abundant wealth and power, she was well fed and confident. I hope she also had love.

The rose was the favorite flower of Venus and in Julia’s day people often ate rose pudding to revitalize their sex lives. Cinnamon and cardamom were very expensive and known for their sensual appeal in the ancient world from the Middle East to Europe to Asia. With that in mind, the flavor profile of the following recipe makes me think she would have liked them. And they remind me of her curls.

For the cakes:
2 ½ cups flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 ¾ cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon rosewater (Taste and add a little more if you’d like, but use it with caution as it can go from tasting sublime to tasting like perfume very quickly. Consider yourself warned.)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 12 large cupcake or 24 small cupcake molds. If you’d rather make this as a cake, butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan.

Add vanilla extract to the milk and stir.

Mix flour and baking powder together in a bowl and set aside.

Beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar and beat on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs to batter one at a time beating for an additional 2 minutes.

Beginning and ending with the flour, mix one third of the flour into the wet mixture at a low speed, then half of the milk, alternating until all ingredients are mixed. Add lemon zest, cinnamon and cardamom.

Transfer batter to cake pan filling until cavity is about 3/4 full and bake about 40 minutes – until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cakes are baking make the frosting. Place the cream cheese, butter and rosewater in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed just until combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool completely before frosting.

Makes 1 cake, 12 large cupcakes or 24 mini cupcakes

image: Portrait Head of Julia Titi, Roman, about 90 AD, marble with polychromy, J. Paul Getty Museum

Saffron Risotto

saffron risotto

Saffron Risotto

Throughout the centuries saffron has been a symbol of wealth and elegance. Cleopatra used saffron water to keep her skin soft. Roman Emperor Nero sprinkled the streets with saffron water to honor his return to Rome. Persians considered it a tonic for the heart as it was thought to alleviate melancholy. (However, they believed too much of it could produce a state of euphoria and even death from too much laughter!). A spice consisting of the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, it was introduced into Spain by the Arabs, and later cultivated in Mediterranean regions and elsewhere in Europe. In France it was grown by “safraniers” in the sixteenth century. In England, the Essex town of Saffron Walden became the center of saffron cultivation.

Rice was introduced into Italy during the Middle Ages by Venetian or Genoese merchants who traded with the east. The earliest documentation of rice cultivation in Italy dates to 1475. Risotto is specific to northern Italy where rice paddies are abundant.

3 ½ cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
generous pinch saffron
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus shavings for garnish

Bring stock to a low simmer in a medium pot.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat for 1 minute. Cook onion until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add rice and a pinch of salt. Sauté until rice is translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine and saffron; bring to a simmer, stirring, until rice has absorbed most of wine.

Add 2 ladles of stock to rice; simmer, stirring, until rice has absorbed most of stock. Continue adding stock, allowing rice to absorb it before adding the next ladleful. Cook until rice is al dente and mixture is a little loose. Stir in butter.

Turn off heat. Stir in grated cheese. Cover and let sit 2 minutes before serving.

Serves 6

Crisp Celery Salad

crisp celery salad

Crisp Celery Salad

The celery we’re familiar with today is a descendant of wild celery, which was highly valued by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks as food and as medicine. Records show it was cultivated in pharaonic Egypt over 3000 years ago.

For the salad:
1 medium celery root, about 1 pound
10 large celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
½ cup parsley

For the vinaigrette:
2 anchovies
2 small garlic cloves
salt
juice from one lemon
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil
pepper

Peel and halve the celery root. Cut into matchstick-size pieces. Place in a large bowl and add the sliced celery stalks, and shallot. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Prepare the dressing. In a mortar and pestle, mash the anchovy, garlic and a pinch of salt to form a paste. Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir to break up the anchovy paste. Beat in the mustard. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and season to taste with the pepper.

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the parsley and toss to combine.

Serves 6

* Add chopped apples for a little sweetness.