Category Archives: the middle ages

Mushroom and Stilton Pasties

mushroom and stilton pasties

Mushroom and Stilton Pasties

This recipe was one of an entire feast prepared in my recent “Pubs and Taverns” class at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens after a discussion in the special exhibition Bruce Davidson|Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland. (Guinness Stout not pictured.)

English cheeses, though far fewer in numbers than the cheeses of France, have an important place in their diet, with Stilton being one of the finest. Pasties, or turnovers, are common fare in pubs and taverns. In the Middle Ages, mushrooms only appear in pasty recipes. This is not to say that they weren’t prepared other ways, but the vegetable was not considered appropriate for the wealthy table. Because of their mysterious growth and the fact that they lack visible roots, mushrooms were considered excrementa terrae, or excrements of the earth.

For the dough:
3 cups flour
1 stick butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
1 egg

For the mushroom filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ tablespoon fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup crumbled Stilton cheese
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Prepare the dough. Place the butter and the water in a small saucepan and simmer until the butter melts. (This can also be done in a bowl in the microwave). When cool, whisk in one egg. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and slowly add the liquid while kneading. Gather the dough and chill.

Preheat oven to 450º F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prepare the mushroom filling. Heat the olive oil in a wide pan over medium-low heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Add the butter to the pan. Once melted, add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are completely soft and all of the liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.

Roll the dough out until about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out circles and place about a tablespoon of the filling in the center of each circle. Use your finger to brush a little of the egg wash onto the inner rim of the circle. Fold in half, pinch the edges together with your fingers and use a fork to seal. Brush the top with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

(Skip the egg wash if you choose to deep fry the pasties. Instead, heat about 2 inches of grapeseed oil in a deep pot to 365º F and fry in batches until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.)

Makes about 24 pasties

Spinach Quiche Muffin

spinach quiche

Spinach Quiche Muffin

My sister-in-law, Carmel Bank, was having trouble getting her finicky toddlers to eat until she cleverly figured out that anything can be disguised in the playful muffin. Muffinmania ensued and her blog, Muffin Mama, was born! 

This recipe is adapted from the one she created to get her sons to eat the much loathed spinach. Not only is it delicious, it is easy to make and is perfect with this Simple Green Salad.

One of the world’s healthiest vegetables, spinach is native to ancient Persia and travelled east to China via Nepal by the 7th century. It reached Europe in the 11th century, when the Arabs who invaded Spain brought it with them. Spinach was referred to as the “prince of vegetables” by agriculturist Ibn al-Awwam, who wrote a handbook on agriculture in 12th century Seville. His book is the most important medieval work on agriculture in any language, and was translated into Spanish and French in the 19th century.

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
6 ounces baby spinach
1 tablespoon dill, chopped
6 large eggs
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350° F. Butter or spray 12 muffin tins.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the chopped spinach and cook until it completely wilts. Stir in the dill and season to taste with salt and pepper. You should end up with about 1 cup. Place the mixture in a strainer and squeeze out all the moisture by pressing it with the back of a spoon. Make sure to remove as much water as you can!

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl and add the cheese and spinach mixture. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cupcake molds until ¾ full and bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool slightly before unmolding. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 12



A popular pastry in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Baklava is hands down one of the most delicious things in the world. It appears in different variations depending on where it’s prepared. Sometimes it has cardamom, orange peel, or rose water, sometimes just cinnamon (my preference). What all baklavas have in common is the use of filo, a dough of Turkish origin that consists of multiple paper-thin layers separated by films of butter. A true delicacy, baklava was probably invented in the Ottoman sultan’s kitchens at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

My friend Jennifer’s mom makes the best one in the world. This recipe is an adaptation of hers. 

For the filling:
1 ½ cups walnuts
1 ½ plus ½ cups pistachios
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 package frozen filo sheets, thawed

For the syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the walnuts, pistachios, cinnamon and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not pasty or powdery. Transfer to a bowl. Place the remaining ½ cup pistachios in the food processor, pulse, and place in a separate bowl.

Melt the butter.

Unroll the filo dough and, if you need to, trim it to fit a 9×13-inch pan using scissors. Set aside and lay a damp towel over it to keep it from drying out while you work.

Brush melted butter on the bottom and sides of the pan. Fold back the damp towel, carefully remove one sheet of filo dough and place it on the bottom of the pan. Brush with a thin layer of butter making sure you butter all the way to the edges. Place another filo sheet over it, butter and continue layering to total 10 sheets of filo, buttering the top of each sheet before placing the next and making sure to keep the remaining filo covered with the damp towel each time you remove a sheet. Sprinkle the nuts over the top layer of filo and spread them gently all the way to the edges in an even layer. Create another filo layer using the rest of the dough, remembering to brush with melted butter between each layer. Cut the baklava on the diagonal into approximately 28 pieces using a very sharp knife. Bake for about 45 minutes. Check half way through and rotate the pan for even browning. Remove the baklava from the oven and let cool.

Make the syrup. Combine the sugar, water and honey in a saucepan and bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Re-cut the baklava by running your knife through the pre-cut pieces to be sure they are cut all the way through. Carefully pour the hot syrup over the baklava, being sure to coat each piece. Garnish with the chopped pistachios, drizzle with a little honey and serve!

Makes about 28 pieces

Shaved Root Vegetable Salad


Shaved Root Vegetable Salad

Though vegetables were an important food item and eaten daily by everyone in the Middle Ages, in many ways they were considered an inferior menu item. Vegetable dishes are hardly ever mentioned in Medieval cookbooks. The pure simplicity of vegetable preparation – raw tossed with oil and vinegar – often meant that precious vellum or parchment wasn’t wasted on recording the recipes. Some cookbooks go so far as to point out that the ability to prepare vegetables is common knowledge and further instructions are not necessary. Raw salads were considered an excellent way to begin a meal.

Chaucer’s The Franklin’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales focuses on truth and generosity in human relationships. In the Middle Ages a franklin was a landowner and one who’s table would have likely reflected the healthy bounty of his land.

This recipe was developed for my recent Cooking Canterbury classes at The J. Paul Getty Museum in conjunction with the special exhibition Canterbury and St. Albans: Treasures fro Church and Cloister.

The picture was taken by Julia Sherman and first appeared in her blog, Salad for President.

For the salad:
1 red beet
1 golden beat
1 celery root, peeled
1 bulb fennel
3 carrots, peeled
1 bunch radishes, trimmed
1 apple, unpeeled (Gala, Fuji or Braeburn are good options)

For the dressing:
1 anchovy
1 garlic clove
juice of one lemon (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Scrub vegetables, remove peel from carrots and beets. Cut fronds and bottom of fennel, discard. Cut fennel in half lengthwise, remove outer layer and discard. Remove tops from radishes and wash the radishes well. Cut apple in half and de-seed. Using a large knife, remove all out layer of the celery root and discard. You should just have the white flesh showing. Using a mandolin, carefully slice all vegetables except for radishes, into paper-thin slices. Slice radishes individually to the same thickness of the rest of your veggies. Place in separate bowls and make the dressing.

In a mortar and pestle, mash the anchovy, garlic and a pinch of salt to a paste. Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir to break up the anchovy paste. Beat in the mustard. Whisk in the olive oil, a little at a time. Season with the pepper. Dress each vegetable pile separately to keep the beets from turning everything red, or toss them all together in a bowl. Beautiful and delicious either way! This salad is better the longer it sits in the dressing.

Serves 8