Veni Coxi Edi

Tuesday 1/3/2005

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Diary and Notes


People often moan that there are no true heroes anymore and in comparison with the inspiration for today's feast I have to agree - Marcus Gavius Apicius, the senate and people of Britain (SPQB) salute you. Here was a man who squandered his entire fortune giving lavish banquets and feasts that when he realised he was running out of money and couldn't continue, he killed himself - there's commitment for you.

Actually he didn't squander his entire fortune. He still had 10,000,000 cisterci left (making him about as rich as Bill Gates by today's standards) but by Roman standards he was out of the top league and couldn't afford such lavish banquets anymore - the only answer was a glass or two of poison. Before he died however, Apicius left behind a treature so great that it is worth more to a food historian than all the tapestries, statues and slaves that go with being such a rich man - two handwritten cookbooks. The cookbooks of Apicius are a goldmine of recipes from ancient Rome detailing everything from breads, cakes, meats, fish and sauces. (I particularly like one comment which the editor has written above the recipe for absinthium romanum which says: This recipe is toxic, and should never be prepared.)

Poisonous drinks aside, Apicius did leave a wealth of information on what the ancient Romans ate (the upper classes of course). There are some excellent web resources for budding 1st century CE chefs and it was the Romans-in-Britain website that gave me the recipes for today's side dishes and the idea for the chicken (they have a recipe similar to this one for sardines stuffed with dates. I couldn't get sardines so bought a chicken and only had figs so 'invented' an ancient Roman dish). The website is quite fantastic and well worth a look, check out the lark's tongues and the pear patina, mmm, delicious and quotes like "If desired, garnish with the sea urchins." make life worth living.

A quick note on the ingredients. Roman food was highly flavoured. They made use of spices, herbs, a lot of honey for sweetness and a sauce called garum made from fermented fish. The nearest thing available to garum today is Thai fish sauce and I've substitued this. Also the website recipe for the beans was for beans in their shell. I couldn't get any of these so used French beans instead, they were pretty tasty however. The cucumber was delicious but I'd recommend using only a little celery salt and fish sauce as mine were a bit salty. Also the traditional recipe isn't for celery salt but celery seed. I only had the salt so had to make do.

All in all very tasty indeed. If I were a true Roman dignatory I would have eaten this lying down (only commoners ate sitting up in ancient Rome). Also I would have used my fingers and picked over dinner for several hours while I discussed politics, was fanned by my semi-naked women and gave a poor North African slave boy a good seeing too between courses.

I think Apicius would have been disgusted by the lack of grandeur of today's dinner - only three dishes, some bread and olives. He might however be glad that Roman cuisine is alive and well, two thousand years after he was writing. As cookbooks go this one is the bible - and I mean that in every possible way.

Oh, and I don't think they had pitta bread either, but I never promised authenticity, just variety.

And if, like me, you can't read latin, there's an English version of the Cookbook available here.

Cake Blog

Malt Loaf. Two for one at Sainsbury's. Hurry now before stocks run out.


  • Stuffed Chicken
  • Beans in Coriander Sauce
  • Braised Cucumber
  • Pitta
  • Black Olives


  • Chicken: Chicken breast (on the bone), dried figs, celery salt, fresh oregano, honey, black pepper, thai fish sauce, olive oil.
  • Beans: French beans, celery salt, black pepper, cumin, coriander, chicken stock, white wine, olive oil.
  • Cucumber: Cucumber, olive oil, wine vinegar, honey, thai fish sauce.


  • Chicken: Make the stuffing by finely chopping some dried figs (a large breast, on the bone, should easily fit three figs), a little celery salt, some chopped oregano, a little honey, pepper and fish sauce. Cut a slit in the chicken meat and stuff with the fig mix. Tie the chicken with kitchen string to stop the stuffing falling out, heat a little oil in a pan and brown the chicken then transfer to an oven to slowly roast for an hour.
  • Beans: Heat a little oil in a pan, add a little coriander, cumin and pepper, put the beans in, some stock, a little white wine and a little celery satl. Simmer gently until the beans are soft.
  • Cucumber. Peel the cucumber and cut in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and then slice lengthways again and cut each piece into two (thus a whole cucumber makes 8 thick strips). Fry gently in a little olive oil until they begin to brown, add a dash of wine vinegar, a little honey and a little fish sauce. Bubble away until all the liquid has evaporated and the cucumber is glazed.