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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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Ancient Rome on Modern Tables

February 22, 2012 Carlino's Restaurant no comments

New York’s the Empire State, but no one did empires like the Romans. At its peak, the Roman empire encompassed 40 percent of the people on Earth. With such a vast empire came a lively cosmopolitan culture that drew from a host of influences. You’ll see it in Roman art, but you can experience it even more directly in modern Italian food.

The Romans gave the world its first cookbook: the Apicius. The book is a collection of recipes that gives a glimpse into a Roman kitchen from about 1,700 years ago. Like a modern cookbook or menu, it’s divided into sections for appetizers, soups, vegetable dishes, seafood, poultry entrees and meats. Some of the delicacies in the book are not to modern tastes – whole roasted flamingo isn’t likely to be a big hit anytime soon – but others are startlingly modern.

One parallel between ancient Roman tastes and modern palates is a shared love of great Italian sausage. Apicius features multiple recipes for minced, spiced meats that are very much like the house-made sausage we produce at Carlino’s. The fennel, garlic, pepper and hint of anise that make Italian sausage so special were familiar to the ancient Romans too. Pizza wasn’t invented until later, but the Romans would have recognized and loved a sandwich piled high with homemade sausage and thinly sliced onions.

Although they didn’t yet have spaghetti to put under them, the Romans also ate meatballs. Modern meatball lovers have a broader variety of herbs and spices to enjoy in their meatballs, but the fundamental ingredients have stayed the same for at least two thousand years. Apicius calls for ground meat, bread crumbs and an egg to hold it all together just as a modern recipe might.

If Apicius is any indication, the Romans loved cooking in wine. They would have appreciated modern veal Marsala in its mushroom-infused wine sauce laced with pepper and a hint of rosemary. Paired with a fruit-laden salad in balsamic vinegar, it’s a feast fit for a Roman noble.

Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s

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