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What Did Leonardo da Vinci Eat?

October 6, 2012 Carlino's Restaurant no comments

“What Did Leonardo da Vinci Eat?”

Leonardo was one of the world’s greatest geniuses and Italy’s most famous Renaissance man, but have you ever wondered what was on da Vinci’s menu when he put down his paintbrush and picked up his fork?

Even in Leonardo’s day, Italian food was famous for its freshness, quality and creativity, so the painter and inventor probably ate deliciously diverse meals. While he didn’t have the tangy tomatoes that grace Italian menus today – they wouldn’t make waves in Italian cuisine until about a century later than Leonardo’s last meal sometime in 1519 – he did enjoy many of the items that you’ll still find on a great Italian menu.

Mushrooms and wine to make a version of chicken Marsala, lemon for veal piccata and all of the classic Italian cheeses like mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano would have been on the table. He surely would have had access to minced, spiced beef that probably tasted a good bit like modern meatballs even if he had no tomato sauce to put on them. He probably would have had pasta, and he certainly would have enjoyed his meal with garlic and onions, two ancient seasonings.

Fish in many forms would have been on the table. Italians still love great seafood, and they would have loved it in Leonardo’s day, too. Simple preparations with lemon and butter as well as complex pastry-covered, baked versions would have been popular for every meal of the day.

Although these foods would have been served, he probably wouldn’t have eaten all of them. It’s a little known secret that Leonardo preferred a vegetarian diet and probably feasted on sautéed vegetables with eggs and cheese, two foods that would have been abundant for the relatively prosperous painter. He would have had plenty of delicious breads to spread with soft cheese, fresh butter and fig preserves. Italy’s wealth of citrus trees would have added flavor to his food.

Leonardo ate a lot of spinach, too. Any food labeled “Florentine” means with spinach, and that’s where he lived. Catherine de Medici made it part of the world’s culinary vocabulary by bringing her Florentine chefs with her when she went to France. Although she and Leonardo never crossed paths, her cooks were faithfully reproducing the delicious food of Florence, including its spinach-based delights.

In his own writings, Leonardo recommended that everything people ate be “well-cooked and simple.” He never got to sample a classic pizza Napolitano, but he probably would have approved of the simple, but delicious formula of a great crust, perfectly spiced tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella and fresh basil. He may well have eaten something that we might recognize as a pizza. Oven-baked flat rounds of bread brushed with olive oil and dusted with spices and herbs were popular even before pizza as we know and love it was first made in Naples.

The next time you visit Carlino’s, keep Leonardo’s advice in mind and enjoy something well-cooked and simple yourself.

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