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Today we are going to introduce you to the oldest part of the history of Italian cuisine.
Italian cuisine has developed over the centuries. Although the country known as Italy did not unite until the 19th century, the cuisine can claim traceable roots as far back as the 4th century BCE. Through the centuries, neighboring regions, conquerors, high-profile chefs, political upheaval and the discovery of the New World have influenced one of the premiere cuisines in the world.
The first known Italian food writer was a Greek Sicilian named Archestratus from Syracuse in the 4th century BC. He wrote a poem that spoke of using “top quality and seasonal” ingredients. He said that flavors should not be masked by spices, herbs or other seasonings. He placed importance on simple preparation of fist. This style seemed to be forgotten during the 1st century CE when De re coquinaria was published with 470 recipes calling for heavy use of spices and herbs. The Romans employed Greek bakers to produce breads and imported cheeses from Sicily as the Sicilians had a reputation as the best cheese makers The Romans reared goats for butchering, and grew artichokes and leeks.
With culinary traditions from Rome and Athens, a cuisine developed in Sicily that some consider the first real Italian cuisine. Arabs invaded Sicily in the 9th century. The Arabs introduced spinach, almonds, rice and perhaps spaguetti. During the 12th century, a Norman king surveyed Sicily and saw people making long strings made from flour and water called atriya, which eventually became trii, a term still used for spaghetti in southern Italy. Normans also introduced casseroles, salt cod (baccalà) and stockfish which remain popular.
The northern Italian regions show a mix of Germanic and Roman culture while the south reflects Arab influence, as much Mediterranean cuisine was spread by Arab trade. The oldest Italian book on cuisine is the 13th century Liber de coquina written in Naples. Dishes include “Roman-style” cabbage (ad usum romanorum), ad usum campanie which were “small leaves” prepared in the “Campanian manner”, a bean dish from the Marca di Trevisio, a torta, compositum londardicum which are similar to dishes prepared today. Two other books from the 14th century include recipes for Roman pastello, Lavagna pie, and call for the use of salt from Sardinia or Chioggia.
In the 15th century, Maestro Martino was chef to the Patriarch of Aquileia at the Vatican.. His Libro de arte coquinaria describes a more refined and elegant cuisine. His book contains a recipe for Maccaroni Siciliani, made by wrapping dough around a thin iron rod to dry in the sun. The macaroni was cooked in capon stock flavored with saffron, showing Arab influence. Of particular note is Martino’s avoidance of excessive spices in favor of fresh herbs. The Roman recipes include coppiette and cabbage dishes. His Florentine dishes include eggs with Bolognese torta, Sienese torta and Genovese recipes such as piperata, macaroni, squash, mushrooms, and spinach pie with onions.