Food for Dragon’s Mist’s Carnevale AS L
By Mistress Eulalia Piebakere
A melding of cuisines from Venice and Constantinople from roughly the time of the Fourth Crusade (the very beginning of the 13th century). Both of these places had independent well-developed food cultures, and each also tended to have an early sort of “fusion” cuisine as each city was quite cosmopolitan and a hub for commerce and trade. Also, in my vision we ignore the fact that crusades were nasty, awful things and that the sacking of Constantinople was objectively terrible.
Background Information / Historical Justification
Unfortunately, there are no extant recipes from either region from this time period.
For the Venetian course, I relied heavily on an anonymous 14th century Italian cookbook. The full text in Italian is available online (1). Luckily for us, many of these recipes have been translated and interpreted in the readily available The Medieval Kitchen (Redon, Sabban, and Serventi). I chose some of my favorite recipes from this source and adapted them to better fit with some of the constraints of feast planning.
For the Constantinople course, I found a few online resources helpful, particularly an article that originally appeared in Medieval History Magazine(2). Several themes that emerged in this and other articles were: pork and lamb were popular meats, and sausages were favored; a broad range of non-alcoholic beverages were known to the Byzantines, including posca or oxymel made from honey and vinegar in water; dairy products known to have been eaten historically include feta cheese and yogurt; as in Western Europe, fresh green salads regularly appeared on the table; Byzantine cooks were famous for a type of fluffy egg omelet called “sphoungata” (spongy); fruits were eaten fresh or used in desserts. You will see these themes echoed in the menu.
Other Byzantine food links:
Note: V = vegan, GF = gluten free
We had bread, olive oil, salt, and assorted pickles out on the tables to start the feast. As long as you avoid new-world foods like peppers, these are easy and historical nibbles that everyone can enjoy.
I prepared two typical medieval spice mixes to use for the Venetian course, powder fort and powder douce. You can learn more about these and find recipes elsewhere on my blog: https://medievalyork.com/2016/02/04/a-basic-medieval-spice-kit/
Oxymel (for 4 servings) (GF)
- ½ gallon water
- ½ cup honey
- ¼ cup wine vinegar (not distilled white vinegar)
Mix until fully blended. Drink and enjoy. You can also prepare a concentrate by heating the honey and vinegar to make a syrup, then diluting as needed. I have found this keeps essentially indefinitely. Feel free to experiment with cider vinegar and malt vinegar, too.
Pomegranate drink (for 1 serving) — this was only served to the high table (GF, V)
- 1 pint water
- 2 T pomegranate molasses (available from middle eastern grocers)
- 1 T sugar
Mix until blended, drink. This is a tart version, which I prefer, but you could also use equal quantities pomegranate molasses and sugar. I also like to add a few drops of orange flower water to this. Pomegranate molasses is highly concentrated pomegranate juice.
Onion salad (4-6 servings) (GF, V)
- 2 large onions
- 2 T red wine vinegar
- 3 T olive oil, divided
- Salt and powder fort to taste
Chop both ends off the onions and peel. Grease a baking dish with 1T of the olive oil, place the onions in the dish (whole) and roast at 400°F for 1 hour, or until onions are completely soft. Let cool. Slice onions attractively (I favor the “French” cut) and dress with vinegar, remaining oil, salt, and spices.
Asparagus (4-6 servings) (GF, V)
- 1 lb asparagus
- 2 T olive oil
- Salt, saffron, and powder fort (to taste)
Wash the asparagus well and trim the stalk ends.
Option A: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add the asparagus. Boil for 1-4 minutes depending on thickness of stalks, until just tender. Drain, then dress with remaining ingredients.
Option B: (What we did at the feast, we were out of stove space for another pot.) Lightly coat asparagus in olive oil, add powder fort and salt, roast at 400°F for 20-45 minutes depending on size of asparagus and desired doneness. Prior to serving, add a small amount of saffron and toss well to mix.
Serve hot or cold.
Lemon Chicken (6-8 servings) (GF)
- 1 fryer chicken, cut up
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ½ cup almond meal
- Juice of 3 lemons
- Salt and powder douce, to taste
Heat oil in a large saucepan, then add the chicken and brown. Remove chicken, add the onion and fry until softened. Add the chicken back to the pan, then pour in the broth and add the almond meal and powder douce. Cover the pan and simmer until chicken is tender. Add lemon juice in the last 10 minutes of cooking, taste and adjust seasoning / add salt as needed.
Cheese Gnocchi (6-8 servings) (GF)
- 1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups rice flour, plus a little extra for rolling
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 T butter
- 1-2 oz grated parmesan cheese
- Powder douce (to taste)
Beat the eggs and ricotta together, mix in the salt, then add rice flour to make a stiff dough. Divide dough into 8 sections and roll each out into a 1” diameter “snake” on a well-floured board. Cut into individual dumplings. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the gnocchi, and lower heat. Gently boil until the gnocchi float, then either scoop them out with a slotted spoon or drain in a colander. Butter a baking dish, then spread out the cooked gnocchi in it and add the remaining butter, enough parmesan cheese to lightly cover, and a generous sprinkle of powder douce. Place in a warm oven until ready to eat.
Nucato — Honey-Nut Candy (GF)
- 1 lb honey
- 1 ¼ lb walnuts (halves or pieces)
- Ground spices: ¼ tsp pepper, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ⅛ tsp cloves (or to taste)
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix all ingredients. Cook on moderate heat, stirring constantly, until candy reaches the hard-ball stage (250-265°F) or the soft-crack stage (270-290°F). Pour candy out of pan into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, flatten with spoon. Allow to cool and harden, then break into bite-sized pieces and serve.
Note: for this course we had Vietnamese fish sauce, which is a modern substitute for garum, on all the tables. Realistically nearly every dish from this course (except maybe the yogurt) should be eaten with fish sauce. Before deciding you don’t like fish sauce, try a little bit on meat (especially spicy sausages) — it really is phenomenal. It doesn’t taste fishy, it’s like pure umami (savory) flavor that goes with everything. There’s a reason it was ubiquitous in the western Roman empire and the Byzantine empire, and persists in southeast Asian cuisine to this day. This stuff is really good.
Carrot Puree (4-6 servings) (GF)
- 4 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1tsp to 1T honey depending on desired sweetness
- Salt, powdered ginger, powdered clove, to taste
In a small saucepan, cover the carrots with water until just submerged, then simmer, covered, until tender. Mash with honey, add spices. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Green salad (GF, V)
- Spring greens
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
You know how to make salad. Did you know salad is period? Now you do!
Sphoungata (4-6 servings, or breakfast for 2) (GF)
- 4 eggs
- 1 oz feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 T whole milk
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Beat the eggs with the milk. Grease a baking dish well with olive oil. Pour in the egg mix, then sprinkle feta on top. Add salt and pepper to your preference. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes, then remove from oven and lightly drizzle with honey. Dip in garum while eating or sprinkle some on top just before serving.
Fresh Sausages (all were GF, nut free, and dairy free)
We had pork and lamb sausages, both stuffed into casings and as meatballs or skewers. The pork sausages had fresh herbs, a dash of vinegar and posca (concentrated grape juice), a bit of salt, and were spiced with juniper berry and pepper. They were particularly good with fish sauce. The lamb sausages were seasoned only with salt, rosemary, and garlic. My wife made a green sauce to accompany the sausages using cilantro, mint, olive oil, vinegar, and salt, which I hope she makes again. I made the sausages in advance (with lots of help) by adapting recipes found in Home Sausage Making by Peery and Reavis, specifically their “Luganega” and “Lamb, Rosemary, and Pine Nut Sausage” recipes.
A Dish of Rice (4-6 servings) (GF)
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 cup almond milk (can be homemade or store bought, but avoid vanilla flavoring)
- 1 t salt
- 5 whole cardamom pods
- ¼ cup candied citrus peel
- 1-2 T sugar, or to taste
Cook rice in water in a rice cooker or on stovetop. Preheat oven to 325F. In a small saucepan, bring the almond milk, salt, and cardamom pods to a boil; pour over rice. Cover baking dish (use foil if dish doesn’t have an oven-safe lid) and bake for 40 min – 1 hour or until liquid is absorbed and rice is soft. Pick out cardamom pods. Stir in candied citrus peel. Sprinkle with sugar just prior to serving.
Yogurt (4-6 servings) (GF)
- 1 pint strained (Greek-style) whole milk yogurt
- 4 T honey
- Orange flower water or rose water
Dish out yogurt and top each serving with honey, then sprinkle with orange flower water.
Candied almonds — served to the high table
Candy-coated almonds are one of the exotic foods crusaders brought back to Western Europe, and quickly became a common feature on noble tables.
Almond and Apricot Tortes
I gave myself permission to “wing it” on one dish for this feast, and I chose to make a pie for dessert (because of course I did). It brings together themes of both courses — I found references to layered pastries with dried fruit and nuts in ancient Greece (probably the ancestor of modern baklava) and my Italian source included several tarts with dried fruit and/or almond paste. These tarts had a butter-based crust (to be more historical, use lard instead) and were filled with layers of almond paste, chopped dried apricots, and diced candied ginger. For the test pie that I made in advance, I soaked the apricots in sweet white wine overnight before assembling the pie.