Have you ever wondered what Italian food was like before tomatoes and pasta were introduced? We take it for granted today that Italian food has tomato sauce and pasta. But, this isn’t what either Virgil or Dante would have known as cuisine in their day. There are all kinds of YouTubers and bloggers who have delved into this subject a little more fully, If you want one that is very thorough, try Cibi Antiquorum.
My primary concern is a small poem simply known as Moretum that is often attributed to Virgil. There are other recipes for momentum out there, of course. It was a common enough offering to Cybele, or Ceres. Remember yesterday’s post on Georgics? Those were two goddesses you MUST have on your side if you want a plentiful harvest.
Turns out, Ancient Roman fare is very flavorful and pairs very well with good wine. I pulled out a bottle of Super Tuscan we bought in Italy back in 2018. I have particularly good memories of this vacation because I got to spend a lot of time with my dad. Turns out, it was some of the last real quality time we had before his death.
This was the final wine at the tasting, and it we were told it was for “medication and meditation.” Truer words were never spoken! This is the perfect wine for sipping with your momentum and contemplating live in general. If Dante had some of this while he was lost in the dark wood, perhaps he wouldn’t have had such a rough go of it. But then, we also wouldn’t have his Divine Comedy to contemplate while drinking our Super Tuscan, now would we?
Making moretum when you don’t have medieval equipment.
Traditionally, moretum was pounded together in a mortal and pestle. In fact, you can see a lot of YouTube videos of people still using the mortar and pestle. I have neither in my kitchen at the moment, so I resorted to a food processor.
You don’t need too many ingredients either. I used:
- Pecorino Romano cheese. You will want a good hard sheep’s cheese for this recipe. Thankfully, Publix in Florida carries a Romano that’s imported from Italy, so you get a much more authentic flavor. Why sheep’s cheese? Well, it’s got a different flavor. It’s deeper, somehow with more umami and salt than regular cow’s milk cheese or even goat’s cheese.
- Fresh herbs. Think coriander or cilantro. I know, I know. A lot of people out there don’t like cilantro. I’ve always appreciated it personally, but I understand a lot of you out there don’t. Give it a try in this recipe, though. Trust me! You’ll be glad you did!
- Olive oil. Extra virgin, please. And make sure it’s actually from Italy. No canola or vegetable oils please. You know those are bad for you anyway. Besides, Olive oil is what the Romans (and Florentines) would have used in their own cooking.
- Fresh garlic. I used 3 cloves, and even that was almost too much for my palate. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s definitely strong!
- White wine vinegar, optional. I used actual white wine and then only a dash. Remember, this has a LOT of garlic in it and it’s raw.
Whatever you do, DON’T:
- Use salt. The cheese itself is salty enough and the garlic will give you such a punch you’ll feel like you’ve had salt even when you haven’t.
- Use more than 3 garlic cloves. This stuff is STRONG and if you were to add any more garlic, you would have to add more cheese and it would cover up the other flavors.
- Add the vinegar until you’ve tasted it first!
I didn’t measure anything, the original recipe doesn’t have exact measurements either. Everything was eyeballed and I watched the processor religiously to make sure it was coming together properly. I would say I used most of the wedge of Romano, about 2 dry cups or so. This turns out to be about what you want with raw garlic because, as I’ve already mentioned, the garlic flavor is very, VERY strong. So, use your judgement and don’t add too much liquid (or too little). Definitely don’t add the vinegar until you’ve tasted it first!
Using the food processor means the whole thing comes together very quickly and you get about a packed cupful of cheese spread.
Serving the moretum is very simple.
Because it’s a cheese spread, you would serve whatever else you normally would with a cheese spread. I chose some carb balance tortillas, since Virgil’s original mentions flatbreads. Torillas are about the modern equivalent, and since I’m trying to cut back on carbs, the Mission Carb Balance tortillas were a good fit. /hea
Olives are a must-have. These cleans the palate between bites so that you don’t get too overwhelmed and can enjoy all the flavor notes. And, again, olives would have been on the menu for both Dante and Virgil.
Meat-wise, I chose some Spanish sardines from Ortiz. I sourced these from World Market here in the States and they are far more flavorful than a lot of the other brands on the market over here. And they’re properly packed in olive oil and HUGE.
The flavor? Outstanding.
Yes, the ancient Romans knew how to eat and eat well. If moretum was a common food available to everyone, Rome had some very happy folks, let me tell you. Because all that fresh garlic clears your sinuses better than a decongestant. And that cilantro no one likes? It actually gives a much lighter, almost lemony flavor that hits you a couple of minutes after you’ve taken a bite.
Paired with the sardines, you get a very satisfying (and satiating) bite. If the fishy flavor of sardines normally puts you off, you’ll like it with a little moretum! I still knew I was easting fish, but you get more of the fresh sea essence than fish. And, again, it goes beautifully with the wine!
One note. You want to eat the momentum the same say you make it. I tried it again after letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight and found that the flavors weren’t any better than they were the day before. In fact, the garlic only got stronger and sort of muted some of the other flavors.
So, if you want a little of the la vita dolce, try making moretum for yourself and don’t forget a copy of Georgics!
Preparing for the next two weeks…
If you’re a regular follower, you’ll know I’ve been leading up to another trek through Dante’s Divine Comedy in real time. This is when we start on Maundy Thursday with Dante and travel with him hour by hour and day by day through each section of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.
It’s not an easy trek, but doing it in real time adds something to the experience. If you follow some of the old liturgy, like I do, it breathes new live into what a lot of other people call outdated. Some even call it heretical or pagan. But this isn’t the correct attitude we should have towards anything until we’ve properly examined it.
And let’s face it, if there’s one thing the modern world doesn’t do, it’s consider things in their proper time, place, and context. We’re fare more likely to ban it or rewrite it than we are to actually examine it and ourselves to see if we aren’t wrong.
So, if you haven’t already, I invite you to join our little excursion into the world of Dante’s afterlife and take it for what it’s meant to be–medication and meditation for the soul.
A little like the wine I drank with the moretum.
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