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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Original Tomato Sauce

I have been making a cheap meal of some canned spaghetti that Tesco sells, on a regular basis. Lately however, I have been wondering if it might be cheaper/better to just make my own spaghetti and sauce instead. This somehow led to researching the original recipes for marinara sauce, and thus I did find the oldest tomato sauce recipe.

Now, for those who need a refresher on their food history: the tomato is a New World food, so was not used in European cookery till after Columbus' time -- and even then it was often thought to be poisonous and was only used by the brave for a stretch of time. None of these tomato-y Mediterranean dishes we now know would have been eaten in the Renaissance. But in the late 17th century, the first known recipe for a tomato sauce appears in a cookbook, The Modern Steward (Lo Scalco alla Moderna.) That recipe, according to the translation at Pomodoro, goes:

Salsa di pomodoro alla spagnola (tomato sauce, Spanish style). Take half a dozen ripe tomatoes and roast them in embers, and when they are charred, carefully remove the skin, and mince them finely with a knife. Add as many onions, finely minced, as desired; chilies [peparolo, in Neapolitan dialect], also finely minced; and a small amount of thyme. After mixing everything together, add a little salt, oil, and vinegar as needed. It is a very tasty sauce, for boiled dishes or anything else.

This recipe does not specifically say it's for pasta, though "boiled dishes" might possibly include that substance (more likely, however, that it was used for topping meat or vegetables. Old time pasta recipes I have seen are almost always cheese based in their topping, without meat or complex sauces.) 

I am actually not a fan of tomato sauces, generally, but I might have a go at this in the future to see how it works out. Interesting to note that, while the tomatoes are cooked before being diced, the recipe does not specifically say to heat anything else -- almost more like a salsa. In fact, it sounds almost like an early pico de gallo, but with thyme and vinegar instead of cilantro and lime juice.

EDIT: See my version of the recipe as a guest blog post at Vintage Cookbook Trials!

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