The World's First Tomato Sauce Recipe
A Baroque-era salsa you'll love!
If you know a writer, chances are that during the worst of the pandemic they turned to writing and emerged from the other side with a book in hand. I had a goal of writing four books before I hit 50, and I hit that goal in 2021, a few months before I hit that milestone.
I shelved the book for the time being because I was super hot to write the novel that I am hoping to tell you all about VERY SOON. But this particular pandemic book that I wrote is set in the Baroque era, about Antonio Latini, this fancy, bewigged man shown here.
His story is a true rags to riches one. He was orphaned at the age of five when his parents died of either plague or famine (or both), and he lived on the streets till he was a teen and was finally taken in to work in a kitchen. He went on to lead a fascinating life full of adventures, culminating in a role as the steward for the viceroy of Spain in Naples.
Latini left behind a cookbook, published in 1692 and 1694, two volumes two years apart, called Lo Scalco alla Moderna (The Modern Steward). The book is finally in print in English thanks to a beautiful translation by Tommaso Astarita, Professor of History at Georgetown University. The cookbook is full of advice for stewards of the day, and has over a thousand culinary recipes for a Baroque King's table. It also features the first tomato sauce recipe in print. But wait, I hear you say, didn't the Italians always have tomatoes? Or perhaps you were thinking that foods from the New World were surely available in Italy by then?
Tomatoes came to Italy by way of Spanish explorers to Mexico and Central America, probably in the early 1500s. But once they came to Italy, the tasty tomato ran into a problem. The juice from these fruits would run all over the pewter dishes of the wealthy, thereby leaching the lead from the plates and killing people. The peasant population ate off wood or clay dishes and didn't have this problem, but it was too late. The correlation was made, and it was nearly two hundred years before Latini embraced the ways of the Spaniards he worked for and put tomatoes on the tables of nobility.
The first tomato sauce was not what we think of as tomato sauce today. Rather, it is what we would call a salsa, which is fitting considering the word for sauce in Italian is the same--salsa. You'll notice that it is much simpler and missing some typical salsa ingredients such as oregano. But I swear you won't be disappointed.
Latini has two versions of this recipe, one in each volume of the cookbook. One recipe cooks the tomatoes over the coals, then chops them up, calling for onions, thyme or pepperwort, with a bit of salt, oil, and vinegar. The second recipe calls for uncooked tomatoes and omits the vinegar, so clearly there were variations on this sauce at that time. I chose to go with uncooked tomatoes, but after some taste testing, I added the vinegar to freshen the dish a bit.
This salsa would have been placed in small dishes as a condiment to meats. Latini suggests that they are served in tondini , little serving plates.
In the photo below you'll see we used the salsa to top a dish of cheesy beef involtini, which is a recipe I'll share at some point in the future. You can, of course, use this delicious salsa on corn chips, too!
And for those of you who remember my aversion to raw tomatoes, I like the flavor—it’s often just the texture that’s an issue. I have been able to manage some salsas if the tomatoes are very firm, and this recipe has been one of the few I’ve liked.
Antonio Latini's Spanish Style Sauce
From Lo Scalco all Moderna Vol. II.380
interpreted by Crystal King
Two medium-sized tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup (40g.) onion, finely diced
1 minced jalapeno or other type of chili pepper, seeds removed
1 tbsp chopped thyme
pinch of salt
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp white vinegar
Mix together and serve.
Stolen Ancient Roman bust found in Worcester MA!
Some Ancient Rome news happened this week that’s a bit close to home.
An investigation into antiquities looted from Turkey has led the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to seize an ancient Roman Bust known as Portrait of a Lady from the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts.
What’s Bringing Me Joy This Week:
I went to SOWA this last weekend, and when we were wandering the stalls, we came across this adorable trio.
I’ve long been a fan of the Italian band Subsonica, and their lead singer, Samuel. Here’s an end of summer song for you (about sunglasses!) from the latter. And yes, he might be poking fun at Americans…
And a meme that’s good for us all to keep in mind: