A Lunch Featuring the Foods of Ancient Rome
It’s time to entertain friends with a delicious meal. You need a theme that will capture their interest. But, what? One way to generate a theme is to consider the date. Seasonal meals are always good but often the date itself will suggest a novel theme. I was pondering the theme for a Sunday lunch when a guest noted that one date I had suggested was the Ides of March. Brilliant! Perfect theme! We all associate the date with Caesar’s assassination, but what might his last meal have been like? I rushed to the Internet to check out foods that the ancient Romans would have eaten.
As is usually the case, picking an unusual theme is great fun. Researching such a topic charges up the brain and lets you wander down intellectual and practical paths that fascinate, intrigue, and get the creative juices flowing. Guests are always appreciative.
I had no idea what the Romans of Caesar’s time ate, except for a mental picture of a toga-clad individual lounging on a couch holding a bunch of grapes above his mouth. Yes, I discovered, the Romans ate grapes, and lots of other fruits, too, as well as veggies, wheat dishes, nuts, eggs, cheeses and, of course, olives. As with the modern Mediterranean diet, meat was a small part although fish was popular. They loved sauces, herbs and spices and went for the exotic when doing a special meal. I followed their lead. The menu is below but here are some highlights.
To start sensationally and exotically, I made crowns of plastic grape vines (purchased at the local craft store). As each guest entered, I placed the crown on her/his head and then handed them an unusual cocktail based on a favored drink of the Romans, mulsum, a mixture of boiled wine and honey. Not wanting to deprive my guests of alcohol, I used chilled white wine mixed with a teaspoon of honey. My guests loved it!
Appetizers included deviled eggs with pine sauce, adapted from Around the Roman Table, by Patrick Faas, and cheese served with honey because the Romans loved their sweets and I love cheese with honey. Despite its nonexistence in ancient Rome, I chose pasta for the main course because wheat dishes were much a part of the diet. Following their banquet tradition, I sauced the pasta with a ragú of exotic mushrooms.
A dessert of chocolate cupcakes with mint riffed on the Roman fondness for herbs and carob (often used as a substitute for chocolate). Romans would have loved chocolate but it was not available until the discovery of the New World. Fruit was often served for dessert so I provided an orange shake - just because orange works so well with chocolate and mint.
This is March 15th, which means the "Ides of March" are upon us!
In the original Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year. The Romans celebrated from the first of March through the Ides, as these days were essentially New Year celebrations. The Ides of March was a date on the Roman calendar, which corresponds with our date of March 15th.
It was a fateful date!
In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated at the foot of a statue of Pompey, where the Senate was meeting. Unfortunately, Caesar ignored a soothsayer's warning to not attend the Senate meeting and went into the theatre of Pompey to attend anyway. Oh well….
Gustatio (Roman for appetizers)
Boiled Eggs with Pine Nut Sauce
Grapes, Cheese & Honey, Olives, Grilled Pita
Primae Mensae (first course)
Fusilli Funghi Fromaggio
Spring mix with Olives and Feta
Secondae Mensae (second course)
Orange Julius Caesar Shake
Veni. Vidi. Vici.
100BC - 44BC