Sunday, February 15, 2015

Minutal Ex Praecoquis -- Ham and Apricot Ragout

I recently acquired The Roman Cookery of Apicius by John Edwards.  I already have some other cookbooks on the Roman Empire era but this one seemed more substantial and possibly more accessible for modern cooks.
ISBN 0-88179-008-7
What I like best about it is that it offers a translated version of ten of the books (chapters) of Apicius' work along with a modern adaptation for most of the recipes.  Some of the adaptations bothered me a little; for example Mr. Edwards suggests green beans, which to me is a New World bean.  I think the right substitution would be fava (broad) beans, which were used before Columbus brought back New World beans.

This book offers quite a few recipes that caught my interest, and this one fit in with what I already had in the house.

Original translation:

Minutal Ex Praecoquis

Into a cooking pot, put olive oil, stock, wine, dry chopped shallots, and a cooked leg of pork chopped into squares.  When these are cooked, grind pepper, cumin, dried mint, and aniseed [in a mortar].  [Over these seasonings] pour honey, stock, raisin wine, a little vinegar, and liquid from the ragout.  Blend.  [Cook.]  [Pour over the pork.] Add pitted apricots and heat until they are completely cooked.  [Add them to the ragout.] Break pasty into the dish to thicken it.  Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Modern adaptation (given in two parts):

Ham and Apricot Ragout (page 93)

1 pound cooked ham, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup pork stock
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup shallots, chopped

In a casserole, put ham, olive oil, stock, wine, and shallots.  Cook, covered, in the oven for 1 hour.

Tasty at this stage!
pinch each of whole pepper and cumin seed
1 sprig mint
pinch of aniseed
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup pork stock
1/4 cup sweet raisin wine or muscatel
1 teaspoon wine vinegar
1/4 cup casserole liquid
10 fresh apricots (or dried, presoaked in water)
ground pepper

To make the sauce, in a mortar, grind pepper with cumin, mint, and aniseed.  Combine with honey, stock, sweet wine, vinegar, and liquid from the casserole.  Bring the sauce to a boil and add to the ragout for the last 15 minutes.

When ragout is nearly done, take the apricots, divide in half, and pit them.  Add them to the casserole and cook together for 5 minutes. Finish by thickening with flour.  Serve with a sprinkling of pepper.

My Notes

I had no pork stock so I used instant chicken broth.

The recipe did not specify the oven temperature so I decided on 275 degrees F.  It seemed like the purpose was to slowly cook the shallots and to allow the flavors to mingle.

The ham, shallots, and liquids in the casserole smelled wonderful while it was cooking!

I used dried mint as per the original recipe and guessed about how much a sprig would be when dried.

It was amazing to find out that, in my large collection of spices, I had no aniseed.  Fortunately fennel is a good substitute so I used that. (Thank you, Cook's Thesaurus!)

Try as I might I could not find muscatel or raisin wine locally, so I used moscato, a sweet, slightly sparkling white wine and just hoped it would taste right.

Apricots are not currently in season so I used 20 dried halves and soaked them while the casserole was in the oven.

After the casserole had cooked for an hour, I made the sauce and added it to the casserole.  Then I set the timer for 15 more minutes.

The dried apricots made me think I would need to cook them longer than the five minutes given for fresh ones, so I put them into the casserole in the last 5 minutes of sauce and checked them when the timer buzzed.  They did not appear very tender and, following Apicius' advice, put them in for another 30 minutes to make sure "they are completely cooked."

At the beginning of the apricot's 30 minutes, I mixed about 2 tablespoons of flour with a little of the casserole liquid until it made a smooth, thick batter.  Then I added it to the casserole to thicken the dish.

The Verdict


Very tasty -- the spices and mint blended together to make a savory sauce, the shallots were nearly melted into the sauce, the ham chunks were tender and flavorful.  The apricots were, surprisingly, a background accent.  I thought they would stand out more but they did a great job of accenting the ham and broth.

If (when!) I make it again, I would cut the apricots up into quarters just to increase the odds of getting a piece with each spoonful of ham.

My only mistake was using the instant chicken broth as it made the dish too salty for me.  My guest taster loved it as it was.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it both at dinner with a green salad, buttered sourdough bread, and red wine, and for lunch the next day with crackers.

I would make this again and plan better on the broth.  I recommend it with enthusiasm!

Yum.  Give it a try.

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