inter alia: Echoes of Apicius…

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I love to cook…or that I have a rather alarming tendency to connect all sorts of minutia to the ancient world 🙂   It makes perfect sense really.  I spend a whole lot of my professional life immersed in things ancient, and every so often, there is active crossover.  I recently completed a class on Pompeii and Herculaneum during which a student presentation on the bakeries produced a practical demonstration on Roman bread.

I usually shudder in anticipation of Roman food presentations because of one word – GARUM, but I figured that a presentation on bread would be far enough removed that I would be safe from the Roman’s favorite ingredient.  With no fermented fish sauce in sight, all things proceeded apace until the presenter realized that her yeastless Roman recipe, bread was more than a little doughy in the center (the center being the entire thing minus a one inch ring around the edge.)  Turns out she was following a British recipe…adapted from the Roman culinary stylings of Apicius…and had not made the adjustment from Celsius to Fahrenheit when she set her oven temp (she tells me that she re-baked the bread and that it was quite tasty)  

Baking mishap aside, it was an exceptionally good presentation, but it reinforced my conclusion that I would much rather cook.  Baking requires far too much precision for the sort of haphazard cooking chemistry that I prefer.  Cooking is a much more experimental process for me…I rarely break out the measuring gizmos except for general proportions.

I seem to have food on the brain lately (I broke down and turned on the A/C in the kitchen) Now that using the microwave doesn’t make it sweltering hot in there, I’m cooking again.  So, I thought I might share a couple of the “recipes” that I used to feed the small masses this week…perennial crowd pleasers I’ve adapted from their original forms.

Calico Beans

The image is a little flat...should have given them a stir, but MiniMe was interrogating me about why I was taking a picture of beans...

The image is a little flat…should have given them a stir, but MiniMe was interrogating me about why I was taking a picture of beans…

This recipe is really more “stirring” than it is cooking, but here goes:


1lb ground beef

1/2 lb of bacon

1 medium onion – diced

28 oz can of baked beans

15 oz can butter beans

15 oz can kidney beans

15 oz can cut green beans (short cut work best since they don’t break up as much)

1/4 c. brown sugar (lightly packed)

1/2 c. ketchup (chili sauce if you must)

1/4 c. yellow mustard

The last three ingredients are approximate measurements as I usually grab a handful of brown sugar, give a big squeeze of ketchup and a smaller squeeze of mustard.  In fact, this recipe is really forgiving of substitutions.  I often use ground turkey in place of beef, turkey bacon in place of regular (could wholly omit the meat too if you wanted) and any combination of cooked, canned legumes I have on the shelf.  (you do need some variety of baked beans though since they are the base of the sauce, but you could go altogether naked bean if you craft your own sauce).


Brown bacon…drain and set aside.  In the same pan, brown ground meat and onions together.  Drain excess fat.  In a separate large bowl, combine all the beans.  (I drain and rinse all but the baked beans).
 Add the remaining ingredients, along with the meat and onions to the bowl and stir gently to combine.  Dump the whole mess into your preferred baking dish…I use a small enameled roaster pan for a batch this size…and bake for one hour in a preheated 350 degree oven.  Since everything is already cooked, all you are really doing is heating it through and allowing the flavors to marry.  I let them cool a bit since I prefer not to eat lava, but to each their own!  (Salt and pepper to taste)

The batch above went to a local homeless shelter where a group of friends and I sponsor a dinner once a month.  The ladies don’t always get a lot of protein, so this dish packs a nutritional punch.

Napa (Chinese) Cabbage Salad

If I bring this to a potluck, I almost never get any of it...I take that as a good sign.

If I bring this to a potluck, I almost never get any of it…I take that as a good sign.

This salad is a really tasty, sweet and sour side for all kinds of grilled meats, or stands alone quite well.


1 medium head of Napa Cabbage (1-1.5 poundish I guess) sliced

1 bunch of green onions (scallions are fine too)

4oz of slivered almonds (lightly toasted) – I subbed dry roasted sunflower kernals here…yummmmm!

1 pack of Ramen Noodles (toast them in butter if you like…I’m usually in too much of a hurry for that step)

Dressing (here’s where I go rogue)

1/4 c rice vinegar

1/2 c vegetable oil (I sub olive oil)

1 tbs soy sauce (I only put in a shake or two and use the seasoning pack from the noodles…if you have MSG or sodium issues, DO NOT do this)

1 tbs sesame oil (I add this to taste…I really like sesame)

1/4 c sugar (I wiggle to taste on this and I usually use Splenda or Stevia since I’ve got diabetics to consider)


Take off the outer leaves of the cabbage if…give it a wash, then cut off the core, quarter it and then slice in thing crosswise slices.  Cut off the onion roots and slice them up.  Add this to a large bowl with the toasted nuts and noodles.  I mix the dressing up ahead (at least 30 minutes) in a jar and then dress and toss the salad right before serving.  It holds up to the dressing pretty well, but if it sits too long, the noodles and nuts get soggy…not so tasty.

There you have it…two tasty recipes and not a whiff of fish sauce in sight!

Happy Stirring Armitageworld!

12 comments on “inter alia: Echoes of Apicius…

  1. Servetus says:

    Yay, midwest cooking at its humble, tasty best 🙂

  2. Servetus says:

    Also totally with you on baking vs cooking. Baking is chemistry and cooking is art.

  3. Perry says:

    I’ve had that ramen, napa salad made with, of all things, broccoli ( no cabbage) and it was delicious. I think I would prefer it with cabbage. Re: Butter beans.I bought some here in Mexico because that day I could not find cannellini beans and I make a Tuscan spread/dip with it. Are butter beans similar, or are they more like lima beans or gigantes in flavor?

    • obscura says:

      I’ve had that broccoli version also…I like the cabbage much better.

      Butter beans are quite a bit like gigantes in flavor…that’s another great recipes…Greek style gigantes (although the beans are impossible to find around here)

  4. linnetmoss says:

    I make a vegetarian version of those beans. A nostalgic favorite!

  5. Hariclea says:

    love the recipes! Since i just done the shopping i’m topped up on bean cans of all varieties and salad items so will try both soon 🙂 Sound yum!

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