I had been wanting to do a little bit of Roman cooking for a couple of weeks now. I had this really cheesy salty garlic recipe on hand and thought I’d share.
A little bit of history here about this period Roman dish. There are several variations to the cheese with herbs recipe. Some call for leeks, savoy, and rocket leaves while others call for a plethora of spices. There is one Roman cook who describes the making of this recipe with so much garlic that the person grinding the garlic into a paste has tears coming from his eyes at the strong fumes given off by the garlic.
Cheese with Herbs
Four garlic cloves/ 4 garlic bulbs (depending upon which translation is used), celery, rue, coriander, salt grains, and cheese.
1/2 cup garlic cloves the heart of 1 celery bunch 1 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp salt (or to taste) 2 cups Feta 4 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs. vinegar
Herkotz, pg 54/Grant, pg. 72,73.
I have taken liberties with the recipe from both Herkotz and Grant. The type of cheese is unspecified in the original recipe. The assumption would be that any soft goat or sheep cheese would suffice. My choice is a feta cheese, unfortunately cow instead of goat feta. The cow feta has a nice sharpness that compliments the multitude of garlic used.
Garlic seems to be used sparingly, in most Roman cooking, as garlic breath was considered to be plebian by the more urban Romans. Herkotz chooses to use only 4 cloves while Grant writes of how 4 bulbs were used. That is a very big difference in amount for these two recipes. I have chosen to go with roughly 2 bulbs worth of garlic and finely chopped instead of ground. Grinding would have formed a paste blending well with a soft creamy cheese however with the use of a crumbling Feta I believed the finely chopped garlic was a better choice.
Both Herkotz and Grant suggest the addition of oil and vinegar, to which I agree are excellent additions. The feta and garlic mixture with just coriander and celery is moderate in taste; however the addition of just a little oil and vinegar makes the dish much tastier. Sea salt was used to taste.
The celery is not pictured in the above ingredients. So we’ll add the picture below.
This is the heart of a celery bunch being finely chopped. The leaves, for many period cultures and dishes were the prized ingredient not the fibrous ribs, we eat today. Seems the flavor is strong in the leaves with out any extra work being required to eat the stems. No stuffing of cheese or pate into stems for the Medieval Gourmet, they wanted all the flavor with out any of the work of actually chewing and chewing and chewing!
Once the ingredients are set out, mix together. There is no need to apply heat…just mix and eat!
I would suggest a good flat bread and a nice bit of red wine to go with, as this dish is very VERY garlicky. Ok, so I cheated a little and used triscuts. They were on hand to help convey the cheesy spread from bowl to mouth!