An Everyday Italian

Marcella di Cavallino’s 16th century Florence 

(and other ideas)


Research

An Everyday Italian is, largely, where I post project and process and general muttering, but it’s also where I’m talking about the little things that round out how you present yourself in persona, or interesting facts about 16th century Florence, or tips on SCA life in a way that is – hopefully – practical and useful. In other words, news you can use.


The one with a pony

Working on illumination skills and also a new calligraphy hand

Scribal Arts

My first scribal commission after moving from An Tir to Drachenwald was for an Orden des Lindquistringes – Drachenwald’s award for long and extraordinary service to the Kingdom – to be given for contributions to the Equestrian community.

My inspiration was a mashup of two images ostensibly from different editions of Konrad Kyeser’s 15th c. treatise on the military arts, Bellefortis. I chose it because PONIES! but also because I wanted to push my illumination skills a bit – I’d met the recipient once before, so I wanted the rider to look as much like her as I could make it, and for the horse to look like hers, as well.

After getting the pencil lines in I started, as is right and proper, with the calligraphy. It was a new-to-me hand – a variant of Lateinische-Deutsche Cursiv – so naturally I didn’t spend any time practicing but dove right in, using a combination of an exemplar that I found, and the original manuscript. I’m pleased to say that it didn’t suck, and I really like how it looks, so will use it again. 

The organisation of the words surrounded by this sassy red bit is what I liked from the Gottigen manuscript. It’s unusual, and adds interesting structure to the page.

There was much painting, and repainting, and poor choices, and tea, and painting. The crappy photo quality doesn’t really show the subtleties, and – if I’m completely honest – I would make different choices were I to do this again. The starting colours were too solid and flat, and the more I tried to fuss with it, the less better it got. Also, I need to sort out better nibs and ink flow – the ink bits are a bit uneven and sloppy, even by period standards.

Orden des Lindquistringes
Ink and gouache on pergamenata
Awarded at Drachenwald’s Crown Tournament, October 2019

The one with the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Italian White Vine meets a Sci-fi author for breakfast

Scribal Arts

My second scroll commission in Drachenwald came with very specific parameters: could I work the Flying Spaghetti Monster into a scroll, somehow? Yes. Challenge accepted.

This was another Orden des Lindquistringes, this time for someone who is well known for teaching rapier, and cooking breakfast for everyone at events. He’s also a science-fiction writer in his Real Lifetm, which is why he was deemed the right person for the FSM Challenge.

The original request mentioned knotwork as the design element, but I thought Italian White Vine would lend itself much better. And I like the humanist hand. And my persona is Italian. So that’s what I did.

De sphaera mundi
Italy, Naples, last quarter of 15th century
MS M.426 fol. 6r

Once I’d landed on the secondary inspirational bits, the process followed my usual path. The gold is shell gold rather than gold leaf, as it’s what I had to hand.

Bacon and eggs are represented by the rooster and boar, and the contributions to rapier are represented by the buckler. The Flying Spaghetti Monster was subtly worked into the illuminated capital. The wreath around the badge of the order represents the Autumn Crown event where the recipient was recognised.

Takeaways from this experience were 1) find my better pencils for the initial drawings, and 2) find a better way of outlining that’s not so heavy. Also, my nib and ink situation hadn’t rectified itself. The original ink, while brown now, was probably black when first done, but I still prefer the lighter look that brown gives, with this style, since it doesn’t overpower the artwork as much as true black does. 

Orden des Lindquistringes
Ink and gouache on pergamenata
Awarded at Drachenwald’s Crown Tournament, October 2019

The one with a cheesy tart

When you have all of the constituent parts, this is what you do

Culinary

I found this recipe while looking for something else in Scappi1 and, since I had most of what I needed, I gave it a shot. For the first version, I Ina Gartened it (“if you don’t have fresh/can’t make your own, store-bought is fine!”) by using puff pastry I already had, and ricotta from the shop. It worked out really well, and I’d serve this version at a modern dinner any day of the week. I’d serve the following version, too, if I’m honest.

For this second version, I dug more deeply, and did it (mostly) properly.

Scappi typically uses two types of pastry: basic water/flour – largely for pies – that is intended to be discarded, and what is essentially paté sucrée (usually with bonus rosewater) that is intended to be eaten. This tourte falls into the latter category. However, my version needed to be gluten-free, so I deviated from his recipe on this point, using a mixed non-wheat flour recipe that is in all other respects like its wheaten paté sucrée counterpart.

When the chard greens have been chopped up small and washed, let them drain by themselves. Then, without crushing them, mix them with grated Parmesan cheese and struccoli – that is, cheese freshly made that day – along with pepper and cinnamon.

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570)

Book V. Pastry: Tourtes

96. To make a Bolognese herb tourte without eggs, baked on a copper sheet or braised in earthenware.

When the chard greens have been chopped up small and washed, let them drain by themselves. Then, without crushing them, mix them with grated Parmesan cheese and struccoli – that is, cheese freshly made that day – along with pepper and cinnamon. Then get a copper baking sheet greased with a little butter and with a sheet of pastry dough on it; on that sheet gently put the filling to a height of a good three fingers. On the filling put little chunks of butter and cover it with another sheet of pastry, rippled or smooth, crimping it all around. Sprinkle it with plain water and brush it with butter: that is done so the pastry will rise. Bake it in an oven or braise it in an earthenware vessel. When it is done a tourte like that will have flattened so much that it is scarcely half a finger high. Serve it hot with sugar over it. Rather than on a sheet of copper you can also do it on an earthenware baking sheet or in tourte pans.

My redaction:

A Bolognese herb tourte without eggs

For the pastry:
2x paté sucrée (sweet pastry with egg yolk) with rosewater

For the fresh cheese:
4 pints whole milk (unpasteurised, if you can get it)
1/4 c vinegar (I used champagne vinegar, because I’m fancy, but white wine/apple cider vinegars would also work)

For the filling:
250 g stemmed chard, washed and cut into 1cm strips (some or all of the stem is OK, if you want a bit of crunch)
150g fresh farmers cheese (or ricotta), drained
100 g grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Salt (to taste – the cheese may well be salty enough, but I put a pinch in anyway because salt)
Scant 15 g butter for filling
Melted butter for brushing

To make the cheese:
Heat the milk over medium/medium-low heat until it just starts to bubble around the edges. Don’t heat it too quickly or it will scald on the bottom. A thermometer should read 180F/85C. Remove from the heat, add the vinegar, and give it a stir. It should start to curdle immediately. Let it sit for about 15 minutes. Strain through a collander/sieve lined with cheesecloth. Squeeze gently to remove a bit more whey, but go easy.

To make the tourte:
Preheat oven to 180C/350F-ish. Roll out half of your pastry and put on a baking tray or pizza stone. Mix chard, cheeses, salt, pepper, and cinnamon together in a large bowl (Note: mixing the cheeses/spices together first then adding them to the chard helps ensure even distribution). Pile filling to 6-8 cm high. Cover with the other half of the rolled-out dough, crimp edges, stab holes in the lid for steam escapage. Brush with water and butter.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning half-way through. Good warm, not terrible cold.

1The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570); The Art and Craft of a Master Cook
Translated with commentary by Terrence Scully
University of Toronto Press, 2008


The one that’s unfinished

But, unsurprisingly, also involves cheese

Research, Culinary

This also involves research and Scappi and cheese, but also a load of other books. It’s an excellent example of how one thing leads to a rabbit hole, which leads to learning new things, which leads to gods only knows what but maybe a PhD. This ‘entry’ will be more of a narrative of process and a bit of bragging about my growing library on the subject than any real product.

A few years ago, I received A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer as a gift. It is an excellent treatise, cleverly organised into chapters by time period, from the Neolithic to the present, and discusses a representative cheese for each period. It is an excellent book, and got me to thinking: what cheeses were available in renaissance Florence, and could I put together a plausible cheese board of period cheeses to impress my friends?

This, naturally, led me back to Scappi who, rather thoughtfully, has an entire ‘menu’ in his Opera of what to put on a banquet side board. It’s basically a shopping list of snacks, and lists out cheeses (and loads of other things) by name as well as by season (fresh cheeses, for example, are only made when there’s fresh milk, and that only happens when it’s lambing/kidding/calving time).

Armed with that list of named cheeses, I headed over to the internet to see what I could find. As it happens, there is a reasonable amount of useful current scholarship – both historic and scientific – on Italian cheese. Much of the period information comes from extensive and thorough merchant records of the late fourteenth and through the fifteenth centuries, as well as a few health resources from around the same time.

Where I currently am, with all of this, is translating a short book – Formaggi in tavola: Commercio e consumo del formaggio nel basso Medioevo, by Maria Giagnacovo – into English. This will be followed by doing the same for a passage in German from Summe der Milchprodukte, a discussion of dairy products from a health/medical perspective from 1477. And then more reading – including a book specifically about the science of Italian cheeses, which I now own – and then the organising of the findings into something useful.

Thankfully, once they land on something good, Italians don’t really change things. Parmesan, for example, has been made more or less the same way since before the fourteenth century. Other cheeses we’re familiar with enjoy a similar lack of transformation and, with a bit of effort can be fairly readily sourced. This plays into my initial goal of creating a ‘Perfectly Period Party Platter’ of cheeses that were available in 16th century Florence, but as I dive into the source material, I’m finding that there is plenty there to develop into something more substantial.

Current Bibliography

  • Confienza, Pantaleone da, et al. Panthaleonis De Conflentia Summa Lacticiniorum = Des Pantaleone Da Confienza Summe Der Milchprodukte. MLUA, 2002. 
  • Giagnacovo, Maria. Formaggi in Tavola: Commercio e Consumo Del Formaggio Nel Basso Medioevo: Un Contributo Dell’Archivio Datini Di Prato. Aracne, 2007.
  • Gobbetti, Marco, et al. The Cheeses of Italy: Science and Technology. Springer, 2018.
  • Kindstedt, Paul. Cheese and Culture: a History of Cheese and Its Place in Western Civilization. Chelsea Green, 2013.
  • Palmer, Ned. Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles. Profile Books Ltd., 2020.
  • Scappi, Bartolomeo, and Terence Scully. The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570) L’arte Et Prudenza D’un Maestro Cuoco. University of Toronto Press, 2011.

PLEASE NOTE:
I am in London, UK – 8 hours ahead of Pacific time. Because of this, I’m available for 1:1 on Zoom only (no phone) during the times listed in the schedule. Thanks for understanding!

28 Replies to “An Everyday Italian”

  1. Ciao! Your blog is lovely and the work you’ve highlighted here is stunning. I especially like your focus on how to present a persona – the person behind the clothing/ food/ etc. That is my focus as well! Piacere e ci vediamo pronto.

    -Giata Magdalena Alberti (called Giada)

  2. Great exhibit! I think you are too modest with regards to your scroll work — as your proportions and balance and choices feel very period to me. I look forward to sharing a cheese board with you again someday.

  3. I really enjoyed your descriptions and images of the white vine scroll and the cheesy tart. I cook for feasts and often make gluten free dishes. Could you share the flour blend that you use for your gluten free version?

    1. Hello! Thank you!

      I’m happy to share – the recipe I use is this (modified from an article in Food & Wine, October 2020. I’ll put my adjustments* for this particular recipe at the end):

      Ingredients:
      1 C brown rice flour (plus more for dusting)
      1/2 C sweet white rice flour
      1/2 C arrowroot flour
      3 Tbsp turbinado sugar
      1 tsp. xanthan gum
      1 tsp. fine sea salt
      1 C unsalted butter cut into 1/2″ cubes and frozen
      2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, chilled
      2 large eggs, chilled
      1/4 c ice-cold water

      *I used 1 1/2 Tbsp regular sugar, champagne vinegar, and should have also added probably 1 tsp of rosewater, but I forgot.

      Directions:
      Pulse all flours, xanthan gum and salt in a food processor until combined (about 5 times). Add frozen butter, and pulse until butter forms pea-sized pieces. Add vinegar and 1 egg; pulse until incorporated. Drizzle up to 1/4 C ice water over the mixture 1 Tbsp at a time, pulsing until mixture is crumbly and holds together when squished. Turn dough out into a large bowl; use your hands to bring dough together (do not knead). Divide dough into half; pat each half into a 5″ disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

      It’s less flexible than glutened pastry, as you might imagine, and may take some piecing and patience to work properly, but this has become my GF pastry of choice. The texture is lovely!

      1. I’ll definitely have to try this recipe – though I unfortunately also cannot have eggs. I know there’s a lot of ways to replace eggs in recipes, but do you have any particular suggestions? (since eggs usually have a particular role in baking, often as a binder, I try to choose the most equivalent option for replacement).

        I also had to bookmark your blog since my persona is (roughly) 1530 Florence, I hope to read more of what you’ve done 🙂

        Otherwise, your work looks absolutely fantastic, your scrolls are stunning and your tart looks delicious! Really great work, and thanks for joining us all the way from Drachenwald!

        1. Oh no! I don’t have a good substitute for eggs – I feel like if you’ve got a somewhat viscous/liquid substitute that you normally use, though, give it a go and see how it ends up. For SCIENCE! Maybe make a half recipe, though, in case it goes badly.

          And thank you! I miss my An Tir home. 🙂

          1. Hehe, yeah I’ll have to try that. I do have a GF ‘Egg Replacer’ powder that sometimes works, and I know you can make a flax egg (but it always tastes a bit off to me). My favourite for cookies is simply cornstarch, oil, and water. Makes them a touch oily, but they taste perfect ^^ Some experimentation is definitely in order I think!

  4. I especially enjoyed the white vine work you did and how you personalized it. I’ve done a couple of white vine pieces and practiced several capital letters, but I want to take it further to make mine inspired and not copied.
    I will also try out some of those recipes.
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you! I suspect I’ll do one or two more copy-ish ones before launching myself into unsupervised territory, just to make sure I have a feel for the style – I’m always so nervous about that!

  5. I was so happy to see your Equestrian illumination. Drawing a Medieval human with a period aesthetic!! Do you know how rare that is? (or maybe just from others I’ve seen).
    Anyway, congrats on a lovely exhibit.

    1. Oh, thank you! It definitely stretched me, artistically – there’s a not-quite-watercolour feel to the style that was really difficult to capture, and doing it in unforgiving gouache was a real challenge. I enjoyed it, though!

  6. I love the calligraphy on the pony scroll – So lovely! Looks nice and loose, like a well-practiced hand.
    And of course white-vine is the perfect place to put the FSM! Hilarious!

    Also, cheese is awesome.

    /Lia de Thornegge, OL, Drachenwald

  7. I don’t eat a lot of cheese, but when you have your Perfectly Period Party Platter, invite me!

  8. Great job on referencing all the items in the scroll and making them fit without overpowering (spaghettis monster!)

    Thank you also for sharing your recipes this will be attempted at my house soon. I can’t wait to see your translations one day as I must admit cheese is one of my weaknesses and the mentioned book has been added to my to get list.

    1. Thank you! Cheese is the glue that holds the universe together! I plan on doing some sort of class (recorded), and maybe a Compleat Anachronist, if I get enough material. I’ll keep track of things on my project blog I link to in the first section, so watch that space!

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