Flamingo Tongues and Frittatas, The Foods of Ancient Rome

Exploring recipes with ingredients little known in modern day markets makes learning of ancient Roman food exciting and challenging.


Crystal King

Crystal is a teacher and an author whose writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language and culture of Italy.

"How was I to write about food that I had never tasted and that contained ingredients I had never even heard of?"

Sauce for Mushrooms – Apicius 7.13

This is a simple but delicious dish that makes an excellent accompaniment for steak.


1. Add oil to a hot pan. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt.

2. Cover pan and let it cook for three minutes on medium heat.

3. Add vincotto, pepper and coriander. Stir to combine.

4. Continue cooking for another three minutes. If the mixture looks dry, add a little bit of water and reduce. Serve hot.

Umbrian Lentils with Steamed Mussels, Toasted Spices, Almonds and Sweet Apple Vinegar

Chef Michael Pagliarini, owner of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaurants Giulia and Benedetto, created this delicious Apicius-inspired lentil and mussels dish. The recipe combines the sweet, briny taste of freshly steamed mussels with a complex mixture of honey, spices, fermented fish sauce and earthy lentils.


1. For the lentils: Preheat oven to 177°C (350°F). Chop the onion, fennel bulb, carrot and celery into very large pieces so they can be easily removed once they’ve given their flavor to the lentil stew. Rub the vegetables and pancetta with the olive oil and roast in a heavy bottomed pan until browned and well caramelized.

2. Add the lentils and cook for a few minutes in the rendered fat and olive oil. Add just enough water to cover, and continue roasting until the lentils are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove and discard vegetable pieces. Season lentils with salt, set aside, and keep warm.

3. For the spice mixture: Toast the spices in a dry pan until aromatic. Pound them in a mortar until pulverized. Add the honey and vinegar. Mix well, and set aside.

4. For the mussels: In a large wide pan over medium heat, sauté the shallot in olive oil until tender. Add the bay leaves, pepper, herbs. mussels, wine, and colatura. Turn the heat up to high, cover and cook just until the mussels open. Set aside and reserve the cooking liquid.

5. For assembly and serving: In a mixing bowl, toss the warm lentils with the spice mixture and the cooking liquid from the mussels. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar as needed. Spoon the lentil stew into warm bowls and arrange the mussels on top. Garnish with chopped almonds, parsley, and cilantro.