Salads served in 16th century Italy, it’s not just lettuce

A note about copyright: I make this information, specifically these translations freely available for non-profit scholarly research and use.  If you wish to use these translations for a feast or newsletter etc. please credit me as the source.  If  nothing else I really like to know who is seeing and using my stuff.  I can be contacted by email at helewyse at yahoo dot com.

Salads from Scappi
Salads from other sources
What makes it a salad?
Mixed salad
Green beans
Composite salads

Make your own

Whilst the northern (and cooler) climes rejected cold food, especially raw cold food, the warmer southern climates embraced it totally.  Salads were common in the 16th century dinner menus of Bartolomeo Scappi, although recipes for said salads were not included in hit Opera (1).  So this is a journey through the named salads and an attempt to reconstruct them using contemporary or later sources.

Salads served by Scappi
Borage sprouts and flowers
Caper and borage flowers
Cardoon boiled
Citron flower
Cooked and raw items
Cooked carrot
Cooked chicory
Cooked onions
Goat feet
Gosling feet and gizzard
Greens and other things cooked and raw
Greens cooked
Greens raw
Hard boiled eggs
Kids feet
Lettuce and borage flower
Mixed salad (with and without flowers on top)
Mixed salad and borage flowers
Mixed salad with small onions
Prawn tails
Rosemary flower
Salted fish
Small capers, currants
cucumber and onions
Small onions and lettuce
Tender peas boiled in the skin
Various cooked items
Veal and goat feet
Water cress
White radish
While the list is fairly extensive there are items such as “various cooked items” or “mixed greens” or “cooked greens’ which aren’t spelled out.  For these there are other sources, these are the book exclusively dedicated to salads written by Salvatore Massonio (2) and the work by Giacomo Castelvetro written in England about the vegetables and fruits of Italy (3).  When these two works are taken into consideration additional salad items become available.
Lemon Balm
Calendula (marigold)
Green onions
Headed lettuce
Romaine lettuce
Fig flowers
Lupini beans
Grean beans
Chick peas

What constitutes a salad?
According to Massonio (2) it is more than the fact it is served cold, it is the way it is dressed.  In fact chapter 8 of the book is “Why you should dress your salad with oil, vinegar and salt”.  This could leave one to believe that all salads were dressed identically.  Yet, other chapters in the same work then go on to describe all the other things one can use on salads.  However, for the most part most descriptions of salads appear to rotate around the simplest of dressings, oil + salt + acid source.  It is the choice of which acid to go with which vegetable which changes.  Here is a synopsis of some of the information in Massonio (excerpted for ease of reading)
Oil – Olive oil is preferred because of the nature of the tree it comes from.  The first pressing of oil from the crushed olives is the most noble and is called virgin oil.  Oil is warm and humid in nature and this in part counteracts the cold (of the vinegar) and the dryness (of the herbs) it also stimulates the appetite.  The best oil is made from mature (black) olives so that it isn’t acid and bitter (as it would be from immature fruit).
Vinegar – wine vinegar is specified, and it should be from good red wine. Vinegar is cold in the second degree, but adds savor to the salad, but should be used in moderation.
Mosto cotto, cooked grape must – by nature hot in the second degree and humid, adds sweetness, should be used sparingly.
Lemon and orange juice – cold and dry in the second degree
Pepper – black pepper is more odorous, and tastier than the white which is just acerbic. Hot and dry in the third degree.

Some recipes
Of the most perfect mixed salad. (4)
Of all the salads we eat in the spring, the mixed salad is the best and most wonderful of all.  Take young leaves of mint, those of garden cress, basil, lemon balm, the tips of salad burnet, tarragon, the flowers and most tender leaves of borage, the flowers of swine cress, the young shoots of fennel, leaves of rocket, of sorrel, rosemary flowers, some sweet violets, and the most tender leaves or the hearts of lettuce.  When these precious herbs have been picked clean and washed in several waters, and dried a little with a clean linen cloth, they are dressed as usual, with oil, salt and vinegar.
It takes more than good hers to make a good salad, for success depends on how they are prepared. So, before going any further, I think I should explain exactly how to do this.
It is important to know how to wash your herbs, and then how to season them.  Too many housewives and foreign cooks get their green stuff all ready to wash and put it in a bucket of water, or some other pot, and slosh it about a little, and then, instead of taking it out with their hands, as they ought to do, they tip the leaves and water out together, so that all the sand and grit is poured out with them.  Distinctly unpleasant to chew on.
So, you must first wash your hands, then put the leaves in a bowl of water, and stir them round and round, then lift them out carefully.  Do this at least three or four times, until you can see that all the sand and rubbish has fallen to the bottom of the pot.
Next you must dry the salad properly and season it correctly.  Some cooks put their badly washed, barely shaken salad into a dish with the leaves still so drenched with water that they will not take the oil, which they should to taste right.  So I insist that first you must shake your salad really well and then dry it thoroughly with a clean linen cloth so that the oil will adhere properly.  Then put it into a bowl in which you have previously put some salt and stir them together, and then add the oil with a generous hand, and stir the salad again with clean fingers or a knife and fork, which is more seemly, so that each leaf is properly coated with oil.
Never do as the Germans and other uncouth nations do – pile the badly washed leaves, neither shaken nor dried, up in a mound like a pyramid, then throw on a little salt, not much oil and far too much vinegar, without even stirring.  And all this done to produce a decorative effect, where we Italians would much rather feast the palate than the eye. You English are even worse, after washing the salad heaven knows how, you put the vinegar in the dish first, and enough of that for a foot bath for Morgante, and serve it up, unstirred with neither oil nor salt, which you are supposed to add at table.  By this time some of the leaves are so saturated with vinegar that they cannot take the oil, while the rest are quite naked and fit only for chicken food.
So to make a good salad the proper way, you should put the oil in first of all, stir it into the salad, then add the vinegar and stir again.  And if you do not enjoy this, complain to me.
The secret of a good salad is plenty of salt, generous oil and little vinegar, hence the Sacred law of salads:
Insalata ben salata, Poco aceta & ben oliata. : Salt the salad quite a lot, Then generous oil put in the pot, And vinegar but just a jot.
And whosoever transgresses this benign commandment is condemned never to enjoy a decent salad in their life, a fate which I fear lies in store for most of the inhabitants of this kingdom.

Asparagus salad
In tre maniere hò io veduto mangiare gli sparagi, fannosi prima lessi, e poi divisi in parti sbattute con ova, e fattane frittata con olio, o con strutto.  Mangiansi tessi in brodo di carne grassa, ma conditi con formaggio, & uova.  E mettonsi a cuocere in acqua legati in un giunco, ma poco bollore ammettono, e separati con diligenza dall’acqua, servono per insalata, conditi, o con ordinario condimento, o in vece di aceto con succo di Narancio, overo di limone, e con pepe, che èassai piu grato, e questo è quasi il modo ordinario di mangiare gli sparagi. (2)
In three ways have I seen asparagus eaten.  First boiled then chopped into pieces and beaten with eggs, and made into omelets with oil or lard.  Eaten in broth with fat broth, but dressed with cheese and eggs. And put to cook in water

Squash salad
E’ quì da notare, che la Zucca per l’uso dell’insalata non deve eccedere la grandezza d’un piccol uovo di gallina, che si deve mettere per cuocerla nell’acqua all’hora che bolle, e lasciarla per poco spatio bollire, perche perdendo in tutto quella poca sodezza, che possiode, non diventi sì molle, che bisogni mangiarla col cucchiaro; il che farebbe nausea.  S’ella è piccola a guisa d’un uovo di colomba si mangia intera, ma se maggiore, se ne fanno più parti, dapoi haverne tolta la scorza. Si rende assai grata nel condirla con olio, pepe, e succo di narancio. (2)
It is here noted that the squash for use in a salad should not be bigger than a small hens egg.  One should put it to cook in water that is already boiling and leave it there to boil for a short time, so that it takes very little sogginess, if possible don’t let it become so soft that one has to eat it with a spoon because it will cause nausea.  If it is as small as a doves egg one can eat them whole, but if they are larger cut them into smaller pieces, after you have removed the skin.  One gives them grace in the dressing with oil, pepper and sour orange juice.

Parsnip/Carrot/Turnip salad
Parsnip - Should be roasted under the coals because otherwise they are not healthful.  They are by nature very hot, and the coldness of vinegar helps to temper this.  The bitterness of the root can be corrected with oil and sapa, and to help the digestion of older roots add pepper or other aromatic spices. (2)
Carrot - Usiamo, oltre alle già dette, le carote rosse e gialle, e così le rape pur cotte, e vogliono sempre il pepe oltre agli altri condimenti. Facciamo delle rape ottime minestre, oltre al cuocerle alla maniera di questo paese, facendole cuocere, ma prima in sottili particelle tagliate, in brodo buono; e cotte, sopra vi gittiamo cacio vecchio grattugiato e pepe. Che è quanto delle insalate del verno mi sappia ricordare; perciò mi passerò a ragionare de’ frutti, che in così fredda stagione usiamo. (3)
    We use, in addition to the already mentioned, red and yellow carrots, and also the turnip cooked, one wants always pepper more than any other condiment.  We make from turnips the best dish, rather than cooking them in the way this country does.  Put them to cook, but first cut them into thin pieces, in good broth, when cooked above them we put grated aged cheese and pepper.  These were used in the cold seasons as salad.
Turnip -     Per uso d’insalata (benche di rado se ne faccia) si mettono a cuocere sotto le ceneri calde, e si la siano macerar tanto, che diventino molli, non altrimenti che far si suole delle pastinache; e toltane via la scorza, e divisele poi in parti, si condiscono con aceto, con olio e con sale e ancora col pepe. (2)
    To use in salads (similar to other roots one makes) one puts them to cook under hot coals and allows them to rest a while, until they become soft, not unlike how one treats parsnip, and peel of the skin, and then divide them into pieces, and dress them with vinegar, with oil, and salt and of course with pepper.

Beetroot salad
In Alemagna, & in alcuni luoghi del Trentino se ne trova una terza specie di rossa, le cui radici non sono punto dissimili nelle fattezze loro da quelle delle carote rosse, come ch’elle siano di forma più grassa, & al gusto più dolce.  Usansi queste comodamento il Verno cotte nell’insalate, lesse prima nell’acqua, o cotto sotto la cenere calada, e dapoi tagliate in fette sottili, & acconcie con olio, aceto, & sale.  Acconciansi ancora un poco lesse in prima, e poi tagliate in fette, e messe in macera nell’aceto forte per mangiar con gli arrosti. (2)
In Germany and in several places in the Trentino region one finds a third species of red beet, whose root is not pointed, and is unlike that of the red carrot, it has a much larger shape and a much sweeter taste.  These are used appropriately in the winter cooked in salads, boiled first in water, or cooked under hot coals, and then cut into thin slices and dressed with oil, vinegar and salt.  One can also prepare them by boiling them quickly first , then cutting them in slices and putting them to soak in strong vinegar to eat with roasts

Green bean salad (and hop sprouts)
I baccelli adunque di questo legume, mentre son verdi e teneri, né alla lor perfetta grandezza pervenuti, cocendoli tutti intieri e acconciandoli come de’ lupuli ho mostrato, son molto buoni. Secchi poi se ne fanno buone minestre, cocendogli in ottimo brodo. (3)
The bean pod of this bean, when it is young and tender, is at it's most perfect point, cook them all intact and dress them as I have described for hop sprouts *, and they are very good.  When they dry one can make good dishes (minestre), cooking them in the best broth.   
* - ben bene sgocciolata in un piatto netto posta, con sale, con assai olio, con poco aceto, od in suo luogo succo di limone, e un poco di pepe franto e non polverizzato l’acconciamo - very well drained in a clean plate with salt, enough oil and a little vinegar, or in place of that lemon juice, and a little cracked but not powdered pepper we dress them.

Cucumber salad
Che i cedriuoli più facilmente se ne scendono dallo stomaco mangiati con la scorza, che senza.  Tagliasi il cedriuolo per traverso facendosene parti mediocremente sottile, e condiscesi con olio, aceto, e sale, come l’altre insalate; ma la consuetudine hà insegnato l’aggiungervi qualche parte di cipolla fresca, e le frondi o cime del basilico verde, non senza qualche fondamento dell’arte, che forse è il contemperare la natural freddezza & humidità sua, e renderlo di succo men grosso, e men lento; e tal’hora per assaporarlo, essendo poco meno che insipido.
In order that cucumbers more easily pass the stomach eat them with the peel rather than without.  Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and make of them pieces moderately thin and dress them with oil, vinegar and salt like other salads.  But the custom one has learned is to add several pieces of raw onion and the leaves or sprouts of green basil.  This is not without foundation in art, perhaps it counteracts the natural coldness of moisture of it and makes the juice less large and less slow.

I am unsure whether this is simply a misspelling of macaroni, in which case it is a dish of cooked and cold pasta, or something else.  Florio gives the translation of “macèrie herbe” all manner of known or usual pot herbs.  Macero – is macerated or marinated so from this root it would appear to be small marinated items.  

Mancando poi le verdi, in luogo di quelle usiamo le cipolle cotte sotto le ceneri calde, overo in acqua, ma alla prima maniera cotte son vie più saporite e più sane, e seco usiamo il pepe franto..  (3)
When we are missing the greens (onions?) in place of these we use onions cooked under hot coals or in water, but the first method of cooking makes them tastier and healthier, and to dress we use cracked pepper.  

Citrus salad
The instructions for a salad of citron, (or orange, or lemon) come directly from the menus of Scappi themselves.  
Insalate di cedro tagliate in fettoline, servite con zuccaro, sale & acqua rosa.
Salad of citron cut in thin slices, served with sugar, salt and rosewater.  

Mixed (Composite) salads (the birth of anti-pasti and coleslaw?)
Dell’altre insalate di Mescolanza Cap LXII (2)
Usasi di mangiare (non però da tutti) altre sorti di mescolanza, delle qualle una riceve per materia qualch;herba, e l’altra, essendo più semplice, potria trà l’insalate de’frutti annoverarsi.  Somministrano materia alla prima i midolli stretti delle lattuche, divisi per lungo in più parti, con le quali s’accompagnano le olive, i limoni spartiti in piccole parti, e sottili, equalmente tagliati nella polpa, e nell’agro; piccole sarde salate, Zibibi, tarantello, petrosello, & altre simili materie.  Et a questa si possono aggiungere altr’herbe di quelle, che sono state da noi scritte, & insieme i fiori; non altrimenti, che i fiori, i frutti, & i germogli de cappari.  Ma questa sorte d’insalata è poco in uso, anzi è a molti rincrescevole; & a mio giuditio, per molti, e diversi generi di materie, non poco dannosa, o se non tale, almeno atta più tosto a nutrire, che ad’irritar la fame.  Riceve ella ordinario condimento d’olio, di aceto, e di poca quantità di sale, per rispetto delle materie salse, che le danno corpo; & ammette anche gratamente il mosto cotto.  
Fassi la seconda insalata di mele crude, monde dalla scorza, e tolcone via il midollo, e di cipolla, amendue divisi in non minute parti: e se le mele son’agre, haveranno maggior possanza di destar la fame; s’elleno on dolci, faranno gratiosa compagnia all’agro della cipolla.  Quest’insalata si condisce anch’ella dell’ordinario condimento, ma con l’aggiunta del pepe, che la rende di sapore più grata.  E suol questa in salata farsi nel tempo, che l’asprezza, & orrore del Verno o hà in tutto inaridite l’herbe de gli horti, o le neve in tutto le ricuoprono.
E’costume ancora di magiarsi l’insalata in simile stagione, oltre alle dette, fatta di cavolo capuccio strettissimo nel midollo, a giusa di taglionlini sottilissimamente tagliato; e perche è il cavolo alquanto agretto, vi si mescolano in abbondanza le uve dolci, e condiscesi come le altre insalate; e se vi si aggiunge un poco di pepe non è ingrata.
Of other mixed salads
Some eat (but not all) another sort of mixed salad, which has for ingredients several herbs and other things.  To be simply put amongst the salad various fruits.  Among the first thing is the middle section of lettuce, divided along the length in many pieces, and one accompanies it with olives, lemons cut into small thin pieces, equally cutting the peel and the flesh, small salted sardines, dried currants, oil cured tuna belly, parsley and similar materials.  And to this it is possible to add other herbs than these which have been written by us before, and together with flowers not forgetting flowers, fruits and the buds of capers.  But this type of salad is little used, also it is very tedious (filling?), and to my judgment for many it is the diverse mixture of ingredients, not a little harmful, or if not such, at least more apt, to nourish than to provoke hunger.  It gets the ordinary dressing of oil, vinegar and just a little salt, because of the salted items that give it body, and it is improved by the addition of mosto cotto.
One makes a second salad of raw apples, peeled, and cut through the middle, and of onions, also cut into not too small pieces.  If the apple is sour it has the major possibility of rousing hunger, if they are sweet they will make better company with the sour of the onion. This salad one dresses also with the ordinary dressing, but with the addition of pepper, that makes the sauce more graceful. And this salad is accustomed to being made in the time that is more sour and the winter, or his around it dried herbs or snow covering it.
It is custom also to eat the salad, in the same season, other than said, made of white (hooded) cabbage, split down the middle and carefully cut into the thinnest slices and because the cabbage is fairly bitter one mixes with it a lot of sweet grapes (dried?), and dresses it as the other salads, and if one adds to it a little pepper it isn’t without grace.

So I have a vegetable and I want to make salad out of it in the Italian style what do I add?
Is it tough?  Is it tender? Would you want to eat it raw or cooked?  These are all questions you should ask yourself.  The salads we have covered today were put together with respect to humoral theory, however at the same time these self same salads are put together in such a way that the flavor components of the mixture are at the same time excellent.

The general rule of thumb is that
1)    Simple oil + sour component with the ratio definitely in the oils favor (3 or 4 parts to 1)
2)    Salt is an important part of the salad
3)    Additional flavorings limited to pepper or one herb (except in case of herb salads)
4)    Ingredients kept separate for the most part, carrot salad is carrot, green bean salad has green beans etc.
5)    If the vegetable is too tough to eat raw then use blanching (greens etc) or roasting (roots etc) to tenderize
6)    Mosto cotto can be used to add a sweet note to salads that are considered to bitter

1)    Scappi, B., Opera : (dell' arte del cucinare).  Reprint. First published: Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi. Venice, 1570. 1981, Bologna: Arnaldo Forni. [20], 436 leaves [ca. 888 p.], [28] p. of plates.  Online edition available
2)    Massonio, Salvatore, Archidipno overo dell'insalata e dell'vso di essa .  In Venetia : appresso Marc'Antonio Brogiollo , 1627.  Available online
3)    Castelvetro, G. , Brieve racconto di tutte le radici, di tutte l'erbe e di tutti i frutti che crudi o cotti in Italia si mangiano. 1614, In Londra, M.DC.XIV. Available online
4)    The fruit, herbs & vegetables of Italy: an offering to Lucy Countess of Bedford.  Giacomo Castelvetro, Gillian Riley.  1989 Viking, New York, NY.  Provided by Johnnae Ilyn Lewis
5)    Florio J.  A dictionary of Italian & English, Formerly compiled by John Floria and since his last edition, anno 1611, augmented by himselfe in his life time with many thousand words and tuscan phrases.  Now most diligently revised, corrected and compared with la Crusca and other approved dictionaries extant since his death and enriched with many considerable editions.  Printed by T. Warren for Fa. Martin, Fa. Allestry and the Dicas, and are to be sold at the signe of the Bell in S. Pauls Church-Yard.  MDCLIX.  Available  searchable online

Copyright - Helewyse de Birkestad, OL, July 2007.