Salads served in 16th century Italy, it’s not just lettuce
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Salads from Scappi
Salads from other sources
What makes it a salad?
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
Cooked and raw items
Gosling feet and gizzard
Greens and other things cooked and raw
Hard boiled eggs
Lettuce and borage flower
Mixed salad (with and without flowers on top)
Mixed salad and borage flowers
Mixed salad with small onions
Small capers, currants
cucumber and onions
Small onions and lettuce
Tender peas boiled in the skin
Various cooked items
Veal and goat feet
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
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.
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.
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
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 - 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 &
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
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. , 436 leaves [ca. 888 p.],  p. of plates.
Online edition available
2) Massonio, Salvatore, Archidipno overo dell'insalata
e dell'vso di essa . In Venetia : appresso Marc'Antonio Brogiollo ,
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.
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.
Copyright - Helewyse de Birkestad, OL, July 2007.