As I explained in my post about Romano-British food, the Romans loved honey. It was one of the few natural sweeteners available to them, and they believed that it had healing properties. At one time honey was so valuable that it was used in the place of gold to pay taxes. The Romans also had a predilection for white bread. It was a kind of status symbol—one that would only grow stronger and more prevalent with time—and some Romans went so far as to adulterate their finely-sifted flour with chalk, powdered bone, or alum in order to whiten it further.
With these facts in hand I decided to try my hand at Roman sweet toast, basically French toast without the egg. This recipe (and the one that follows) are both from Jacqui Wood's book, Tasting the Past. I selected a small, round white loaf of sourdough bread from the bakery, cut into slices, and bathed it in milk before frying it in olive oil. Once the pieces of toast turned brown and crispy I piled them on my wooden tray and liberally drizzled honey over them. This is a super-easy recipe, and quite tasty!
The boiled egg and anchovy "fish" was another matter. I chose it because the Romans really loved their seafood, and they also loved to play with it. They came up with all kinds of wild and crazy dishes that mimicked other foods or things in nature (for example, a Roman feast might feature a wooden hen holding a collection of eggs made out of paste, filled with delicate songbirds suspended in egg yolk). A fish made out of eggs seemed perfect.
This is a simple but somewhat tedious cold dish that makes you get your hands dirty. I mixed together chopped boiled eggs with chopped anchovies, pine nuts, raisins, etc., then molded it into the shape of a fish. The tedious part came when I had to cover the "fish" with slivered almonds to mimic scales. It didn't take me too long, however, and I was quite satisfied with the result. A few green peas for an eye and I was finished! I let the dish sit until the next morning, when I photographed it with the sweet toast, then Mom and I tried it. Blech! I had not known whether I liked anchovies or not, but now I definitely know that I do not. Thankfully the neighbors' cat appreciated this piece of Romano-British cuisine more than my family did. If you're brave enough to try it, you'll find the recipe below.
- 3-4 thick slices of white bread (crusts cut off)
- Half a cup or so of milk (enough to moisten your bread without saturating it)
- Several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, for frying
- Honey, to taste
- Heat your oil in a saute pan.
- Quickly dip the bread into the milk and then place in the pan. Fluffy white bread absorbs milk very readily, and you don't want to get your bread absolutely sopping wet, just moist.
- Fry the bread, flipping once, until both sides are golden brown. This can take a while, just be patient.
- Lift your toast out of the pan (you can place them on paper towels to absorb some of the excess oil), placing them on your serving dish or plate. Drizzle on the honey, as much as you'd like!
Boiled Egg and Anchovy "Fish"
- 8 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 2 oz. tin of anchovies
- 1 cup of raisins
- 3/8 cup pine nuts
- 1 tbsp. vinegar
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Small package of flaked almonds and a few peas for topping the fish
- Lettuce leaves and herbs for garnish, optional
- Chop the boiled eggs and anchovies very fine. Mix in the raisins, pine nuts, vinegar, and oil until it reaches a shape-able consistency.
- Lay your lettuce on a serving platter and plop your "dough" into the middle, shaping it into a fish shape with your fingers.
- Layer the flaked almonds onto the top of the fish to resemble scales and make an eye out of peas.
- Eat if you dare.
If you liked this post, you'll love my eBook, Cooks and Queens. Get it now to discover more about the Romans, and sample some tastier dishes from later times!
Wilson, Constance Anne. Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century. Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1991.
Wood, Jacqui. Tasting the Past: Recipes from the Stone Age to the Present. Stroud: History, 2009.