A classicist came into a restaurant…
It sounds like the start of a joke but it’s real life for this episode of Dig Into Dining guests Poi Dog Philly co-owners Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca. They both hold Masters degrees in the Classics, the study of ancient Greece and Rome, and that may seem an unlikely background for full time restaurateurs —but, you never know where education can lead you.
Ancient Roman dinners
So the two set about re-creating ancient Roman meals based on one of the first cookbooks, Apicius. You can listen to how they managed the challenges of an old text translation, using modern cooking equipment, and coping with what was, essentially, a list of ingredients.
But first, Marcus Gavius Apicius
Apicius was a wealthy merchant around the first century CE. Apparently, he lost his fortune throwing lavish banquets but got a cookbook named after him.
Then came pseudepigrapha
No it’s not some kind of food poisoning. It is when a work is attributed to an author based on his or her known writing style. Here it is the content of the manuscript that makes it Apician. Basically, the book was attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius simply because he was considered to be obsessed with good food! So, no, he didn’t write the cookbook, but he certainly led the way in what has become our love of gulag (gastronomy in our parlance).
The compendium includes recipes for seafood and shellfish, sausages, legumes, and a whole book on fish sauces! But, one of our favorite gems follows:
“The female Nettles, when the sun is in the position of the Aries, is supposed to render valuable services against ailments of various kinds.”
Try your hand at cooking with ingredients from Apicius; the full volume can be read here, from the Project Gutenberg.
A Pour for Poi
Pairing wine with an unusual dish
Tourists in Hawaii may find themselves at an entertaining luau where a featured traditional dish is poi – the root of the taro that has been cooked and mashed, and sometimes fermented. Long a mainstay of indigenous culture, poi has only recently been replaced in daily meals by rice. While not a daily staple, this local Hawaiian dish still holds cultural relevance and reverence.
I had never had poi, and my guests, Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca of Poi Dog, were about to change that. I wanted to find a wine to pair with this unusual dish, but that presented challenges.
According to Kiki, this poi would be a bit sour and thick. Another helpful piece of information is that poi is often served with a salted meat or fish – especially the longer it has fermented.
Provided the wine is tasty (the most important aspect!), texture and flavors are the important characteristics to think about. So, how does the wine feel in your mouth? Is it creamy? Thin? Oily? Vermentino has a “thicker” feel, which I thought would be pleasant with the sticky poi. Next, try to figure out the type of flavor that will complement the food. If the food is sour, then I don’t want floral or tannic (too much contrast), but I might want light fruit or herb (a good complement to sour). In this case, since the poi is eaten with salty foods, I decided a wanted a wine with briny flavors.
Vermentino fits this characterization pretty perfectly, especially one from near the sea. The brine and clean, crisp apple/almond notes subtly flavored the poi.
La Corsa Dueluglio Vermentino from Maremma*, Tuscany ($20-$25, a little tough to find)
Moris Farms Vermentino from Massa Marittima, Tuscany ($16-$20, slightly easier to find)
Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino from Sardinia ($10-$15, easier to find)
Cecci Vermentino La Mora from Maremma*, Tuscany ($10-$15, easiest to find)