Mother’s Day with the Medici

caterina de mediciCelebrate Mother’s Day with a Medici feast for a taste of the Italian Renaissance. Follow the traditions of the Renaissance tables of the Medici who introduced the concept of the well laid table to the people of Florence. Dinner with the Medici would be served in several courses and include roasted meats of game or fowl like capon, pigeon or peacock. Pine nuts and raisins were common in Italian Renaissance cooking and were used in both sweet and savory dishes. Tarts, custards and puddings made with cherries sweetened with wine were popular. There would be no tomatoes, peppers, kidney beans, turkey or potatoes! These ingredients native to the Americas were not yet known in Europe.
The Medici’s epicurean tastes were transferred to France when Catherine de’ Medici wed King Henry II, bringing with her Italian cooks, recipes and the fork! Her influence reputedly reformed the antique style of French medieval cooking and gave rise to the science and art of cooking practiced today. Here is a recipe for a historically delicious salad written of in history books as Catherine de’ Medici’s favorite salad.
Insalata di Caterina
Wash and dry well a variety of mixed salad greens and place in a large wooden bowl. Toss with a few pieces of Pecorino Toscano (a soft sheep’s milk cheese), anchovy fillets packed in oil and a few capers. Make a dressing using the best Italian extra virgin olive oil you can find, red wine vinegar, coarse ground salt and pepper. Garnish with wedges of hard-boiled egg,

 

 

Pomegranates and Prosecco

Italian majolica is filled with symbols of pomegranates. Ceramic shops throughout Tuscany and Umbria “ceramiche artistiche vendenta” sell vases, urns, jars and pitchers featuring pomegranates paired with flowers, fruits and stylized dragons.  Pomegranates are one of the oldest fruits known to man. King Tut took a pomegranate vase into the afterlife with him and the pillars of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem were decorated with pomegranates. Italian painters of the Renaissance frequently used the pomegranate as a symbol of plenitude, hope and spiritual fruitfulness. In Botticelli’s painting of the Virgin and Child with Seven Angels the Holy Child is pictured holding a pomegranate. The pomegranate plays such a prominent role in the painting that it has become known as the Madonna of the Pomegranate. 

Throughout world history pomegranates have been used as a source of traditional remedies and modern research supports their role as an antioxidant-rich fruit. Throughout gastro-history the pomegranate has been a favored ingredient in most cultural cuisines including Italy where it is called il melograno.  It pairs well with Mediterranean foods including radicchio, the red-lined lettuce of the Veneto that our family loved to sauté simply with olive oil and garlic.

Focus on the pomegranate as a theme for an Italian inspired Mother’s Day dinner.  Begin with an Italian tablescape of Umbrian linens and a centerpiece of flowers and pomegranates. Start the meal with a Tintoretto , an aperitivo made with chilled pomegranate juice and sparkling Prosecco. Use the juice to make a radicchio salad and as a glaze for a wood-grilled pork tenderloin and end the meal with Panna Cotta di Melograno (Pomegranate Panna Cotta ).

Pomegranate Radicchio Salad

Trim the radicchio, discard the outer leaves. Wash inner leaves, dry well and coarsely tear into pieces. Combine with a dressing made from the juice of 2 pomegranates (or use POM Juice), 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1 t green peppercorns in brine, rinsed.