Friday, August 06, 2010

Gazpacho without tomatoes

As we approach the ripe tomato season here in New England, gazpacho shows up more and more in restaurants and home dinner parties. That led me to wonder what the Europeans used before tomatoes were introduced from the New World.

Well, it turns out that there is a tomato-free form of gazpacho in Spain, called ajo blanco, based on almonds, bread, and garlic. It appears to be of Arab origin. Here's the recipe.

Now, while we are at it, what did the Italians use on their pasta before tomatoes arrived? And reaching back, what did they use for a starch before pasta arrived? (No, Marco Polo did not bring noodles to Italy. It appears that the Arabs had something to do with this, too.)

4 comments:

stop smoking help said...

Hey Paul, thanks for the departure from the stressful world of hospital administration.

I came across an Italian pasta recipe that didn't use a tomato based sauce. You cook 10 crushed garlic cloves in half a stick of burnt butter. Add your pasta and you've got a yummy, old world Italian pasta meal. If your cardiologist asks, tell him you used olive oil instead of butter.

(I'm not sure if this is old world or not, but I like to think so.)

BTW, where did butter come from and when?

Paul Levy said...

From Facebook:

Sriram: Thanks. I am a gazpacho fan for the summer. Will try the non-tomato recipe.

Azita: You wonder, I learn. I didn't even know tomatoes came from the New World.

Matthew: Well, if you've ever made pasta by hand, you'll realize it is simply a quick way to make bread. As for starches, all over the Mediterranean people have pizza-like flatbreads, which are dressed with olive oil, herbs, spices and in some cases minced nuts. You can get the Lebanese versions of this at bakeries on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown.

For a more authoritative view on the matter of ancient Italian starches, I happen to have a copy or Apicius' 4th century CE cookbook handy. Apparently, starch was not a big deal to the Romans, at leas not worrying about.

Book 1: Mostly about wine, oil and preserved foods like salt fish and meat or dried fruit.

Book 2: Sausages and meat puddings.

Book 3: Vegetables, roots and herbs.

Book 4: Boiled foods; porridges; appetizers

Book 5: Beans, lentils etc.

Book 6: Fowl -- ostriches, pheasants, crane, thrushes, peacocks, etc.

Book 7: Sumptuous dishes (mostly expensive meats but also items like truffles)

Book 8: Quadripeds of all kinds. The way you cook a dormouse is that you stuff a bunch of them with pork, herbs and nuts then slowly braise them in stock, serving them en casserole.

Book 9: Seafood of all kinds except fin fish; shellfish, rays, polyps, sea urchins etc.

Book 10: Fish.

Note the complete absence of bread or pasta, and very little in the way of starchy vegetables (carrots, parsnips, squash). Bread was certainly known, but baking may have been considered too rudimentary to require documentation.

Anonymous said...

Stop smoking's recipe reminds me of the time in medical school when the college guys downstairs invited my roommates and I for dinner - only they mistook garlic BUDS for garlic CLOVES and used several buds in the spaghetti sauce.....it was inedible.

nonlocal

George said...

We were just talking about putting tonight's dinner together. Thanks for the suggestion.