Although the meat was often present in the Roman table, there were plenty of vegetarian meals enjoyed by all, wealthy or not. The fourth book of Apicius’ recipes collection is dedicated to different types of omelets, quiches, and timbales. Most of the 37 recipes in that book call for eggs and a custard containing food.
In the culinary circles is known that custard comes from French (croustade – “meat or fruit pie”), but, in fact, the word derives from the Latin “crusta” – “hard surface of a body, bark, crust.” Today, custard represents a variety of cooked mixtures consisting of milk (or cream) and egg yolks. Most of them are used as desserts, although custard may also be added to quiches and other savory foods.
The present recipe is a combination of an omelet and what is known as timbale (another French word). Timbale is:
a) a creamy mixture (as of meat or vegetables) baked in a mold
b) the mold in which it is backed
Timbales are particular cooking pots that remind kettledrums (a type of drums also called timpani or timps). They could have different size, but often timbales are single-portion pans that usually narrow toward the bottom.
The Asparagus Patina has been prepared in a similar utensil. “Patina” in Latin means “a shallow dish, a pan” and denotes meals prepared in low cooking vessels.
The word asparagus in English derived from the Greek (through Latin) “aspharagos/asparagos” and ultimately came from the Persian word “asparag,” meaning “sprout, shoot.” That vegetable was quite popular in Antiquity, and it is said that Greeks and Romans not only consumed it fresh, when in season, but also dried it for the winter. It was one of the favorite foods of Emperor Augustus, who organized a special “Asparagus Fleet” for its quick transportation through the Roman Empire.
Asparagus was considered as a highly beneficial herb by the great physician Galen (2nd century AD). Modern analysis shows it is low in calories and very low in sodium. Asparagus is a good source of calcium, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, and beta-carotene. It also contains vitamins B6, C, E, and K, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium.
For 4 persons servings:
60 ml / 2 fl oz wine
1 bunch of asparagus or 1 can, approx. 200 gr net weight of the asparagus (See below *Val’s tips)
1 small onion
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp garum (fish sauce)
1 fresh spring coriander
2 tsp savory
½ tsp black pepper
2 tsp lovage or 2 tsp ground celery
1. Trim and steam the asparagus for 10 min. It is not necessary if you use canned asparagus
2. Process the asparagus and the half of the wine in the food processor to the consistency of puree
3. Cut the onion and the fresh coriander and sauté (fry until tender)
3. Put the asparagus puree and the onion-coriander sauté in an oiled shallow pan
4. Add the rest of the wine, savory, garum (fish sauce), lovage (or celery), and pepper and mix well
5. Beat the eggs. Pour them on top and stir gently
6. Preheat oven at 200 C° / 400 F° / gas 6 (See below *Val’s tips)
7. Bake for 15-20 min
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The wine in that recipe is mentioned without any instructions about what kind was used – white or red. We decided wine type rosé would be a good match for the eggs.
As our native country is in the Balkan area in Europe, we happen to keep tons of dried savory and lovage in our kitchen. If you are not as lucky as us, you could substitute the lovage with ground celery and just skip the savory.
Also, if you are willing to turn the dish into a complete vegan delicacy, you could add salt to your taste instead of the fish sauce. In the final line of his recipe, Apicius says that you could break eggs on top only if you wish so. If you don’t, get rid of the eggs and enjoy you ancient vegan meal!
1. You can use canned asparagus. In that case, you wouldn't need to steam it as it is ready for use. 2. The fresh coriander has very specific and quite intensive aroma. If it is not really your space, you could substitute with parsley, or just skip it.
3. It is possible to finish this meal right on the hot-plate. Just mix everything well and cook until the eggs are done.