Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Cheese and Sesame Sweetmeats - Globi

I have always dismissed recipes which involved frying, mostly as I don’t have the equipment or expertise. Also because I fear that sickly fried smell that sticking to my clothes. Ok, I’m sure we can avoid that if we are just doing small batches.

 After discovering that fellow Classicist and food enthusiast Tom O is confident and experienced in the art of deep-frying I decided that I must be missing out on something. Our first endeavour was Cheese and Sesame Sweetmeats or Globi.. They are mentioned in the Banquet of Philoxenus as ‘cheese-and-sesame sweetmeats fried in hottest oil and sesame seeds…’ but sometimes are also known as Roman Doughnuts.

In Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger’s book The Classical Cookbook Chapter 2 is based on this Banquet and gives us recipes for some foods mentioned in the quotations which are found in Athenaeus. Sally Grainger takes the basis of her recipe from a passage in Cato’s On Agriculture 79. 

Globi to be made thus: mix cheese and semolina…Put fat in a hot copper pan: fry one or two at a time, turning them with a pair of spatulas. When cooked, remove them, coat in honey, sprinkle with poppy-seeds, serve.’

Grainger brings together the description from the Banquet and the main elements of Cato’s recipe, although she does admit that some ‘enlightened guesswork’ was needed. Her aim was to ‘work out a recipe which would reflect something of the ancient flavour’ (p.54-5). We duly followed her suggestions for recreating these sweetmeats. Her instructions advised us to cook the milk and semolina like a choux pasty however I think we did not let the mixture thicken enough. Nevertheless instead of forming quenelles with a pair of spoons we used a scoop to make round balls of batter which were just about thick enough to hold their shape. I used the finest semolina which has a consistency of flour although I will also be trying the recipe with coarser semolina at some point.

Here is Sally Grainger’s recipe from The Classical Cookbook (pp.54-5) with a few alterations on our part:

280ml milk
60g fine semolina
90g honey
120g ricotta cheese
85g sesame seeds, lightly toasted
vegetable oil for deep frying

Bring the milk to the boil and stir in the semolina.
Keep stirring until the mixture starts to thicken and watch it carefully that it does not burn.
When the mixture has reached the consistency of a wet dough, pour it into a dish and let it cook, stirring occasionally.
While it is cooling, toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan on a medium heat until they turn a golden brown. Put them in a dish to cool down.
When the milk mixture has cooled and firmed up add 1 tbsp honey and the ricotta.
Mix it well and then add 60g of the cooled roasted sesame seeds.
Prepare the vegetable oil in a deep-fryer. Test the oil with a little mixture or a small square of bread. If it bubbles, rises and begins to colour the oil is ready.
Scoop the mixture or form quenelles with two spoons and drop a few balls of mix into the oil at a time.
                                           The Globi half way through the frying process...

Watch them carefully and turn if necessary. Remove when they are turning golden brown, draining on paper towels.
Warm up the rest of the honey and toss the fried balls in it, sprinkling in the rest of the toasted sesame seeds.
I will definitely be giving these another go! They are delightful either hot or cold. We enjoyed ours warm with a cup of strong Arabic cardamom coffee. Another combination of interesting flavours and textures: a deeply aromatic strong drink complimented by a syrupy sweet treat.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Sesame Biscuits - Itrion

Sesame Biscuits certainly are part of my childhood food memories. There is something about the texture and the sweetness combined with the toasted flavour that makes them more than just a satisfying snack.

In the discussion about cakes in Book XIV of The Deipnosophistae or Professors at Dinner of Athenaeus, a type of biscuit made with sesame seeds and honey is mentioned, called Itrion.

Mark Grant provides a recipe in his book Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens (p.54). As he says, it contains 3 natural ingredients and as I found, it is very simple to make…

You will need:

60g clear honey
100g sesame seeds
olive oil

Heat up the honey in a pan and let it bubble for about 10 minutes. If it starts to brown too much, turn the heat down – keep an eye on it!!
Add the sesame seeds and keep stirring the pan for about 4 minutes.
Grease a small tin or glass dish and a spoon with the olive oil and pour the mixture in, flattening down and levelling it out to the sides.
Leave it to set for a few hours then tip out of the tin and cut into squares.

The quotation in Athenaeus mentions that the biscuit was enjoyed with a flask of wine!
Personally I found they went particularly well with a cup of black tea to compliment the sweetness. Yum.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Pegasus Food Competition 2012: Food Inspired by the Ancient World

I recently stumbled across a curious recipe by Dan Lepard on www.theguardian.com which included some main ingredients from the ancient world: a cake made with red wine, figs and honey. The flavours were also reminiscent of the spiced recipes from the ancient Roman collection of Apicius. The small amount of brown sugar gives a richer taste but the main sweetness comes from the honey and figs which is also balanced by the cinnamon and cloves. The result is completely different to the sugartastic cakes that we are used to today. The spices give it an almost christmassy smell and the figs add an interesting texture.

In terms of appreciating ancient flavours, in this recipe perhaps we can get quite close to understanding what they were, remembering that our palate is used to very different tastes in terms of salt, sweet, bitter and sour.

I made this cake for the 2012 Pegasus Food Competition (our Classics Department Journal at the University of Exeter) and decided to substitute the butter in the original recipe for olive oil. Also to keep with the theme I used a Sicilain Nero D’Avola.

Here is my version:

250ml red wine
200g chopped dried figs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½tsp ground cloves
4 tablespoons olive oil
150g honey
50g dark brown sugar
1 egg
200g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 160 C.
Line an 8inch/20cm round cake tin with baking paper.
In a pan, heat the chopped figs, red wine and spices until the mixture starts to boil.
Take off the heat and stir in the sugar and honey, leaving a little for brushing over the cake later.
Beat the egg and oil together, adding to the mixture when it has cooled a little.
Finally stir in the flour until the ingredients are just combined, pour into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

 If desired, some extra honey can be brushed over the cake when it comes out of the oven, adding a little sweetness and a lovely glazed finish.