Lent is a time for reflection and abstention. For those who forego meat on Fridays, there is often the question of what to prepare. When following this practice, there is a myriad of delicious recipes to try during the Lenten season. This week we feature recipes from Rome, including a method for making the favorite condiment of ancient Rome – Garum.
Garum is one of the basic ingredients in the cuisine of Roman antiquity. It is a fish sauce that was used to salt dishes. Instead of extracting moisture, which is what salt does, garum adds moisture to a dish. When preparing an authentic Roman dinner, this sauce was a necessary cooking ingredient, although it was never used as a sauce by itself.
One popular variation was liquamen. Small fish were covered with salt; spread out in the sun and turned from time to time. When the fish were completely fermented they were scooped into a fine-mesh basket that was hung over a vase. The liquid that seeped into the vase was called liquamen.
To prepare garum, fish, such as anchovy, mackerel or tuna were mixed with salt (approximately eight parts fish to one part salt) then left in a clay pot in the sun for two months. The most prized garum was called haimatum and only used the blood, gills and intestines of tuna. After a few months in the sun, the resulting liquid (garum) was poured off and the Roman condiment was ready for use.
You can find garum on specialty sites. The fermented version is very expensive; however, garum is easy to prepare in a modern kitchen and it only takes about an hour. Admittedly, this is best to do in a well-ventilated kitchen on a day when you can open the windows. Although the fish that remains in the cooking pan will not be appetizing, the end result – the garum, will be a clear, amber-colored liquid with an intriguing smell. If you do not have a powerful range hood, prepare the garum on an outdoor cooker.
Makes about 3 cups
2 lb small fish, such as smelt or sardines
1 lb sea salt
2 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried mint
3 pints water
You can use frozen fish, but they must be whole. Rinse the fish under running water, leave them intact – do not remove gills or innards. Place the fish, salt and herbs in a cooking pan with enough water to cover the fish, about one or two inches of liquid on top.
Bring the water to a boil and cook for fifteen minutes. Since you want the fish cooked to a pulp, crush the fish with a wooden spoon. Continue boiling until the liquid starts to thicken, about twenty minutes.
Next, the straining begins. First use a coarse strainer or colander to remove all the larger bits and pieces. Then strain the liquid several times through cheese cloth. You will need to strain it numerous times until the liquid is clear. During each straining, the liquid will cool. You want the last straining cycle to take place with the liquid at room temperature. Depending on what type of fish was used and the length of boiling, the garum will range from a pale yellow to deeply amber colored liquid.
Keep the garum in a sterilized glass jars in the refrigerator. Because of the high salt content, garum will keep for years and by years, we actually mean centuries. In fact, garum has been discovered in shipwrecks over two thousand years old that was unspoiled. Use it sparingly, a teaspoon at a time. Always take care that the spoon which is used to take garum out of the jar is absolutely clean and also wipe the neck with a clean cloth.
Lasagna con Carciofi Fritti
Artichokes are in season right now in Italy and as any Roman will tell you, they are best served fried. This dish incorporates carfiofi fritti into a comforting lasagna.
oil for frying
6 oz pecorino cheese, grated
12 oz fresh lasagna sheets
pepper to season
For the béchamel
4 oz plain flour
4 oz butter
1 quart of whole milk
pinch of salt
To make the béchamel, begin to melt the butter in a pan over a medium-low flame and once it is nearly melted, add in the flour, whisking it quickly to thicken the mixture. While still whisking, add in the milk a little at a time to create a smooth cream without any lumps. Continue to cook the béchamel while whisking. It is ready when you can lift a spoon from the sauce with it forming a ‘veil’ on the back of the spoon.
Remove the outer leaves and slice the artichokes, then fry the slices in a pan with a good amount of vegetable oil. In a baking dish, spread a layer of béchamel, a layer of lasagna sheets, another layer of béchamel and then a layer of the fried artichokes. Add grated pecorino and black pepper. Repeat the layers until all the ingredients have been used. Bake for 25 minutes at 350˚F. Once it has been removed from the oven, cover the surface with more crispy fried artichokes and serve hot.
Pesce Affogato al Pomodoro
Prepare fish fillets using this method that goes back to ancient Roman days. Crispy shallots and garlic, spicy oil and cherry tomatoes really make the flavors sing. You can even use some of your own homemade garum sauce in this recipe.
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced into rings
1 tsp red-pepper flakes
1 lb small, cherry tomatoes, halved
sea salt and black pepper
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1 1/2 pounds fluke or cod, cut into 4 equal pieces
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, leaves and tender stems
1 lemon, halved
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet (use one with a lid) over medium-high flame. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté, swirling the skillet constantly until they start to turn golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Add the red-pepper flakes and swirl to infuse the oil for 1 minute. Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer all but 1 tablespoon of the oil to a small bowl.
Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the tomatoes burst and the mixture begins to thicken, 5-8 minutes. Add fish sauce, if using and 1 1/2 cups water, swirling to release any of the bits stuck on the bottom of the skillet. Cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, 3-5 minutes.
Season the fish with salt and pepper and gently lay the pieces into the skillet with the tomatoes. Cover and cook until the fish is opaque and just cooked through, 4-6 minutes.
To serve, transfer fish and tomatoes to a large shallow bowl. Drizzle with reserved oil, shallots and garlic, then squeeze lemon over the dish. Top with parsley and serve.