Many of the foods commonly
associated with the Italian peninsula were unknown to ancient
Romans. Such modern Italian staples as tomatoes, eggplant,
corn (for polenta) hot peppers and pasta were unknown to
Europeans before trade began with the New World. Tea, coffee
and sugar were unknown, and butter, though known, was not
used for cooking.
Instead, Romans thrived on the bounty of the Mediterranean
sea, abounding with fish and shellfish, including bonito,
sardines, anchovies, mackerel snapper and much more. Large
breeding farms for oysters and mussels furnished plenty of
shellfish for Roman markets.
Meat, poultry and game was also plentiful. Since cattle,
toughened up ploughing the vast Roman campana, Romans feasted
on pigs, goats, lamb, chickens, geese, ducks, doves and other
wild fowl, deer, even frogs and snails.
Vegetables were often served at the mensa prima,
the first course. These included asparagus, beets, cabbage,
squash, leeks, fava beans, peas and chickpeas and lentils,
and, of course, the noble olive.
Cheeses and sausages were abundant, and one of the more
popular sausages of modern Italy, the lucania, originated in
the ancient Roman district of Lucania. Pate de foie gras, that
delicacy associated with French cuisine, actually has its
roots in ancient Greece and Rome.
Romans baked a variety of breads, both dark and light, and
while pasta was eons in the future, there were porridges of
grains, such as barley and wheat.
To finish out their meals, Romans ate a variety of fruits
— both fresh and dried, including apples, pears,
pomegranates, plums, blackberries, cherries and mulberries.
A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa
FOOD & DRINK