Sauce for Soft-Boiled Eggs (Apicius 7.17.3)

In ouis apalis: piper ligusticum nucleos infuses; suffundes mel acetum, liquamine temperabis.

Sauce for soft-boiled eggs: pepper, lovage, soaked pine nuts; pour on honey, vinegar, flavour with liquamen.

This text and translation are taken from Sally Grainger and Christopher Grocock’s Apicius (2006).

This is one of the earliest historic recipes I ever cooked, over 20 years ago (eek); I used the version from Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa’s A Taste of Ancient Rome, which is one book I would highly recommend as a beginner’s guide to ancient Roman food and cooking. This is a great recipe to serve in the first course of a feast – both the eggs and the sauce can be prepared well ahead of time.

Eggs were an important food in the ancient world – even city dwellers with a small yard could keep chickens, and hen eggs could be produced in large quantity. They were regarded as aphrodisiacs (Dalby, 2003, 126).


4 large eggs 2 tbs honey 1/2 tsp lovage seed
50g pine nuts 1 tsp fish sauce 1/2 tsp pepper
100mL wine vinegar


  1. Dry fry the pine nuts over a medium heat until they start to turn golden. Keep stirring constantly. When they are golden, remove from the heat and soak in half the vinegar for at least 6 hours.
  2. Put the eggs into a pan of cold water, then put over a high heat and bring to the boil. As soon as the water comes to the boil, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and leave it stand for 4 minutes.
  3. After 4 minutes, remove the eggs from the hot water and immediately plunge them into ice cold water. Leave them to cool completely.
  4. In a food processor or mortar and pestle, combine the soaked pine nuts, pepper and lovage seed, and process until the pine nuts have been crushed to the desired consistency (I like them still a bit chunky).
  5. Add the honey, the rest of the vinegar and the fish sauce to the pine nuts, and stir well to combine.
  6. Remove the eggs from the cold water and peel them, then slice each egg in half.
  7. Arrange the halved eggs on a plate, then pour over the pine nut sauce.


  • Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a plant that appears frequently in Roman cooking. It has an extremely strong celery scent. Sally Grainger (2006, 24) and Patrick Faas (1994, 151) believe the seeds were used more frequently, as it is usually listed amongst the spices in Apicius. I feel either the leaves or the seed can be used, as they both have a similar taste, however the seed is probably more appropriate in this recipe. If lovage leaf or seed is unavailable, celery leaf or seed is a good substitute. I grew the lovage in my garden.
  • Liquamen is a fish sauce, probably thinner in texture than the better known garum. (Grainger, 2005).
  • This method of boiling eggs comes from Heston Blumenthal’s Heston at Home (p107). I find it avoids the problem of the eggs cracking in the water as can happen if they are put in hot water to begin with, or left in boiling water, and also ensures the egg does not overcook. If you prefer a less set yolk, leave them in the boiled water for less time.
  • Putting the eggs into cold water to cool does three things. First, it completely stops the cooking process so the yolk does not overcook and become powdery, and the white stays tender rather than becoming like rubber. Second, it allows the eggs to cool without that unattractive grey ring forming about the yolk. Finally, it makes the eggs easier to peel cleanly as the membrane surrounding the egg separates from the shell.
  • If you want to read more about the science behind the gentle cooking of eggs in their shell, check out Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, p 87-88.
  • It is much easier to peel an egg that is slightly older. As eggs age more air is absorbed into the shell, and pushes the egg slightly away from the shell. However, avoid really old eggs, as they don’t taste good, and have more chance of having the unattractive grey ring form about the yolk, even if you cook it gently.
  • To test the freshness of an egg, put the egg in a bowl full of water. If the egg lies on the bottom, it is very fresh. If the egg stands on its narrow point with the broader end sticking up in the water, it is less fresh but still fine to use, especially in a recipe such as this. If the egg floats, throw it away, as it is stale.
  • Both Sally Grainger (2006, 57) and Ilaria Giacosa (1994, 47) both suggest processing the pine nut sauce to a completely smooth paste. However, I prefer the sauce to still have a little texture – I think it looks more appealing to have diiferent textures in the sauce.

Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce

Further Reading

Click on the links below to order directly from The Book Depository.

Dalby, Andrew (2003). Food in the Ancient World.
Faas, Patrick (1994). Around the Roman Table.
Giacosa, Ilaria Gozzini (1994). A Taste of Ancient Rome.
Grainger, Sally (2005). “Towards an Authentic Roman Sauce.” 2005 Oxford Food Symposium
Grainger, Sally (2006). Cooking Apicius.
Grocock, Christopher and Grainger, Sally (2006). Apicius.
McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking.

Erebinthoi Knakosymmigeis (Saffron Chickpeas)

And then chickpeas marinated in saffron, plump in their tender youth. Athenaeus, The Deipnosophistae, trans. Mark Grant (1999, 142).

This is one chickpea dish where I thoroughly recommend using dried chickpeas only, as they take up the flavour of the saffron much better.


250g dried chickpeas 1L vegetable stock Pinch saffron threads


  1. Soak the chickpeas for at least 12 hours in cold water, if possible changing the water after 6 hours. Then drain.
  2. Grind the saffron to a powder, then soak in boiling water.
  3. Put the saffron and vegetable stock in a pot, then bring to a boil. Add the chickpeas and simmer for at least an hour, or until the chickpeas are tender. If necessary, add more water or stock while they are cooking.
  4. Drain and serve hot or cold.



Further Reading

Click on the links below to order directly from The Book Depository.
Grant, Mark (1999). Roman Cookery

Apicius 3.11.2 – “Another Recipe for Boiled Beets” (Beets with Mustard Dressing)

aliter betas elixas: ex sinapi oleo modico et aceto meme inferuntur. Apicius 3.11.2

Another recipe for boiled beets: they are served nicely in a sauce of mustard, a little oil and vinegar.

This text and translation are taken from Sally Grainger and Christopher Grocock’s Apicius (2006) (p166, 167).

In general, when “beets” are mentioned in ancient texts, the leaves are being referred to rather than the roots, which were rarely eaten (Dalby, 2003, 51). However, I have chosen the beetroot bulbs here, as they resemble archery targets and thus are a good representation for Sagittarius, especially when paired with asparagus!


2 beetroots 15mL mustard
70mL extra virgin olive oil 15mL vinegar
1 bunch asparagus


  1. Cut most of the leaves off the beetroot, but leave the base of the leaves and the tail intact. This stops much of the flavour being leeched out of the beets as they cook.
  2. Put the beets in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Cook, with the pot covered, until a knife inserted into the beet meets no resistance.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce – put the oil, vinegar and mustard in a jar and shake vigorously to combine the ingredients.
  4. Peel the beets as they are cooling, and slice finely.
  5. To prepare the asparagus, snap the woody base off the end of the asparagus and put in a pan of boiling water. Cook for around a minute.
  6. Arrange the asparagus in the middle of a platter, and then put the beets around the outside. Pour the mustard sauce over the beets.


Further Reading

Click on the links below to order directly from The Book Depository.
Dalby, Andrew (2003). Food in the Ancient World.
Grocock, Christopher and Grainger, Sally (2006). Apicius.

Apicius 8.5.4 – Apician Boiled Beef

aliter in utulina elixa: piper ligusticum feniculi semen origanum nucleos careotam mel acetum liquamen, sinapi et oleo.
Apicius – De re coquinaria

Another recipe for boiled veal
Pepper, lovage, fennel seed, oregano, pine nuts, dates, honey, vinegar, liquamen, mustard and oil.

This text and translation are taken from Sally Grainger and Christopher Grocock’s Apicius (2006).

Beef was not a common ingredient on the tables of wealthy Romans; cows were primarily working animals (Dalby, 2003, 244), and thus were generally slaughtered when old and very tough.  There are only four recipes for beef in Apicius, and all specify veal – young animals.

Like many recipes in Apicius, this recipe is just a list of ingredients, and it doesn’t even list the beef. However, because the title specifies boiled beef, I have interpreted this as a stew.


500g beef such as chuck, shin or cheek 25mL wine vinegar
80g dates 15mL fish sauce
20g pine nuts 1/2 tsp pepper
25mL honey 1 tbs chopped lovage leaves
1/2 tsp fennel seed 1 tbs oregano leaves
1 tbs mustard


  1. Cut the beef into small chunks.
  2. Over a low heat, dry fry the spices until they are aromatic, taking care not to burn. Crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  3. In a low heated oven, toast the pine nuts until they are golden.
  4. Combine all the ingredients except the beef in a food processor and process to a paste, or grind to a paste in a mortar and pestle.
  5. Put the beef into a pan and just cover with water.
  6. Bring to the boil and add the paste.
  7. Combine everything well, then reduce the heat and cook until the beef is tender. It will take several hours. Add more water if necessary, otherwise the stew will burn and stick.


  • I have specified the cuts I have because these are cuts with a lot of connective tissue and are particularly suited for stewing – the longer you cook them the better they get. You can use other cuts, but they will not require as much cooking.
  • Lovage is a herb with a very similar taste to celery leaf. Sally Grainger (2006, 23) believes the seeds were more likely to be used than the leaves, as lovage is generally listed among the spices rather than the herbs, but the leaves and seeds have a similar flavour, so if you can’t find the seeds, use the leaves. You will probably have to grow it yourself, but it is easy to grow from seeds, and you can generally find plants at nurseries.
  • Liquamen is a fish sauce, probably thinner in texture than the better known garum. (Grainger, 2005).


Further Reading

Click on the links below to order directly from The Book Depository.
Dalby, Andrew. Food in the Ancient World.
Grainger, Sally. “Towards an Authentic Roman Sauce.” 2005 Oxford Food Symposium
Grainger, Sally. Cooking Apicius.
Grocock, Christopher and Grainger, Sally. Apicius.

Trimalchio’s Pastry Fig Pecker Eggs (with fake fig pecker)

We were still dallying with the relishes when a tray was brought in, on which was a basket containing a wooden hen with her wings rounded and spread out as if she were brooding. Two slaves instantly approached, and to the accompaniment of music, commenced to feel around in the straw. They pulled out some pea-hen’s eggs, which they distributed among the diners. Turning his head, Trimalchio saw what was going on. “Friends,” he remarked. “I ordered pea-hen’s eggs set under the hen, but I’m afraid they’re addled, by Hercules I am let’s try them anyhow, and see if they’re still fit to suck.” We picked up our spoons, each of which weighed not less than half a pound, and punctured the shells, which were made of flour and dough, and as a matter of fact, I very nearly threw mine away for it seemed to me that a chick had formed already, but upon hearing an old experienced guest vow, “There must be something good here,” I broke open the shell with my hand and discovered a fine fat fig-pecker, imbedded in a yolk seasoned with pepper.
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter, Chapter 33

Taken from

This is one of those food references that gets any decent re-enactor cook scratching their heads and thinking. It is such an important part of the Feast, I had to get something working.

If you check out sites such as, they’ll tell you a figpecker was an unborn chicken embryo, a Roman delicacy. However, Patrick Faas states instead that figpecker was the Roman name for the pied flycatcher, a migratory bird about the size of a robin. Because they were so small, they were eaten whole, in a single bite (Faas, Around the Roman Table, 298 – 299). I prefer to go with Faas’ version, because I can’t find a reference to Romans eating chicken embryos in a reputable source (though I imagine they did). However, if I tried to serve up chicken embryos or tiny birds at a feast, I imagine I’d be stuffed headfirst into a boiling stock pot. Not to mention the extreme difficulty/impossibility of getting hold of them.

So I was always going to use chicken. The pastry egg was bothering me… until I realised I would be making a chicken dumpling. I found some recipes for dumpling dough, which were essentially equal quantities of water and flour. Easy, right? Err…. Dumpling making is considered one of the great techniques of Asian cooking, because they are actually quite hard to make. The dough was extremely sticky and hard to work with, and I didn’t get the dumpling dough very thin. I steamed these first dumplings, using the filling described below… and they weren’t very nice at all. The dough didn’t cook through, stuck to the steamer, and was tough and chewy. I was also concerned about making and cooking the dumplings in quantity. But the filling was tasty.

But rather than persevere with the dumpling dough (and probably failing a lot) I thought about ways I could cheat make the preparation easier. As it happened, I had some wonton skins in the fridge, and some leftover filling; I stuck some filling in the wonton skin, made some little “pasties” and baked them. They were yum and easy. But I wasn’t sure about how to mould the skins so they could be filled, until I had the thought below…


500g chicken thigh fillets, skin off 6 egg yolks
20 spring roll wrappers OR 40 wonton skins 2 tsp ground black pepper


  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  2. Cut the chicken thigh fillets into small chunks and mix well with the egg yolk and pepper.
  3. If using spring roll wrappers, slice the wrappers in half lengthwise, and then fold each in half, so you end up with small double-layer squares.
  4. Spray a mini-muffin tray with oil, and then gently press a wonton skin or wrapper into each mould in the tray.
  5. Fill each wonton skin with a small amount of chicken and yolk mix. Gently fold the ends over to enclose the mix, and make an egg shape. You can help compress the folded edge by gently turning each dumpling over so the folded edges are underneath.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp.
  7. Serve hot or cold, but they should be presented with a chicken statue.
  8. Equipment required

    Mini-muffin tray
    Bowl for mixing stuffing
    Knife and board for cutting chicken
    Chicken statue for serving


    I served about 20 of these at the Rowany Arts and Sciences Day on April 28 (minus chicken). I did not bring any home.