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.

Chickpea Puree

Cook the chickpeas in water, then mash them in a mortar to make a puree. Push the puree through a sieve for wheat, unless it is already fine enough, in which case this step is not necessary. Mix it then with wine vinegar, the pulp of pickled lemons, and cinnamon, pepper, ginger, parsley of the best quality, mint, and rue that have all been chopped and placed on the surface of the serving dish [zubdiyya]. Finally, pour over [this mixture] a generous amount of oil of good quality.

This recipe comes from the thirteenth century Kanz al-Fawa id fi tanwi’ al-mawa id (“The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”) which was written in Egypt. It can be found in Lilia Zaouali’s Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World (p 66).


200g dried chickpeas, OR 1 can chickpeas 1/2 tsp cinnamon tbs finely chopped parsley
2 tbs wine vinegar 1/4 tsp pepper 2 tbs finely chopped mint
pulp of 1/2 pickled lemon 1/2 tsp ginger 1 tsp finely chopped feverfew or rocket
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil


  1. If using dried chickpeas, soak the chickpeas overnight, then boil them for at least two hours in fresh water, until they are tender. If using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse well.
  2. Put the chickpeas in a mortar and pound to a paste, then pass through a fine sieve. You can also do this step the modern, painless way in a food processor.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the preserved lemon pulp, spices and herbs, and spread over the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Put the chickpea puree on top of the lemon, spice and herb mix, then mix together well.
  5. Transfer the puree to a serving bowl and drizzle the olive oil over the top.


  • Rue is a very bitter herb that is mildly toxic; it can bring about abortions and often provokes allergic reactions. For this reason, I have substituted feverfew or rocket, two other bitter herbs which tend not to have the side effects.
  • Preserved lemons are preserved in salt, and have an extremely strong flavour. This recipe is somewhat unusual in calling for the pulp, as the skins are more often used. You can find them at Middle Eastern grocers.
  • A zubdiyya is a small, decorated ceramic bowl, used to serve small appetiser dishes such as this.

A C13 zubdiyya from Syria

Chickpea puree

Further Reading

Zaouali, Lilia. Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. Los Angeles, 2007.

Shiraz Laban bi-Buqul (yoghurt/cheese dip with herbs)

Take mint, celery leaves and vegetable leeks and strip them all from their stalks and cut them up finely with the knife.  Throw them in the mortar, and when they release liquid after pounding, dry them off.  Then mix them well with shiraz.  Throw a little salt on it, as much as it will bear, and mustard pounded fine, and moderate its flavour with the mustard.  Put it in a vessel and strew its surface with a little nigella.  If you like, put pounded walnuts on it.Source: Kitab Wasf al-At’ima al-Mu’tada (The Description of Familiar Foods) trans. Charles Perry (C14 Egypt)

This is a very tasty, simple dip and would be served as part of the appetisers at a Middle Eastern banquet.


2 cups cottage cheese OR 2 cups Greek yoghurt 2 tsp mustard powder
4 tbs fresh mint leaves Pinch salt
4 tbs celery leaves 2 tsp nigella seeds
6 large spring onions 4 tbs walnuts, pounded in a mortar and pestle


Put the cheese or yoghurt into a square of cheesecloth and a strainer, suspended over a deep bowl, to drain excess moisture.  This is best done overnight to drain the maximum water.  Give the cheesecloth a final squeeze at the end.

Mince the herbs and spring onions, then add to the drained cheese/yoghurt, along with the salt and mustard powder.  Mix well.

Serve sprinkled with nigella seeds and ground walnuts.  A good accompaniment to crudite vegetables, or lavash bread.

Equipment required: cheesecloth, strainer and tall bowl to strain yoghurt; bowl to mix dip; mortar and pestle

Total Time: approx. 10 minutes to make dip + overnight

Difficulty Rating: X

Prep ahead of time?  Yes.

Serves: Would probably do 2 serves for a feast

Leftover Potential: Poor (saving food with dairy that’s been sitting uncovered for a while is a Bad Idea, and there’s rarely any left).


  • Shiraz is either a yoghurt or cheese drained of whey, which is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.
  • Make sure you don’t accidentally use cheesecloth you’ve previously used to squeeze onions and zucchini for zucchini fritters.  It adds a very weird taste to the dip.
  • Herb measurements are vague – add more or less as you please.
  • This recipe also works well with coriander leaves or parsley leaves.

Allergy Notes

  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Gluten Free
  • Egg-allergy friendly