Last month I took my second historical cooking class with Nancy DeLucia Real at the Getty Museum. I'd done Gothic Desserts several years ago and had a blast, so was happy to find another that worked with my schedule. (And for which there were tickets, as these daytime classes sell out as soon as they're posted!) This time around it was A Renaissance in Dining: Culture and Cuisine of the Northern Italian Courts. We began with a lecture, had a gallery tour of Italian manuscripts... and then we got cooking.
Somehow I found myself at the marzipan station, so I got off rather easily in terms of effort as some of the recipes required a bit more work, like stewed artichokes, Venetian fritters, and tagliatelle with cinnamon and sage. All in all, though, things were surprisingly simple to create. Banquets of the era would have been more elaborate (stuffed peacocks and the like) but these dishes were really very easy. And it's fun to think you're making something with such a long history.
The tagliatelle dish was my favorite, and it now has me putting saffron in my pasta water to intensify yellow color of the noodles. According to a Bolognese legend, tagliatelle was invented in 1487, inspired by the long blonde hair of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Holliday Grainger was good casting in Showtime's The Borgias! But I digress. To make the recipe at home, just get your salted pasta water boiling, add a few saffron threads, and cook according to the directions. (We made fresh pasta in class but I use ready-made at home.) In the mean time, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and add in a handful of sage leaves, letting them sizzle and cook for just a few minutes. When the pasta is ready, drain (reserving a cup of the cooking water) and sprinkle with about 1/8 of a teaspoon of cinnamon and the fried sage. Toss, adding a little saffron water and/or extra virgin olive oil to thin, as needed. You can then top each serving with a little parmesan. It was so simple, and so flavorful.
And because the marzipan was so easy (and because I want to document it here, so I don't lose it), I'm posting the recipe below. I spent a Christmas in England years ago and one of the holiday confections we made were marzipan-stuffed dates, decorated with a little slice of red cherry. We used ready-made marzipan but how delicious would they be with homemade, which is softer! In my book, it's never too early to start thinking about the holidays.
2 cups slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 rose water
extra-fine sugar for coating
12-14 slivered almonds for garnish (in class we also had strawberries for garnish)
Grind together the almonds, sugar and rose water in a food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth. If the marzipan is too crumbly, add 1 teaspoon of water the mixture. With slightly wet hands, shape a small about of the marzipan into a 3/4-inch ball, roll it in the fine sugar and place it in a candy-size paper cup. Decorate with an almond slice. It will yield 25 to 30 balls.
See? Easy! And if you wanted to coat them in chocolate, I certainly wouldn't stop you.
To learn more about the Getty's culinary classes, click here.