Italian Renaissance Meals

As we are planning for Gulf Wars, I’d like to take some time to address how people on the peninsula ate during the Renaissance (1350-1600).

During the Renaissance, Italy had the most skilled, well known and creative cooks in Europe. They took Italian fine dining to new levels of refinement and prestige. Large, elaborate banquets were served in the dining rooms of the dukes and princes who governed the many small states throughout Italy.

For war I’m looking to plan for colazione (breakfast, just bread, fruit, and wine), the comestio (lunch served before noon), and the prandium (heaviest meal for the Italies, served before sunset).

My sources will be (some available online here on the Medieval Cookery page):

Anonimo Toscano – Libro della Cocina circa 1380.

Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook circa 1400.

Cookery in Imperial Rome by Apicius circa 4th-century.

De honesta voluptate et valetudine by Bartolomeo Platino circa 1475.

Decameron by Boccaccio circa 1465.

Libro de arte coqinaria by Maestro Martino circa 1465.

Opera by Bartolomeo Scappi circa 1570 (reviewed here).

Ca d Oro Menu 2018


Many of the Medieval flavors and preparations were carried over to the Renaissance, like the generous use of spices, the addition of sugar to savory dishes, the widespread consumption of roasts, stuffed pastas, tarts and pies.

The use of light sauces made of fruit or aromatic plants were mixed or thickened with the soft part of bread, grilled bread, flour, almonds or eggs. Sometimes, these sauces were flavored with acidic juices and mixed spices.

During the Renaissance, people developed a great love for giblets and the meat of butchered animals, poultry and fish. In addition, you could find a large selection of stews, long pasta noodles, stuffed pasta and maccheroni. Milk and dairy products were used often: butter became as important as lard, heavy cream became popular and people began cooking all types of cheeses.

Fruit and citrus were fundamental flavoring agents and fruit became a prominent part of the dishes served at the beginning of a meal.


The recipe is #14 In Book 2. It calls for loin. I used tenderloin, but that’s expensive. Sirloin would work well too. It’s not loin, but a flat iron steak would work too.
Pound out the beef to about 1/2″ thick. Sprinkle with white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and ground cinnamon. Stack them in a plastic bag to marinate for about 2-3 hours. Grill them, let them rest, then drizzle them with orange juice. And that’s it. It’s simple.

Herb Tart

“Take some fine aromatic herbs, such as parsley, marjoram, rue, mint or sage and so on, and pound them in a mortar. Then take some raw egg and fresh cheese and mix with some raisins; add saffron, ginger and other sweet spices together with some fresh butter.

Then make the dough; use it to line a greased pan, fill with the mixture and some more butter and cover with more dough. When it is cooked, sprinkle with sugar and whole pine nuts. And this will be superlative for courtiers and their wives.”

The recipe comes from: G. BONARDI, Giovanni Bockenheym e la Cucina di Papa Martino V, Milan, Mondadori, 1995, BIGAB 1. 112. 3.

Cappeletti alla Cortigiana

Boil 100 grams of belly of pork and half a capon breast and chop them up very finely. Add 200 grams of soft cheese and 50 of matured cheese, two eggs, some spices, very little ginger, pepper and salt and mix everything together carefully.

Cut out some thin discs of pasta and use to enclose the mixture, so that each “cappelletto” is no larger than half a chestnut. Cook the “cappelletti” in a good capon stock, made yellow by adding saffron, and serve sprinkled with sweet spices and grated Parmesan cheese.

These special “cappelletti” were also made with a filling of breast of pigeon, pheasant or other birds.

The recipe comes from:L. BARTOLOTTI, A Tavola con i Malatesti, Rimini, Panozzo, 1988, BIGAB 9. 23. 4.

Panunto con Provatura Fresca (Sweet-Sour Spicy Fried Break w Mozzarella)

Heat some butter and use it to brown some slices of previously toasted bread.

On each of these put a slice of mozzarella and grill. When the cheese has melted and become golden, dust the “crostini” with a mixture of sugar and ground cinnamon, sprinkle with rose water and serve piping hot.

The recipe comes from:M. SALEMI, La Cucina Rinascimentale, Florence, Libriliberi, 2003, BIGAB 9. 22. 8.

Melon Tart

“Take a melon that is not too ripe and clean it; beat eight eggs together with eight ounces of sugar; grate eight ounces of fresh cheese and four of mild matured cheese and mix together with some cinnamon, cloves and pepper.

Amalgamate everything to obtain a homogeneous mixture and put this into a buttered pan lined with a very thin layer of pastry; then cook slowly, covering the pan with a lid and placing some embers on the lid, so that it also receives heat from above”.

The recipe comes from:G.L. ERCOLANI – D. LOSCALZO, La Dieta Ermetica. la Cucina nel Rinascimento, Lugano, Todaro, 2003, BIGAB 9. 23. 7.

Renaissance Meals

People in the Italies during the Renaissance loved a good handbook; we have massive amounts of prescriptive literature about everything from how to raise a family (Leon Battista Alberti’s Della Famiglia), to how to be a good artist (Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte), to how not to be generally disgusting (Galateo by Giovanni della Casa). It should not surprise us, therefore, that within many of these behavior manuals we find information about how and what to eat. (Anyone with a bit of knowledge about contemporary Italy knows that variations on these “food rules” are still firmly in place today.)

A traditional breakfast; a slice or 2 of bread and a glass of wine

Breakfast consisted of nothing more than a slice of bread and a small glass of wine. After that, typically speaking, there were two meals per day: the comestio, usually eaten sometime before 11am, and the prandium, which occurred just before sunset. Paolo di Messer Pace da Certaldo attempted to bring order to mealtimes in his treatise Il Libro dei Buoni Costumi (a book about how the common man might cultivate good habits) when he advised that meals be “cooked once a day only, in the morning”, to keep “the cooked food for the evening” and “to eat little before going to bed”. In terms of what an everyday meal might consist of, Paolo suggests bread, wine, beans, millet porridge, and chestnuts during the appropriate season. Soups and some vegetables might make an appearance as well. Pork and fowl were reserved for special occasions.

Cannellini beans from Tuscany

Even the wealthy in Florence ate rather frugally on a daily basis, though they tended to step it up when guests were invited over. Apparently things had gotten a bit out of control in trying to impress, as the Florentine Republic decided to regulate what could be served at the dinner table when guests were present: only two main dishes, one boiled, one roasted. Fish was substituted on meatless days. Lest you think that sounds meager, consider that the boiled dish could offer three different kinds of meat and the roasted dish four kinds. Exceptions could be made by petitioning the city priors and demonstrating that the exemption was being made for the glory of the Republic and not for personal gain. What I wouldn’t give to see one of those requests!

Restaurants existed in the form of osterie–easy going places where businessmen, artists and literati could spend a few hours eating and socializing. We know the names of some of the more famous osterie, including the “Baldracca” in San Pier Scheraggio, the “Giardino” in via de’ Pilastri and my personal favorite, “Il Pennello” (the paintbrush), opened by painter Mariotto Albertinelli after he decided that the artist’s life was too rife with criticism and humiliation to be enjoyable.

Banquets were another story entirely. Used as a symbol of status and wealth, banquets celebrated family anniversaries, public and religious festivals, and of course, weddings. During the warm months, banquets were held in outdoor loggias which were located adjacent to the family palazzo. (Though there were more then 40 of these loggias in Renaissance Florence, one of the only surviving examples is the Rucellai Loggia on via della Vigna Nuova). Neighborhood people not invited to the party would stand a respectable distance away but close enough to glimpse the sumptuous clothing of the guests, see the rich tapestry and lace decorations, hear the music, watch the dancing, and smell the delicious courses as they were being brought out. The host would typically distribute large amounts of food to the people, indicating that the banquet was being held for the entire city.

Food was eaten with fingers, so hand washing before the meal at a stone basin called a lavabo and during the meal with acqua linfa (water perfumed with orange blossoms) was key. Guests also used napkins to keep their hands relatively clean during the long meal. Any food that remained uneaten was thrown under the table or into bowls placed there for the occasion. In between courses, the tables were cleaned off and guests enjoyed short concerts, dancing and sometimes even plays.

The senescalso was technically responsible for the carving of the meat but in reality he was more of a butler (or party planner) in charge of the entire ritual associated with banquets, from the organization to the execution of the meal itself.


Food of The Reniassance at Mealtimes at

Renaissance Mealtimes at


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