Friday, November 16, 2007


Last night I gave a little talk to our local Pacific Italian Alliance and my students who came about Roman agriculture and Cato the Elder. I decided that rather spend the afternoon cobbling together some images, I would cook something fun, and Cato's placenta beckoned. OK, not that kind of placenta, though the shape is the same, and the biological use of the term apparently comes from the name for the cake. Or is it a cake? I am inclined to think otherwise now.

I have tried to folow Cato's directions using emmer groats, assuming Dalby's translation is correct. Alicae primae in older translations (Brehaut) is spelt grits. But I still fail to see how they can be worked into the flour dough without making impossible lumps that prevent the tracta from holding together. If anyone has ideas about this, please let me know. This time I used just flour. The filing between sheets is just washed sheep cheese (to remove the salt) i.e. feta, and honey.

It resulted in a really nice sort of sweet lasagna. Everyone ate it and said it was good. By chance my olives were also ready, and they turned out quite nice, with a pleasant crunch. I also had my own sapa to taste - the entire year's harvest (10 gallons or so) reduced to about a bottle and a half. About 4 hours of slow simmering, which yeilded a gorgeously musty syrup. A little vinegar for fluidity in one bottle resulted in a fine balsamic-like product.

Again, any suggestion for making tracta with alica, would be most welcome.



Rachel Laudan said...

Hi Ken, I don't have Dalby's Cato but I notice that in his Classical Cookbook with Sally Grainger he simply calls he simply says semolina. Do you know if anyone has sorted out semolina, grits, groats in Latin?

Rachel laudan

Ken Albala said...

Thanks Rachel, Maybe that earlier translation was a mistake, because groats or grits just would not work. But this also begs the question: if there really was semolina in anceint Rome, that means that these sheets really are pasta after all. No?