Italian Renaissance Cooking

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During the Renaissance, the Italian diet consisted primarily of wine and bread, with a small portion of meat (preferably a type of foul, because birds lived closer to the heavens when they took flight).  The original "Renaissance Man," Leonardo da Vinci, was not only a painter and engineer but he also staged large productions, banquets, and events for the Pope.  Interestingly, da Vinci was a vegetarian who ate sparsely and encouraged moderation.

Food writer Dave DeWitt was inspired to write DaVinci's Kitchen: A Secret History of Italian Cuisine when he discovered that mainstream biographies of da Vinci were missing any mention of his diet or the eating habits of Renaissance Italy.  DeWitt studied da Vinci's notebooks for information on the subject, from the culinary influences of Italian cuisine to da Vinci's favorite food.

Da Vinci’s Prescription for Life (reprinted from Da Vinci’s Kitchen) :

If you want to be healthy observe this regime.
Do not eat when you have no appetite, and dine lightly,
Chew well, and whatever you take into you
Should be well-cooked and of simple ingredients
He who takes medicine is ill advised.
Beware anger and avoid stuffy air.
Stay standing a while when you get up from a meal.
Make sure you do not sleep at midday.
Let your wine be mixed with water, take little and often,
Not between meals, not on an empty stomach.
Neither delay nor prolong your visit to the toilet.
If you take exercise, let it not be too strenuous.
Do not lie with your stomach upward and your head
Downward.  Be well covered at night,
And rest your head and keep your mind cheerful.
Avoid wantonness and keep to this diet.

Leonardo's Favorite Dish
Minestrone Toscano
(reprinted from Da Vinci’s Kitchen)

Serves 4

9 cups water
1 ½ cups dried white beans
1 clove garlic, minced
½ onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
½ head of cabbage, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
1 sprig fresh basil, minced
1 whole clove
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced
½ cup risoni or orzo pasta
Salt, to taste

In a soup pot, bring the water to a boil.  Add the beans and boil for 2 hours.  Remove half the beans from the pot and pass them through a sieve held over the pot.  Cover the pot and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onion over medium heat for 1 minute.  Thin the tomato paste with 1 teaspoon water and add to the pan.  Add the remaining ingredients plus the bean mixture and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

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