A question arose on the SCA-cooks list as to whether Pesto as it exists today could be found in Scappi the large late period Italian recipe book
I did find a period recipe for pasta with a sort of pesto sauce.
There were two recipes identified that are precursers of the modern pesto but are obviously not pesto as we know it.
Note on transcription. Long s has been substituted with modern s. U where appropriate has been substituted with V. Ess (the funny B letter) has been substitued with ss.
Recipes taken from: Bartolomeo Scappi, Opera dell’arte del cucinare. Presentazione di Giancarlo Roversi. Arnaldo Forni Editore. Testi Antichi di Gastronomia, ristampa 1981. Bartolomeo Scappi, work the art of the kitchen. Presented by Giancarlo Roversi, Editor Arnaldo Forni. Historical food texts, reprinted 1981.
Piglisi petresemolo, cime di spinaci, acetosa, pinpinella, ricula, & un poco di menta, e tritisi ogni cosa minutamente, & pestasi nel mortaro con fettoline di pane brustolito, e sara in arbitrio, se vi si vorra mettere amandole o nocelle, ma accioche rimanga piu verde, si sara senza, & come sara pesta, vi si mettera pepe & sale, stemperandola con aceto & se sera ben pesta, non occurrera passarla. In questo modo si potra sara capriola cioe viticchi de viti.
To make Green Sauce.
Take parsley, sprouts of spinach, sorrel, burnet, rocket and a little of mint and cut everythng finely and paste it in the mortar with small slices of toasted bread and it will be in your judgement if one wants to add almonds or hazelnuts, but to the end that it stays more green it is made without, when it is ground one puts in pepper and salt, temper it with vinegar and it will be well blended, it does not require straining. In this way it is for roe deer that is a yearling in life.
Per fare & cuocere Maccaroni in piu modi per giorno quadregesimale. Cap CCLV. Terzo libro.
Piglisi una libra di fior di farina, & una libra di pangrattato, passato per lo foratoro minuto, impastisi ogni cosa con acqua che bolla & oglio d'olive mescolato con un poco di zafferano, e faccia la pasta che non sia troppo soda, ma ben mescolata sopra una tavola, e come havera preso il caldo, faccianosi i gnocchi cioe maccaroni sopra la grattacascio, e poganosi a cuocere in acque che bolla con un poco di sale, & come saranno cotti, cavinosi e ponganosi in un vaso di terra o di legno, e mettavisi sopra una agliata fatta di noci peste, spigoli d'aglioi, pepe, & polpa di pane ammogliata nell'acqua calda, mescolisi ogni cosa insieme, & servanosi con pepe & cannella sopra. Ma volendo farsi maccaroni tirali ad basta, facciasi la pasta piu sodetto, & lascisi un pochetto riposare lo sfoglio sopra la tavola, e taglisi con lo sperone a liste quadre o in altro modo, a beneplacito, & faccianosi cuocere all'acqua e sale, e servanosi come i soprascritti. Et chi vorra potra ancho coprirli di salza verde.
To make and cook maccaroni in more ways for lenten days.
Take a pound of flour and a pound of grated bread passed through the finest sieve. Bind everything together with boiling water and olive oil mixed with a little saffron. Make pasta that is not too firm, but well mixed on the table (knead well) and when it has lost its heat makethe gnocchi that is maccaroni above the cheese grater (*1) and put them to cook in boiling water with a little salt. When they are cooked strain and put them in a dish of clay or wood and put above a garlic sauce made of walnuts ground, garlic cloves, pepper and crumb of bread that has been soaked in hot water. Mix everything together and serve them with pepper and cinnamon above. But if one wants to make maccaroni drawn out enought, make the pasta more firm and leave it to rest as a sheet on the table and cut it with a sperone (*2) into square (four cornered) strips and cook them in water and salt and serve them as it is written above. And if you want they can also be served covered with green sauce.
(*1) - The noodles are made in the first instance the way that noodles for paprikash are often made. A soft dough is grated into boiling water. This would yield small dumpling style pasta shapes.
(*2) - The noodles can also be made like tagliatelle. The pasta is made more firm, rolled out into a sheet and cut with a Sperone. Scappi carries a picture of a "Sperone da pasticiero" - literal translation spur of the pasta chef. It has a curved knife on one end, a handle in the middle and what looks like a fluted cutting wheel on the other end. It would therefore allow you to make very fancy cut pasta.
While both recipes bear some similarity to the modern pesto there are some differences. Bear in mind that even in Italy the use of Pesto is more or less restricted to the Genova region. Pesto is properly referred to as Pesto Genovese and is a regional specialty. That form of pesto contains Basil, Pine Nuts, Garlic, Olive Oil and Parmesan cheese. The green sauce has plenty of herbs BUT no Basil. You may choose to add nuts (almonds or hazel) but are advised not to. There is no olive oil, garlic or cheese. The second recipe details pasta covered in sauce. You may either add a garlic nut sauce (again two of the ingredients of modern pesto) or the green sauce. But again signature ingredients of the Pesto Genovese are not present. This is not surprising as Scappi is written by a cook that was originally from Bologna who then moved to Rome. If a period version of Pesto Genovese exists in the literature it will no doubt be found in a cookbook written by a cook in that region of Italy, something to which my knowledge does not exist. Italian cooking had regional specialties in the 16th Century and continues to exhibit strong regional diversity to this day. Thus, any given cookbook from Italy should be viewed as one presenting regional variations.
Composed by Lady Helewyse de Birkestad, mka Louise Smithson, 2002.
Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.