A dabble in some Roman cooking

So the head of the cooks guild recently invited us out to try out a set of Pompeii stoves.

In the spirit of things, I decided to do some quick research on Roman food as it is far from something I had tried before.

I was lucky that the local university my husband attends had a copy of “A Taste of Ancient Rome” in the stacks and he picked it up for me to look at.

The first thing I found was that near every recipe calls for what is called Garum a fermented fish sauce. It was likened to nuoc mam, a Vietnamese sauce. The second thing I noted was most things are kept simple, each recipe had a very short list of ingredients.

Deciding to keep it simple I settle on grilled mushrooms. The recipe states,

Mushroom Caps

Mushrooms: The caps are served sprinkled with Garum or salt.

The instructions were even more concise; Grill and sprinkle with garum or salt.


With the quick bit of research done I headed to the store to pick up some ingredients to play.

Boletus mushrooms aka porcini were recommended however I didn’t remember that as I stood looking over the mushroom selection. Instead, I got a set of baby portabella and then grabbed some goats cheese to accompany it.

Arriving a touch late to the gathering I found the hardwood charcoal had been started and in almost perfect timing was ready to be moved to the clay stoves. Each stove was insulated with clay kitty litter but I suspect that I should have borrowed my sons play sand instead.

I forgot to start snapping photos until we had placed on most of the food on so forgive the lack of photos of the stoves themselves.

Our Menu was mushrooms grilled, mushrooms cut up with olive oil salt and pepper, Tuna, beef marinated in soy sauce and ginger, shrimp with olive oil and grape leaves. The round it out was dates stuffed with an almond and drizzled with honey.

A lovely feast for the 4 of us who had come out. 3 of us from the cooks guild and the amazing potter who had made the stoves. (I learned later this is her Queens Prize entry!)

The two stoves we were using were version two. You can see version one sitting in the upper right-hand side of the photo. They, unfortunately, one had suffered a crack last time they had been tired out, and the other was simply too small.

Version two was far better, the one with the skewers simply needed the divets deeper.

The other one was perfect. The two round ends formed a nice chimney that focused the heat up and allowed us to boil the shrimp and the other mushroom dish.

It took us some time to get the heat right as we started with a small amount of charcoal, but after adding more to the grill to heat we achieved a stable cooking temp.

Sadly another crack happened as we ate. While it didn’t destroy it the question is why. Was it the thermal dynamics at play? Was the kitty litter not enough insulation? or just a fault in the clay.

The other piece is this odd oven. We spent a fair amount of time debating if you should load it up with charcoal. Then using the flat top to cook on. We did have a bowl of the shrimp on at one point but it was a very slow cook. I tried heating a tortilla and it did crisp up rather nice. Mayhap it is an early toaster?


Or if like in the photo set it over the coals and be able to add more on top to bake bread in. That would account for the handles to lift it on and off.


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