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Mona Lisa's Meal: A Renaissance Menu

Leonardo DaVinci's famed "Mona Lisa" always had a secret smile on her face... we think it may have been from the satisfaction of a meal savored and enjoyed. Our special "Mona Lisa's Meal" menu offers special recipes from the Renaissance era that will be enjoyed by the modern food enthusiast.


Spinach Tart

This dish is based on the style of 15th century Italian Renaissance tarts. It can be seasoned with sugar, cinnamon and sweet butter; with mace; or with sugar and butter. As an alternative, you can also add cheese (Parmesan for a more salty and savory tart, or Edam or Cheddar, for a sweeter tart) into the filling.

20 ounces spinach
1/4 pound butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon salt
9" pastry shell

1. Boil spinach 3 minutes, rinse in cold water and wring dry.
2. Fry 2-3 minutes in butter with spices, and then remove from heat.
3. Allow batter to cool, and then fill shell and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.


Green Broth of Eggs and Cheese

Soups were very popular in Renaissance Italy. These included vegetable and bean soups, like ribollita, and bread porridges, like Pappa al pomodoro. A soup that became especially popular in the Renaissance was cinestrata. It was a broth with marsala, beaten eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and a little sugar.

3 tablespoons parsley
1/2 ounce Gouda or cheddar cheese, grated
3 small leaves fresh sage
5 threads saffron
2 thin slices white bread (or bacon)
2 cups pea stock or diluted chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1 tablespoon white wine
1 3/4 ounces Gouda or cheddar cheese, grated
3 eggs

1. Soak bread in stock (either water left from cooking peas or 1/2 cup of canned chicken broth and 1 1/2 cups water).
2. Grind parsley, sage, and saffron in a mortar thoroughly.
3. Add 1/2 ounce cheese and soaked bread, and grind together.
4. Strain. If necessary, put back in mortar what didn't go through, grind and strain again.
5. Mix wine and ginger, add to mixture, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Be careful that mixture does not stick to the bottom.
6. Stir in the rest of the cheese. Break eggs into soup, and continue to simmer until eggs are poached.


Roast Chicken

Chicken is probably the most popular type of poultry for the modern age, but you can also consider using turkey or another game hen in this recipe.

Large chicken
1/3 cups orange juice
1 tablespoon rosewater
2 tablespoons sugar plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Roast chicken at 375 degrees for 75-90 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink.
2. Place roasted chicken into dish and pour over orange juice or rosewater, sugar and well-ground cinnamon.


Custard Tart

It was only at the beginning of the 17th century that desserts took their place. Before this time, sugary and salty dishes were often mixed, and it is difficult today to discern which dishes were main courses and which dishes were officially desserts. For example, quite a few recipes for sweet rice puddings have been found to contain chicken! Most likely, it was Catherine de Medici's famous Italian chefs whose desserts began a trend from Italy and into France. The most common desserts of the era were tartes, pies, flans, custards, rice puddings, rissoles, jellies, and sabayons. Almost all known for their very high sugar content. In fact, not only were Renaissance desserts known for their large quantaties of sugar, but also for the unusual mix of sugar with vinegar, reputed to be a health tonic. For this recipe, note that to make small tarts, make half amount of crust and shape into 15 petite tart shells by pressing the dough down into muffin tins. Bake about 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees, then pour in filling and bake about 40 minutes at 375 degrees.

4 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
9" pie crust

1. Mix cinnamon and sugar together.
2. Mix in milk, add egg yolks and beat well.
3. Pour mixture into pre-baked tart shell and bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes.


Roast Chestnuts with Roses

This is an elegant dessert popular during the 15th and 16th centuries. The recipe serves six. You also need six white napkins.

14 ounces roast chestnuts, already prepared and peeled
2 red roses
3 1/2 ounces sugar
Salt and pepper
1 glass Marsala or other aromatic wine

1. Heat roast chestnuts in a pan with wine and allow to dry completely.
2. Place salt, pepper and sugar in large bowl. Add roast chestnuts and blend.
3. Divide into six portions and place each portion on a white napkin. Divide rose petals in 6 parts, and place on chestnuts and close napkins. Serve immediately.