Nearly twenty years ago, when I started publishing these anecdotes and recipes in HaAretz newspaper, I thought that people would read the stories for a chuckle and the recipes for simple pleasure. Truth be told, brecause some of these recipes take upwards of 18-20 hours to prepare (don't panic, others are relatively simple), I did not think that people would actually prepare the dishes described. To my happy surprise, people in Israel, France, the USA and Canada began to form "Rogov Clubs" in which they would prepare one of these dishes every month.
Whatever, sixty seven of these stories and more than 120 of the recipes now appear in my book "Rogues, Writers and Whores" and starting today, will appear on a weekly basis here. Whether you prepare the dishes described or simply enjoy them vicarioiusly is entirely up to you. At any rate, the stories (a mixture of history, mythology and fantasy) are presented for your pleasure.
No fear, a second volume of the book is now being prepared and we shall not run out of either stories or recipes for the next few years at least.
Feast of the Gods
c. 117-c. 56 BC
The life of Lucius Licinius Lucullus Ponticus, perhaps the most famous epicure of all time, was described by Plutarch as an ancient comedy that begins with political and military campaigns, and ends with drinking bouts and outrageous banquets. Plutarch disap-proved of Lucullus' extravagant living, which included costly villas, magnificent gardens and a huge collection of paintings and statues. However, to his co-patriots, this Roman general and consul who campaigned successfully in Asia Minor and returned with a fortune had become a hero.
In celebration of his triumph over the Mithridates and the Ti-granes, Lucullus gave the senate a banquet on the Capitol and ar-ranged a public feast for the common people in which one hun-dred thousand jars of Greek wine were distributed. According to Pliny the elder, when Lucullus attended public functions he was accompanied by a slave who had the special task of seeing that his master did not eat too much.
His dinners became the highlight of Roman life, and notables such as Cato, Cicero, Crassus and Pompey all vied for invitations to those luxurious events. His guests drank from beakers set with precious stones and were entertained with choruses and recitations as they dined on a variety of meats. Plutarch called him "the envy of the vulgar" but also noted that Lucullus was the liberal patron of Greek philosophers and had a vast library.
Whether he was entertaining senators and consuls or dining alone, Lucullus served only the best of foods and spared no effort or ex-pense in obtaining them. Smoked meats were imported from Gaul, pickles from Spain, wines from the Jurasian Alps, pomegranates from Libya, oysters from Britain, and spices from the Far East. Lucullus is also said to have been the first to bring sweet cherries and apricots to Rome.
On one occasion, Cicero and Pompey met Lucullus in the Forum and challenged him to prepare a dinner that same day. They re-fused to allow him to discuss the arrangements with his servants except to tell them the location of the event. But it was with this very piece of information that Lucullus outwitted his guests, as every room in each of his villas had its own pre-established budget and thus by instructing them to hold the dinner in the Apollo room, the servants knew in what style it was to be served. The ex-pense spent on the Apollo dinner was fifty thousand drachmas, but in fact, Cicero and Pompey were more amazed by the rapidity of the outlay than by the luxury.
Once, when dining alone at home, Lucullus was shocked when his servants presented him with a simple supper of eggs and porridge, demanding of them "What, were you not informed that today Lu-cullus was dining with Lucullus? Where is the feast befitting the honor and station of my most esteemed of guests?”
The feasts at Lucullus' estates became a major source of sustenance for many Roman notables, so much so that upon his death it was said that half of Rome suffered from indigestion.
Langue de Veau Lucullus
Veal Tongue Lucullus
1 lb (450 gr) cooked veal tongue, at room temperature
1/2 lb (225 gr) goose liver
4 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3–4 cloves garlic, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
demi-glace or Espagnole sauce for serving
Slice the veal tongue about 1/4" (1/2 cm) thick and cut the goose liver into 8 equal slices.
In a heavy skillet heat 2 Tbsp. of the butter together with the olive oil and in this heat the tongue slices just until they begin to brown. With a spatula remove the slices and set aside to keep warm. Add the remaining butter, heat through and in this sauté the goose liver slices until nicely browned on the exterior but still pink inside. Sea-son with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to keep warm.
Heat the demi-glace or Espagnole sauce through. To serve place a slice of goose liver on each of the tongue slices and then spoon over the sauce. Serve immediately. (Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a first course).
Spiced Beef Lucullus
1 beef brisket, about 11 lb (5 kilos), weighed with the bone
1 1/2 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
5 Tbsp coarse salt
3 bay leaves, crumbled
6 Tbsp honey
2 small onions, unpeeled and halved
4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise
2 stalks celery, halved
1/4 cup celery leaves
Have the butcher remove the bone and excess fat from the beef brisket.
In a small bowl crush the peppercorns and cloves together. Add the salt, bay leaves and honey. Mix well. Lay the meat on a large earthenware dish and rub it on all sides with the honey mixture. Cover the dish with greaseproof paper and let stand 3 days, refrig-erated, turning and rubbing with the marinade twice daily.
Just before cooking, wash the meat under cold running water and pat dry with toweling. Roll the meat and tie with kitchen string. Transfer the tied meat roll to a flameproof casserole, and add the onions, carrots, celery, celery leaves and water just to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 2 hours.
Remove the meat from the casserole and set aside to cool. When thoroughly cool, cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve cold the following day. (Serves 8-10)