Pompeii has left us with the most detailed account of how the Romans lived, with much of daily life preserved in the ashes that rained down on the city during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Not least of these invaluable records is the evidence preserved of how and what the Romans of Pompeii liked to eat.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal has this year been serving a special menu entitled “Taste History – Last Supper in Pompeii”, inspired by an exhibition of the same name, that ran until January 12th, at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Until the end of March, guests at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal will have the chance to travel back in time to taste what the Romans did.
The team worked closely with the museum’s Dr Paul Roberts, head of the department of antiquities and curator of the exhibition, to create a three-course set menu that pays homage to the lost city and its inhabitants.
In the below video Dr Roberts joins Chef Director of the restaurant 'Dinner by Heston Blumenthal', Ashley Palmer-Watts, as he takes him through the steps of creating the carbonised bread.
The meal begins with the above carbonised bread of Pompeii, made using ancient varieties of spelt flour and Grano Arsso – a burnt-grain wheat flour from Puglia – accompanied by butter, crafted to resemble lava rock and made with squid ink and the juice from the heads of red prawns, seasoned with a mix of kombu, ponzu and soy sauce.
The first course is a fish dish of pickled mussels and octopus in a lovage, garum and mussel emulsion with pickled seafood, served on a smoked olive oil, lovage, onion and lemon pickle with mussel cream and a salad of endive, celery, oyster leaf and fried purslane – demonstrating the complexity of ancient Roman cuisine.
It is then followed by Civero (or Cicero) of duck with spelt, heart, gizzard, liver and a “spiced cracker” served with buttered turnips, turnip tops and truffle, along with a duck sauce of Pompeian red wine, fig vinegar and spices.
Dessert is a traditional Libum, a cake that was offered as a sacrifice to appease spirits in Ancient Rome. Libium was originally made from wheat flour and cheese, and it is said to be the first variety of cheesecake ever recorded – a recipe for it appeared in Cato’s On Agriculture.
“This isn’t slavishly following Roman recipes,” said Blumenthal. “The past is a jumping-off point.”