#AdventCalendar Day 24: a Renaissance Menu

We’re stepping out of Advent and straight into the Twelve Days of Christmas, so today I thought I’d do something different and special: instead of a recipe from the Middle-Ages, I’ll give you a whole menu from Reinassance and, specifically, the menu Cristoforo da Messisbugo devised for the marriage of Ercole d’Este with the Princess […]

We’re stepping out of Advent and straight into the Twelve Days of Christmas, so today I thought I’d do something different and special: instead of a recipe from the Middle-Ages, I’ll give you a whole menu from Reinassance and, specifically, the menu Cristoforo da Messisbugo devised for the marriage of Ercole d’Este with the Princess of France. And you had to be careful with that menu ’cause Ercole was the son of Lucrezia Borgia, and Isabella d’Este was going to be present at the wedding. Two ladies you didn’t want to mess with.

The set up

Alongside salt and pepper on each table, you’re going to need something else to complement this special lunch:

  • milk bread;
  • sugared milk;
  • rosewater for cleaning your hands.

The milk bread and a glass of milk every now and then will take off the edge of some of the most savoury dishes.

The salads

You’ll want to lay these out before the guests arrive, so that everybody will be able to serve themselves without waiting for the main course. Think of these as hors d’oeuvre.

  • capers, truffles and raisin (remember what we said about raisins);
  • indive, red radicchio and slices from the fruit of the cedar tree;
  • anchovies, large radishes carved in small figurines according to your taste, small whole radishes.

Hors d’oeuvre

Next to the salads, you’ll also want to lay out some richer starters, such as:

  • puff pastry cakes with sour cream;
  • fried ham and beef tongue sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon;
  • soused (fried, salted and marinated) seabream with laurel leaves.

The courses

Remember that we’re talking about one of the most important events of its time. When I say the wedding had eight courses, I fear I’ll have to specify that every course is its own dinner. I’ll give you a list of all the dishes, and then I will pick some of them to expand upon. Otherwise we’ll still be here by New Year’s Eve. Eating.

Detail from a portrait of Isabella d’Este.

Selected Courses:

Onion soup

More than a soup, you might want to think about this as a sort of pie or parmesan, meaning an oven-cooked layered dish with cheese, bread and vegetables.

Ingredients (serves 4 people):

  • around 1 kg of sliced onions;
  • 4 tablespoons of butter;
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil;
  • 3 tablespoons of flour;
  • one splash of brandy;
  • around 2 litres of beef stock;
  • salt and pepper;
  • sourdough croutons, oven dried;
  • 60 grams of grated Gruyere;
  • 60 grams of grated Parmesan;
  • 1 lightly beaten egg;
  • 250 grams of puff pastry dough.


Stir-fry the onions in a mixture of butter and oil for approximately 30 minutes until they’re golden brown. Incorporate the flour, stirring well, splash with the brandy and keep stirring while you add the stock. Simmer for at least 1 hour.

Add salt and pepper if necessary, then place the sourdough croutons into four ovenproof bowls and cover them with puff pastry, sprinkle Gruyere cheese over the croutons and brush their surface with the egg wash. Finish by sprinkling Parmesan on the pastry. Transfer the bowls to the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Fried sweetbreads

Ingredients (serves 4 people):

  • 400 grams sweetbreads;
  • salt;
  • 120 grams of bacon;
  • lard;
  • flour;
  • 1 minced shallot;
  • 450 grams of cabbage;
  • pepper;
  • vinegar.


Fill a pot with enough water and add one tablespoon salt, bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, add the sweetbreads and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove to an ice bath until they’re chilled completely. If you don’t do that, they’ll be disgusting. Don’t tell you I didn’t warn you.
Remove as much of the wrapping membrane as you can, place the sweetbreads on a towel-lined plate, compress them with another plate and put them into the fridge overnight.

The next morning, take your coffee and then cut the sweetbreads into four equal portions.
Take a pan that you’ll be able to place into the oven, place it on a lively fire and crips the bacon, while you preheat the oven to 180 °C, season the sweetbreads with salt and dredge them in flour.

When the bacon is done, remove it and keep the grease, adding more lard if that wasn’t enough, reduce the temperature and add the sweetbreads. Saute for 3 minutes on each side until they are browned, place the pan in your preheated oven for 7 minutes and then turn them, cook for another 7 minutes while you nurse your scalded fingers (or at least that’s what I’ll be doing).

Meanwhile, prepare the cabbage: saute it the lard and minced shallot, add the cabbage and cook until it’s soft, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the bacon to the greens and mix them, then divide them into four plates. Drizzle them with vinegar and top with a sweetbread. Serve immediately. The hotter the better. I mean it. The sweetbread is like butter and if it turns cold… well, you won’t like it.

Detail from a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.

What’s Royal Sauce?

Since this is coming around a lot, I’ll give you the recipe for this “Royal sauce” you’re supposed to use with your roasted partridge. You’re supposed to know how to roast your partridge without my help, by now.

Ingredients (serves 4 people):

  • 50 grams of vinegar;
  • 30 grams of sugar;
  • a pinch of cinnamon;
  • 4 cloves;
  • 4 grains of black pepper;
  • grated nutmeg;
  • grated lemon zest;
  • green cedar zest.


Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil and then simmer it for around 10 minutes, ground the spices and zests in a mortar, mix them and add them to the mixture, boiling everything for 5 more minutes. Filter the sauce and then add some broth from whatever it is that you’re going to use the sauce on.

Note: the sauce is supposed to be used on dishes that are either served cold or lukewarm.

Black Broth

I couldn’t resist this one.

Black broth was an alleged traditional Spartan dish that came to symbolise their frugality and had an awful reputation. It was a pork stew, made dark by the addition of black pudding and wine. And when we say black pudding, we mean a pudding made with blood. Which is delicious, by the way.

Plutarch, in the Life of Lycurgus, tells us of a king of Pontus who, having heard of this famous broth and being intrigued by it, had a Spartan cook come to prepare it. The cook told him that one had to bathe in the Eurota (the Peloponnesian river near Sparta) before he could enjoy it, meaning that one must adopt Spartan customs in order to appreciate it.

What’s Albufera Sauce?

Also known as German sauce, it’s a sauce made with roux, chicken stock, cream and butter. Sorry, did you expect something called “German sauce” to be lean and healthy?


  • 15 cl of cognac;
  • 15 cl of Madeira;
  • 100 grams of foie gras (oh yeah, we mean business);
  • 20 grams of cream;
  • 25 cl of chicken stock;
  • 50 grams of butter;
  • Salt and pepper.


Heat the cognac and Maidera until it reduces and be sure not to breathe in the vapours or you’ll be drunk before you even start. Add the broth and bring everything to a boil before you add the foie gras chopped in cubes, the butter, the pepper and, as a last garnish, the cream.

Oh, by the way: Renée of France, the bride of this banquet, was accused of heresy by her own husband and sent back to France. Merry Christmas!

Complete Menu

1st Course

  • Capon wrap fried and sprinkled with sugar;
  • quails;
  • roasted capon meatballs and roasted capon livers;
  • roasted pheasant with oranges;
  • onion soup with pinecone nuts pastries;
  • soused trout tails with sliced lemon and fried barbels;
  • eels in marzipan;
  • red snapper in its own fumet.

2nd Course

  • meat roll with stir-fried white sausages;
  • fried sweetbreads sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon;
  • capons in sweet bread and macis (which is the “flower” of nutmeg and it’s not to be messed with);
  • pigeon potpie;
  • chopped soused flounder;
  • fried shrimp with vinegar;
  • trout caviar pies;
  • marzipan pastries.

3rd Course

  • roasted partridges with royal sauce;
  • stuffed rabbit, turtledoves and capons;
  • pigeon stuffed with chopped cedars;
  • roasted fish fillet sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon;
  • fried minnows in sweet sauce and candied pinecone nuts;
  • trout soup;
  • roasted hagfish with its sauce (whatever that is);
  • chestnut pies.

4th Course

  • stuffed, roasted goat;
  • capons in bread crust;
  • stuffed pigeons;
  • roast with French sauce;
  • salt-crusted baked pike with saffron sauce;
  • wine-soaked trouts with bread;
  • fried flounder with mustard chutney;
  • fried sardines with oranges and sugar;
  • marzipan pastries stuffed with rice, fried, sprinkled with sugar and calling an ambulance for your liver.

5th Course

  • chopped pigeons;
  • partridge in lard and broth;
  • roasted beef sirloin with German sauce;
  • roasted suckling pig;
  • grilled barbels with sauce;
  • fried sparrows with oranges;
  • fried garfish;
  • wheat pies with oranges and candied fruit;
  • veal pie.

6th Course

  • roasted veal sirloin with sour cherries;
  • boiled peacocks (I’m told they really have an awful flavour, so please don’t do that);
  • soup of venison with black broth and candied almonds;
  • marzipan pastries stuffed with hardboiled eggs, cheese and sugar;
  • peacock sauce (see point number two);
  • soused fish;
  • grilled seabream with parsley and spiced, butter-fried chives.

7th Course

  • pear and beef pies;
  • pheasant, partridge and capon meat in jelly;
  • pike white jelly;
  • fennel salad with vinegar;
  • Spanish olives;
  • fresh eggs, pears and apples;
  • parmisan cheese;
  • steamed thistles with pears and salt.

8th Course

  • oysters with oranges and pears;
  • milk and honey;
  • whipped egg white.


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