Hypotrimma is a rich and fruity cheese dip with a lovely, spiced warmth. Here’s how Apicius writes his recipe:
“Pepper, lovage, dried mint, pine nuts, raisins, dates, sweet cheese, honey, vinegar, garum, oil, wine, defrutum/caroenum.”
Not overly helpful, so let me tell you what I did, complete with variations for personal taste:
· I used a pot of ricotta, which was mellow against everything else. Previously I tried a block of soft goat’s cheese which was a but too punchy, but if you want extra cheesiness against the fruit, a 50/50 blend of ricotta and goat’s cheese also worked really well. Pure ricotta will be goopier, a mix will make a much thicker sauce.
· Lovage. Leaves or seeds? Leaves are a nightmare to find, but you can sub in celery leaves if you prefer. That’s really mild, so I got myself a packet of lovage seeds online, as Apicius uses lovage a LOT. They are really fragrant and quite distinctive, and I really found them worth finding. If you can’t easily get them, sub for celery seeds or ajwain. If all else fails, stick in a wodge of fresh parsley.
· Defrutum/caroenum: Defrutum is wine that’s been reduced to a syrup. The modern version is called vincotto. Caroenum is the same kind of thing, except a bit thinner in consistency. If you can’t find vincotto, (and I couldn’t) a splash of really gloopy balsamic vinegar will be perfectly fine.
· Garum. None of us, particularly my husband, want to ferment our own fish in a bucket in the shed. There’s a reason garum producers were relegated to the outskirts of urban areas. That said, garum is nothing to be afraid of. It’s simply an umami-bomb. Italian foodies never developed the aversion to it that we’ve assumed, and modern colatura di alici is the closest product to garum on the market. It’s available online and well worth a try, but if it’s a tad pricey you can use normal Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, which is in most supermarkets.
A note: Asian fish sauces are much saltier than colatura and actually less fishy. Halve the amount, and if you’re feeling adventurous replace the lost sauce with either a teeny drizzle of the oil from a can of anchovies or a smidgeon of anchovy paste. Trust me!! A little goes a long way but it reeeeally makes a difference. Those Romans were wrong about a lot, but completely correct when it comes to umami.
250g of ricotta or a 50/50 blend of ricotta and soft, mild goat’s cheese.
50g dates OR 1 tbsp of date molasses
100g pine nuts (or soaked cashews, or blanched almonds)
A splash of sweet white wine
Splash of white wine vinegar
Splash of thick balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil, preferably extra virgin
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp lovage seeds
Ground white pepper and colatura to taste
Apicius would have stuck this all in a giant mortar and pestle. If you’re lazy like me, get your blender out.
· Soak your raisins and chopped dates/date molasses in the sweet white wine until they plump up (preferably overnight)
· Lightly toast the pinenuts in a heavy pan on low heat, and lovage seeds (if using)
· If you prefer your dips completely smooth, it might be worth grinding the seeds. I didn’t bother.
· Add the pinenuts (and seeds) to your blender and pulse until finely blitzed.
· Add in your fruit, complete with any wine left in the bowl. Give another couple of pulses to blend. (If you like, keep a few back and finely chop – add in at the end for texture. Or don’t, I’m not your boss.) If you’re using lovage/celery leaves/parsley instead of seeds, add with the fruit.
· Now add your preferred cheese, the honey, dried mint and olive oil. Give a few more pulses until it all starts to come together.
· Give it a taste, this should tell you how much white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, pepper and colatura you need. Season as you see fit, blend again, taste again. I will leave consistency up to you, either blend until completely smooth or vaguely chunky.
The glory of these recipes is that you can punch up any individual flavour that you find you like. If you have a sweet tooth, add a bit more fruit or honey. If it’s too goopy, blitz in a few more nuts.
We found this sauce to be really rich, and very sweet thanks to the honey and fruit. On the other hand, it was never sickly thanks to the lack of refined sugar. The lovage and mint provide a fragrant earthiness that we found really pleasing. If you worry that they’re a bit overwhelming, they mellow right out after a night in the fridge. We were generous with our vinegars, which cut through the richness nicely and provided a tang that was very welcome.
I like to eat this with wedges of tart green apples and grapes. Alternatively, stick it on crackers as an alternative to a cheeseboard. My mum went a step further and suggested using it with leftover roast chicken as an alternative to coronation sauce, which worked a treat.