Eating Rome: Moretum


A mosaic of a basket of fresh roman foods - fish, mostly.

Every Roman and his mum had their own moretum recipe. It’s really just a spread made from ground cheese, salad greens and herbs, in endless variations. The most notorious recipe is in a poem by Virgil, which you can find here, in which a man named Symilus adds so much raw garlic to his breakfast moretum that it makes his eyes water and nose run. Sounds dreadful, right? Well, dear reader, I made it and ate it so that you don’t have to. Moreover, I have one simple, easy fix to his pungent recipe that turns his moretum into something approaching divine. So good in fact, that I double up the amounts when I make it.


This version will fill a ramekin.


A note on the cheese: Feta is a bit overpowering here, though if you’re a fan go ahead. I used Rabaçal as Lidl just happened to be having a Portuguese week. Use the best cheese you can find/afford and more importantly enjoy. If you go for a harder cheese like Manchego or Pecorino Romano you’ll just have to blitz for a lot longer, but also go easy on adding more salt.



Ingredients


250g of crumbly/semi-hard sheep’s or goat’s cheese.

1 bulb of garlic. No, I do not mean a clove. Strap in.

1 tsp fresh dill

A handful of parsley and/or fresh coriander. (Feel free to omit if, like me, you believe coriander is the devil. I used a pinch of toasted and ground coriander seeds instead.)

A handful and a half of rocket/arugula.

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste



Method

  • Peel the garlic. You need to get the garlic into a paste. I used a microplane, or use the finest side of a box grater. Alternatively smash the cloves with the side of a heavy knife, sprinkle with salt and fine chop.

  • At this point everything becomes easier. Chop your cheese into chunks and whop it into the blender. Add the garlic and blend into as fine a paste as you can get. Drizzling olive oil in slowly as you go will help, I used about a tablespoon.

  • Add the herbs and a splash of white wine vinegar. Blitz blitz blitz.

  • Hold your nose, pray to your deity of choice, and taste.



Notes


Reader, my mouth nearly exploded. I realised that a recipe I’d read had made four times the amount, and I wondered what the poor author had done with over a pound of the stuff. Feed this to anyone scared of vampires or those you simply don’t like very much. May be a good recipe for those who like to eat ridiculously inedible things for ‘fun.’ Maybe as a challenge, get your friends to eat each a spoonful and the last one to physically cry wins.


This is because raw garlic contains something called allicin, which contains sulphur. Allicin is great for you, but not particularly pleasant in unholy quantities. Allicin is broken down by heat, mellowing out the taste of the garlic.


To turn this moretum into something delicious, add a preliminary step: Roast the garlic whole, by chopping the top off, dousing in a little olive oil, wrapping in tinfoil and sticking in the oven at a low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. When cooled, squeeze the cloves to get the garlic out, which by now has turned into a silky smooth, caramelised golden goo. Or, finely chop the raw garlic and fry in a little oil. Either way, this one extra step makes moretum moreish. It makes the most decadent cheese on toast you’ll ever taste, and is also wonderful on a baked potato on top of some melted butter.


I really hope I’ve inspired you to try these recipes and eat like a Roman. If you do try them, let us know how it goes! We’d love to see your pictures and hear about the personalisations you’ve made.


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