On a recent trip to Naples I chanced to see an early edition of Vincenzo Carrado’s Il cuoco galante (The Elegant Cook). The copy I looked at was the 3rd edition of 1786. Its title page was, in comparison with the 1st edition of 1773, rather modest. The sub-title reflected on the book’s content, which featured a variety of creative (capriccioso) recipes, including shrimp served on a mound (a “little hill”) of prosciutto finished with a drizzle of olive oil or, alternatively, calamari stuffed with a mixture of eel, anchovies, truffles, parsley and a lemon sauce “conditioned” with olive oil. The earlier edition was more self-laudatory. By self-proclamation, the author of Il cuoco galante as well as Il credenziere di buon gusto, 1778, which offered recipes and cooking advice for the baking of cakes and the making of confections including sorbets and candied sweetmeats, as well as La manovra della cioccolata e del caffè, 1778, which opined on the culinary fads of sipping cocoa and coffee, was a “practical genius,” the “arbiter of good taste.” In fact, Corrado was not only a writer of cookbooks, a scholar and a lay monk, but also a distinguished chef to the princes of Modena and Naples.
The only two illustrations augmenting Il cuoco galante reflect Carrado’s experience at orchestrating an army of kitchen helpers and dining room servers in the masterful presentation of a banquet. Each illustration proposes a table setting for a rather modest dinner party for 32 guests!
Vincenzo Corrado also provided some suggested menus, including one for 100 dinner guests. While he refrained from proposing such 15th century Savoyard extravaganzas as baked swan and roast peacock redressed in their plumage as well as Burgundian dining spectacles like the blue lamb with gilded horns that leaped from a giant pie at a 1430 banquet honoring Isabella of Portugal, the cuisine he proposed is impressive. Among the mouth-watering delicacies Corrado deemed appropriate to a noble palate are “frutta di mare” (a medley of seafood), haunch of veal cooked in milk, a “hunter’s” game pie, and a “grand” turkey galantine, which included among other ingredients ground boar, roasted veal and ham.
With Thanksgiving approaching I decided to compare Corrado’s Grand Turkey Galantine with a recipe from Epicurious. A 20st century version is surprisingly similar to the 18th century form!
Corrado’s Grand Turkey Galantine is by no means singular as a centuries old recipe with a contemporary successor. The epidermis of one animal filled with the meat from another was a prized dish on 15th and 16th century royal tables. So, too, was the cokagrys or cokentrice, which consisted of “the upper half of a capon attached to the stuffed hindquarters of a pig.”(1) As remarkable as is the turducken – a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with herbed dressing – it needs to have a display of feathers to be competitive with its fantastic culinary forebears!
(1) Hannele Klemettila, The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes (London: Reaktion Books, 2012), pages 18-19.