Soul Food

When in Rome and Masada

By Daniel Rogov

Flavius Silva led the 10th Roman Legion against the zealot stronghold on Masada in 72 C.E. and ensured that this mountain overlooking the Dead Sea would be associated with tragedy. However a century earlier, Masada was the site of one of the most luxurious palaces ever constructed in the Middle East.

Herod fled there and built a fortress, which also contained a palace. Masada became famous for its 10-hour banquets. A feast might begin with chickens, ducks, geese, hares, pigeons, turtledoves, partridges and young goats. This was followed traditionally with entertainment provided by dancers and then by a second course of pigs stuffed with thrushes, ducks, warblers, pea puree, oysters and scallops - all to be consumed with the accompaniment of acrobats tumbling among swords and fire-eaters.

Later courses included roast boars and oxen and then, when the eating tapered off, the drinking began in earnest. Based on traditions adopted from the Greeks, such feasts were divided into two parts; during the first, one primarily ate, and during the second, the symposium (Greek for "drinking party"), one primarily drank, talked or otherwise amused himself. (Women at first were not permitted.)

The following recipes, some described by the historian Josephus and others by Apicius, will provide a sampling of some of the better Roman dishes known to have been served at Masada. Each of the recipes is designed for 6, but all together, the dishes will provide a comfortable meal for 8 - 10.
Chickens Braised in Cider @text-R:8 small sage leaves

2 very small chickens (or 4 pigeons or Cornish game hens)

2 Tbsp. chicken fat

1 medium onion, chopped coarsely

1 carrot, chopped coarsely

1 small turnip, chopped coarsely

2 cups apple cider or apple juice

1 bouquet garni, made by tying together 3 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1/2 bay leaf

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Divide the sage leaves into equal portions and place them inside the cavity of the birds. Sew the birds closed.

In a large, flameproof casserole, melt the fat over a high flame and in this brown the birds well. Remove the birds and reduce the flame. Add the onion, carrot and turnip, cover and let cook for 5 - 6 minutes. On the vegetables place the birds and then pour over the cider. Bring to a boil, add the bouquet garni, cover and transfer to an oven that has been preheated to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) for 2 hours.

Remove the birds from the casserole and set aside to keep warm. Strain the liquids in the casserole, pressing down on the vegetables to squeeze out the liquids. Place the birds on a pre-warmed serving platter, pour over some of the juices and sprinkle over the parsley. Serve the remaining juices separately. (Serves 4).
Marbleized Eggs @text-R:the yellow peel of 6 large onions

1/2 cup salt

1/4 cup soy sauce

12 hard boiled eggs

In a saucepan with 6 cups of water boil the onion peels until the water turns a deep yellowish-brown. Add the salt and let the mixture cool. Stir well and add the soy sauce.

Tap the egg shells gently and roll them between the hands to crack the shells all over. Do not peel. Place the eggs in a wide-mouthed jar and pour over the brine, covering. Cover the jar and refrigerate for 24 - 48 hours. Shell the eggs just before serving.
Boned Braised Goose @text-R:675 gr. spicy sausage meat

1/2 kilo minced lamb

goose liver, chopped finely

2 Tbsp. butter

1 medium onion, chopped finely

1/4 cup dry sherry

1 Tbsp. chopped thyme

4 sage leaves, chopped

pinch of allspice

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 goose, about 3 - 3 1/2 kilos medium onions, sliced

2 carrots, sliced

3 stalks celery, chopped coarsely

1 small turnip, chopped coarsely

1 bouquet garni, made by tying together 4 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme and 1/2 bay leaf

12 peppercorns

1 cup dry red wine

2 cups chicken stock or stock made from the bones of the goose

pinch of nutmeg

Combine the sausage meat, lamb, liver, chopped onion, sherry, thyme, sage, allspice, and 1 Tbsp. of the parsley and mix well. Lay the boned goose out flat and cover it with this mixture. Shape the goose and sew it closed.

In a large flameproof casserole melt the butter. To this add the sliced onions, carrots, celery and turnip. Place over a very low flame for 5 minutes and then place the goose on these. Add the bouquet garni and peppercorns and pour in the red wine and 1 cup of the stock. Bring to a boil and then remove from the flame. Cover the casserole and transfer to an oven that has been pre-heated to 190 degrees Celsius (375 Fahrenheit) for 2 hours.

Transfer the goose to an ovenproof dish and return to the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes longer.

Strain the juices from the casserole and skim well. Place 1 1/2 - 2 cups of the strained liquids into a saucepan with the nutmeg and remaining parsley. Simmer for 2 - 3 minutes and transfer to a sauce boat. The goose may be served hot or cold, but the gravy should be served hot. (It may be reheated if necessary)