On the eve of the Second Punic War we left Carthage in a position of considerable power - in control of the sea, in control of Spain's wealth, in control of valuable trade routes, and with thousands of troops bearing down on Italy. This 'prosperity' is reflected in our recipe for the week - Punic Porridge.
This recipe comes from our old favourite, Marcus Portius Cato, who happened to be alive at the time. There is no way to verify whether it is an authentic 'Punic' porridge recipe, but compared to the everyday porridge of the Romans (as we shall see next week), it is suitably opulent and worthy of wealthy Carthaginian merchants.
So, as you read on, imagine Hannibal, his men, and his elephants, all tucking into a final bowl of this before setting off over the Alps.
For Punic Porridge; soak 1 lb of groats in water until soft. When soft, pour into a clean bowl, and add 3 lbs of cheese, 1/2 lb of honey, and one egg. Mix everything, and place it in a new pot.- Cato, de agricultura, 85
- 30g Semolina
- 90g Ricotta Cheese
- 1 tbsp Honey
- 1 Egg
- Pour enough water over the semolina to cover it, and leave to sit for 10/15 minutes. When it has softened, drain the remaining water away.
- Add this to a saucepan with the cheese and the honey. Break the egg into a dish and beat it - add half of this to the pan.
- Heat thoroughly, but never allow the porridge to boil. If it is too thick, add a touch of milk or water. When heated, taste and add more honey if desired. Serve immediately, with some extra honey poured over the porridge for good measure.
- Groats are simply the hulled grains of cereals, containing the whole grain. I used semolina, but it is perhaps best to use bulgur wheat.
Punic Porridge was certainly a rich porridge, thanks to the egg and the significant quantities of cheese used in its preparation. Because Ricotta is very mild, however, there was no 'cheesy' flavour to the dish. If anything, the dominant flavours are that of the semolina and the honey.
Was there anything distinctly Punic about this porridge? Well, that's hard to say, as we know so little about Carthaginian cuisine and culture. As far as plain porridge goes, however, this is certainly a very luxurious way to make it, and one very befitting of a people with the resources of the known world at their disposal.