Sunday, 12 May 2013

Asparagus Patina

Future historians will no doubt be equal parts amused and confused by the Asparagus Festival, an eight week celebration of the British asparagus season which sees people wear all manner of silly costumes and paint themselves several shades of green.  To celebrate this season I think it's only appropriate to cook up a Roman Asparagus Patina, given that it was the Romans who brought this most delicious of plants to Britain in the first place!

The 'Patina' is rather difficult to explain; all Patinas are egg-based, however some resemble oven-baked custards, whilst others are closer to frittatas and omelettes.  Regardless of how they turn out, they make for very tasty eating all the same.  So, whilst asparagus is at its finest, I urge you to go out, buy some, and get baking.

Asparagus Patina
(Serves 4)

"Make Asparagus Patina as follows: put asparagus tips into a mortar and add pepper, lovage, green coriander, savory and onions.  Dilute this with wine, liquamen, and olive oil.  Add this mixture to a well greased pan, adding some beaten eggs to thicken it if you like.  Cook without boiling the eggs and serve with finely ground pepper." - Apicius, 4.2.6


  • 10-15 Asparagus Spears
  • 180 ml White Wine
  • 25 ml Fish Sauce (Liquamen)
  • 25 ml Raisin Wine (Passum)
  • 40 ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Lovage Seeds
  • 1/2 Small Onion
  • 2 tbsp Fresh Coriander


  • Using just the tips of the asparagus seems rather wasteful, so we're going to prepare the whole lot.  Set 4 spears to the side for garnishing the dish at the end, and steam what is left for just a few minutes until tender.  Make sure to chop off the woody ends.
  • Grind up the peppercorns and lovage and chop up the onions and coriander. Add these, alongside all of the liquids (leaving a bit of oil for later), to a food processor.  The following magical transformation should occur.

  • Pour this mixture into an oiled baking dish of some sort.  I am using the base of my tajine, but any oven proof dish should do the trick.  After spreading the mixture out, crack two eggs onto the top and beat them in thoroughly.
  • This will take approximately 25 minutes in an oven set to 180 Celsius.
  • The dish is cooked when it is omelette-like in consistency.  Use the asparagus spears you left over at the beginning to garnish the dish.  Sprinkle with a touch of pepper and serve straight away.  One similar recipe in Apicius (an Asparagus Patina with the addition of cooked bird embryos - no thanks!) suggests that it can be eaten cold, so refrigerate any leftovers and give that a go if you think you might enjoy it.


  • Rather unusually, this Asparagus Patina recipe seems to suggest that the eggs are optional.  The asparagus patina listed just prior to this one in Apicius (the one with the bird embryos) doesn't!  My explanation is that if you cooked the Asparagus mush without adding the eggs, you'd end up with an omelette-like consistency anyway.


The patina was light, fluffy, and full of subtle flavours.  The initial taste is of the fragrant coriander, followed by the bitter, celery-like taste of the lovage seeds.  As you might expect, we finish on delicious, delicious asparagus.  This is a great and unusual way to cook the plant, and one which would work well as a starter to meals both ancient and modern.  Although you would lose some of the subtle flavours, you could very easily leave out the fish sauce, lovage seeds and raisin wine if needs be.  Enjoy it whilst asparagus is at its finest!


  1. First time here! I've been watching a show my sister recommended to me called "The Supersizers Go", which featured a show on Roman cooking. I've been looking up some food things that they mention that interest me and found your blog through mention of the asparagus patina. It does actually sound very interesting. Because I've never had lovage I appreciate your description of the taste. I'm sometimes curious about historical recipes (even more now, after having watched the show.) but I'd hate to go to the trouble or cost for something that was just... you know. Terrifyingly strange to my modern sense of taste. So thanks for going to the trouble to review in our stead. :3

    In any case, as I'm vegetarian, I think I'd have to try it without the garum-replacing fish sauce. What would you recommend in its place? Is it salty at all? Like maybe a little bit of soy sauce and/or seaweed? Or is it something fermented tasting? A touch of some kind of vinegar? Or is it something that really doesn't play into it that much and could be entirely omitted?

    1. That is a fantastic show indeed! I'm glad that you like the blog too :) I've found that the best 'alternative' to fish sauce is perhaps a bit of dark soy sauce. The main issue is that it is much too salty, but we can fix that with a bit of grape syrup. If you check out the page on fish sauce, you'll see how I do it there:

      I hope the patina works well for you - it's a delicious dish.