Like Nancy, I also write historical fiction. I
have focused on historical chefs and Italian culinary figures who left behind
cookbooks or manuals of stewardship that laid the foundation of the Italian
cuisine we know and love today. My most recent novel, The Chef’s Secret, is about the first celebrity chef, Bartolomeo Scappi,
known throughout Italy and possibly all of Europe for his grand banquets. His
cookbook, L’Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, contains over 1,000 recipes, including some of the first
pasta dishes, hundreds of meat and fish recipes, and dozens upon dozens of
delicious recipes for pies and pastries. It was published in 1577 and was a
bestseller for nearly two centuries.
I love writing about Italian culinary figures (my first novel, Feast of Sorrow, was about Apicius, an ancient Roman gourmand), and with that comes the opportunity to dive deep into these historical cookbooks to recreate the meals of the past.
Today I’m sharing a recipe from Book V.148 of L’Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi. You may have heard that bagels originated with Polish Jews in the 17th century, but in Italy, ciambelle had been around for at least a century or two before. A ciambella is essentially a form of what we know as a bagel, dough that is boiled and then baked, and, by the 1600s, ciambelle vendors were common on the streets of many Italian cities. Ciambelle are still popular in Italy today, and many Italian American households will recognize a version of this recipe or the very similar but much harder, taralli, as a staple at their table. You’ll also see the term ciambelle to refer to sweet ring-shaped cookies or cakes, which emerged over the centuries.
It was common to see ciambelle venditore on foot, such as this seller, who carried the crunchy but soft rounds of bread on sticks in his basket.
This recipe tries to stay true to Scappi’s but, to give it a little oomph, I did include yeast. If you’re not a fan or can’t find any, you can leave out the rosewater and use plain water, but you’ll lose the distinct Renaissance flavor.
Note: When buying rose water, make sure that you are not buying rose essence, which might be labeled as rose water but comes in a brown bottle. Buy clear tall bottles of rose water such as Cortas or Al Wadi.
Makes 8 large (6 inch) ciambelle
4 c. flour
1 packet of active dry yeast
¼ cup and 1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp rosewater
1 ¼ cup goat milk (or substitute whole milk)
2 beaten eggs
1 tbsp anise or fennel seeds
1/2 tsp salt
- Warm goat milk to room temperature (use a microwave or stovetop if you like but do not let it get too hot), add the sugar and yeast, and let it sit till bubbly.
- Mix rosewater and eggs together then add the bubbly yeast mixture and combine.
- Mix fennel seeds into the flour, then form a well on the countertop.
- Add egg and yeast mixture to the center of the flour well, then slowly mix the edges of the flour into the liquid, combining with your fingers until a dough is formed.
- Knead well, then set aside the dough, covered with a clean towel, to rise for 20 minutes.
- Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
- Divide the dough into 8 even parts. You don’t want the dough to rise again, so work with the dough immediately, do not set aside.
- Roll the 8 dough sections into ropes, twist them, and form into large rings, approximately 5-6 inches wide, pinching the ends together. If you like, you can divide each section in half, form two ropes and then twist the ropes together before forming a ring, but you’ll need to roll the ropes much thinner. Lay the rings on a clean towel or a heavily floured surface to prevent them from sticking while you make additional rings.
- Put the rings one or two at a time into the pot of boiling water. Make sure they don’t stick to the bottom. They will rise to the top right away. Flip them over and let them boil for one minute. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place on an oiled baking sheet.
- Sprinkle with additional anise or fennel seeds if desired.
- Bake in a 375-degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown.
These are best eaten right away but will keep in an airtight container for a week, or you can freeze them and they will keep for a month.
Doesn’t this sound scrumptious? If you would like a giveaway paperback of The Chef’s Secret, please email me at email@example.com, and I will pick a winner. Crystal will mail the book to your home.
And put Crystal's next novel on your radar: In the Garden of Monsters, pitched as a Gothic retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone, coming in 2024.