This dish is a very simple pasta side that has a good flavor but pairs well with most other dishes. It is a rare to see in a French book as it is a distinctly Italian dish. The author even calls it Sicilian so you know that it is a foreign dish.
This is the original text…
51. Vermiseaux de cecille sont fais de paste ossi petis comme petis vers qui se trouvent es fromaiges; et les font les petittez fillez du pais ou temps d’esté pour toutes saisons seschier au solloil pour mieulx garder; il les fault bien eslire et laver, puis mettre essuer comme dit est du rys, et cuire en bon boullon gras bien ensaffrenné; et du fin fromage gratté jetté au dreschier par dessus.
And here is the translation by Scully…
Sicilian Vermicelli are made of dough as fine as small worms that are found in cheese. Young country girls make them in summertime for the whole year, drying them in the sun to make them last longer. They should be well culled and washed, then set to dry as was said for the Rice, and cooked in good fat bouillon with a good lot of saffron; when dishing up, fine grated cheese sprinkled on top.
This is how I made the dish…
The recipe describes pasta that is made with of dough and is “fine as small worms that are found in cheese”. It goes on to say that the pasta was made in large quantities, enough for a year, and then dried. So I chose to use a ready made vermicelli.
The ingredients for the dish are vermicelli, broth, saffron, grated parmesan cheese, and a small amount of lard (not in the picture). I chose parmesan cheese as the recipe calls for fine grated cheese. To my thinking the best cheese for grating finely is a hard cheese. parmesan can be traced back to Imperial Roman and since the dish is an Italian styled one it made sense.
I started by setting a few threads of saffron in a small amount of warm water to steep. I then put the chicken broth on to boil and added the saffron water. I added a spoon of lard to the broth because the recipe calls for a fat bouillon. Once the broth was boiling I added the vermicelli and cooked it until it was al dente. I drained the pasta and when it was plated, sprinkled it with the grated parmesan cheese.
Very tasty! This is a really simple pasta dish that is FULL of flavor. The pasta soaks up so much of the broth that you don’t need to put any sauce on it. I would change one thing though. Upon thinking about how it would have been eaten, specifically the lack of forks for eating, I do not think it was made as long the modern version of the pasta. Also the recipe described the pasta as “fine as small worms” so I take that to mean that the pasta was likely only a couple inches long at most. This would make sense as it would be easier to eat this dish with a spoon. So when I make this again I will likely use the vermicelli from the mexican isle of my local store as it is already in small pieces.
6 thoughts on “Recipe #07 – Sicilian Vermicelli”
You could try orzo. It is similar in size and shape to rice, but a little longer and flatter. I suppose it really depends on the type of worms mentioned in the original text, hehehehe
After wondering “Why lard?” I’m going to assume the answer is “Because I had it handy.” With chicken broth, I personally would have used schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) for preference.
Re “fine as small worms”, I’m pretty sure that refers to the thickness rather than length and really does mean to use vermicelli (“little worms”), as opposed to spaghetti (“little strings”), linguine (“little tongues”), fettucine (“little ribbons”), etc.
Re “the lack of forks for eating”, this is specifically noted as a Sicilian dish. Forks were introduced to Western Europe by the wife of the Holy Roman Emporer in AD 972, gained popularity in what is now Italy precisely because of pasta, and were in common use there by the 14th century. Forks may not have been common in the rest of Western Europe, but they were not completely unknown.
And since I have now finally broken down and commented on one of your posts, I also need to add that I have been following your progress here with interest, and look forward to the rest of the journey. 🙂
You are correct in assuming the use of lard was because that is what I had on hand. If I had been able (lack of time) to make my own broth for the dish I wouldn’t have needed to add anything as I would have made it “fat” enough.
My reasoning for the comment about forks is that in my research of food and feasting customs of France I have come to the conclusion that though Italy had forks by the time of this book (mid 1400’s) that France did not yet use forks for eating. All of the sources I have been able to find give Catherine de Medici credit for the fork being used in French courts when she came to France to marry King Henry II in 1533. Because of this I assumed that they would have made their noodles smaller for ease of eating. Especially since most of the people reading the book would not known about the use of forks for pasta.
It may well have been that they used long noodles and just chopped them up when eating them like we do for kids using spoons. I could find no writings about how the french ate pasta at the time. When I came across the short vermicelli in the mexican section of the store it was like a lightbulb moment and just seemed to make the most sense. I fully admit I could be completely out in left field!
I am glad you commented! I am hoping that these recipes will start many discussions. I hold absolutely no illusions that I know everything about the culture and cooking techniques of 15th century France and love to learn new things about it. I hope you will comment again in the future!
Thanks for expanding your reasoning! It had crossed my mind that this family might have imported the use of forks from Sicily along with the recipe, but who knows? Also, I freely admit that I personally go out of my way to find interesting small pasta shapes that fit gracefully on a spoon simply because I dislike the way trailing ends splash sauce around! 🙂
I still had that “good fat bouillon” floating around in the back of my head, so when I stumbled across this post just now, I thought I’d throw it out to you:
“I had a thought while reading the other day.
“A lot of recipes call for “fat broth”. Broth with fat on it is kind of vile, to our taste. We modernly have the tradition of clear stocks and soups.
“However, the Japanese have both clear broths and ramen stock, which is a stock of bones boiled hard, with salt in the water. This not only leaches calcium into the broth, but also suspends great amounts of rich fat throughout.
“Many of our instructions for cooking call for “boil the hen, then roast”. We think to seethe, not *boil*, and we think to use the poaching liquid as broth.
“In a large service kitchen such as these, where groups of 20 or more were regular and more than that were not rare, it is possible that the bones were tossed into a common stockpot and boiled, rather than simmered, which would give more body, thickness, richness and mouthfeel to the broth, without the slick we all dread.”
They might have done exactly that!… or maybe they didn’t… I dunno. 🙂
I agree with you about interesting pasta shapes though. I have a love for cavatelli and campanelle.