Many of the foods commonly associated with the Italian peninsula were unknown to ancient Romans. Such modern Italian staples as tomatoes, eggplant, corn (for polenta) hot peppers and pasta were unknown to Europeans before trade began with the New World. Tea, coffee and sugar were unknown, and butter, though known, was not used for cooking.
Instead, Romans thrived on the bounty of the Meditteranean sea, abounding with fish and shellfish, including bonito, sardines, anchovies, mackeral snapper and much more. Large breeding farms for oysters and mussels furnished plenty of shellfish for Roman markets.
Meat, poultry and game was also plentiful. Since cattle, toughened up ploughing the vast Roman campana, Romans feasted on pigs, goats, lamb, chickens, geese, ducks, doves and other wild fowl, deer, even frogs and snails.
Vegetables were often served at the mensa prima, the first course. These included asparagus, beets, cabbage, squash, leeks, fava beans, peas and chickpeas and lentils, and, of course, the noble olive.
Cheeses and sausages were abundant, and one of the more popular sausages of modern Italy, the lucania, originated in the ancient Roman district of Lucania. Pate de foie gras, that delicacy associated with French cuisine, actually has its roots in ancient Greece and Rome.
Romans baked a variety of breads, both dark and light, and while pasta was eons in the future, there were porridges of grains, such as barley and wheat.
To finish out their meals, Romans ate a variety of fruits -- both fresh and dried, including apples, pears, pomegranates, plums, blackberries, cherries and mulberries.
Click here for outstanding reproduction Roman pottery
Sources: A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa
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