2019 was a year for anniversaries. Not only did we celebrate the genius of Leonardo da Vinci, but also two Medici princes, Cosimo and Caterina, both born in 1519.
Caterina de’ Medici is a fascinating figure for many reasons and deserves to be talked about in depth. Born in Florence, she was betrothed at the age of just fourteen to Henry II, Duke of Orléans and future King of France. The ‘queen mother’, as Caterina was often called, brought Florentine, Tuscan and Sicilian recipes with her to Château di Bois, and as time passed she began to have an influence on traditional French cuisine. Let us look in detail at some of the dishes and techniques that can be found both at the French and the Tuscan table.
THE RECIPES OF CATERINA DE’ MEDICI
For starters, Caterina made forks and napkins standard at the French court, helping to create a more elegant and decorative dining hall. The most decadent recipes that she introduced include carabaccia (onion soup), which soon enough had become a staple of French gastronomy with the name ‘soupe à l’oignon’.
Papero al melarancio (or ‘canard à l’orange’ in French) was something brought for Caterina’s wedding feast in 1533, already widespread and widely appreciated in Florence for its unusual pairing of meat with fruit. As years went by, the recipe was modified and updated, becoming the more famous anatra all’arancia (duck in orange sauce).
Caterina also imported cibreo into France, one of her absolute favourite foods (another was artichokes, for which she was particularly mad). ‘A simple dip, delicate and gentle: ideal for the infirm and for ladies of a unhungry stomach.’ She also brought with her the so-called salsa colla, used to bind different ingredients together. This is the ancestor of the modern béchamel.
Macarons, ice cream, omelette, crêpes and marron glacé are other delicacies which started to be seen in France after Caterina’s arrival.
THE ‘SUPERSTITIOUS’ CUISINE OF CATERINA DE’ MEDICI
It is said that Caterina had many aphrodisiacs in her diet, including cardoons, shallots, courgettes, celery, mushrooms, fava beans and onions. Finally, just to leave you with a little culinary curiosity, the queen was very superstitious and the chronicles of her time make mention of a banquet that confirms it. All the dishes at this particular feast had to be divisible by three, which Caterina maintained was the perfect number: ‘33 roast roe deer, 33 hares, 6 pigs, 66 chickens in broth, 66 pheasants, 3 staia of beans, 3 staia of peas and 12 dozen artichokes.’