A Genius Meal

Many people know that Leonardo da Vinci kept meticulous notebooks. These texts give great insight into his relationship with food and health. He started writing them when he was 37 and continued until his death. Much like diaries, his notebooks consisted of random thoughts, notes and drawings and they were written in “mirror script” from right to left, with the letters drawn backward. He used this method to keep his thoughts private and make them difficult to translate.

At da Vinci’s death, he left between 50 and 120 notebooks to his prized student, Francesco Melzi; there are only 28 or so left today. Here is a passage from one of his notebooks regarding health and cooking:

If you want to be healthy observe this regime.
Do not eat when you have no appetite and dine lightly,
Chew well, and whatever you take into you
Should be well-cooked and of simple ingredients.

Stay standing a while when you get up from a meal.
Let your wine be mixed with water, take little at a time
Not between meals, nor on an empty stomach.

He who takes medicine is ill advised.
Beware anger and avoid stuffy air.
Make sure you do not sleep at midday.

Neither delay nor prolong your visit to the toilet.
If you take exercise, let it not be too strenuous.
Do not lie with your stomach upward and your head downward.

Be well covered at night,
And rest your head and keep your mind cheerful.
Avoid wantonness and keep to this diet.

(reprinted from Dave Dewitt’s Da Vinci’s Kitchen: A Secret History of Italian Cuisine)
Source:  http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/leonardo-da-vinci/

Leonardo da Vinci was probably a vegetarian. There are references in his notebooks to meat purchases, but the meat might have been for his students.  When courting royalty and patrons at various events, da Vinci would dine on green salads, fish, fruit, vegetables, bread, mushrooms, cereal, and pasta. He also loved chickpea soup which he called la minestra, and which he preferred to eat hot. While writing and drawing in his notebook, he sometimes ended sentences with “et cetera,” meaning, and other things and upon returning to his writing he would explain why he stopped, “it is because my la minestra is getting cold.”

Although a supposed vegetarian, he invented a machine that could grind sausage meat, which Bartolomeo Scappi, a famous Renaissance chef, in his book Opera (1570) said: “[da Vinci] invented a pit with a propeller that turned in the heat fire.” This automated invention was animated by the process of hot air rising which turns the propellers, turning the spit. Da Vinci endorsed his new automated product by saying “This is a way to cook meat … since the roast will turn slowly or quickly depending whether the fire is strong or weak.”

At the end of his life, da Vinci moved to France at the invitation of King Francis I. After his death, a cookbook called Platina de honest voluptate containing his favorite vegetarian recipes was found in his home library at Clos Lucé. The following is an authentic recipe from that cookbook.

La Minestra

La Minestra (Luis in Cecere Rubeo) means Chickpea soup.

“Wash a pund or more of chickpeas in hot water. After being washed they should be put in a pot to simmer without water. With your hands mix half an ounce of meal, a lil oil and salt, and twenty grains of coarsely ground pepper and ground cinnamon, and then put this near the hearth with three measures of water, and add sage, rosemary and finally chopped parsley roots. Let this bill so that it is nearly cooked, drop in a lil oil; but if it is juice for sick persons, only add a lil oil and spices.”

Source:  https://medium.com/@WaselChoi/while-leaving-my-class-in-stanford-university-a-gentleman-named-jonathan-gifford-introduced-57f8b5a28b76

If you are wondering how da Vinci was able to “simmer without water,” we are not certain what he meant.  However, we surmise that he was using a fireplace to cook and it would take some time for the pot to get hot enough for it to matter. Probably, he was not really simmering but steaming in residual water from the rinse.  When the pot got hot enough to cook the garbanzos, then he added the water.

Just a theory. Wish he was here so we could ask him!  What conversations could be held with such a fascinating man.

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