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The World's First Tomato Sauce Recipe

I'mAntonio Latini deep into the writing of my fourth novel (I know, I know, you are waiting for my third, which is in my agent's hot little hands right now), which is about Antonio Latini, this fancy bewigged man shown here. 

He led a life full of adventures in the mid 1600s, culminating in a role as the steward for the viceroy of Spain in Naples.

Latini left behind a cookbook, published in 1692 and 1694, two volumes two years apart, called Lo Scalco alla Moderna (The Modern Steward). The book is finally in print in English thanks to a beautiful translation by Tommasso Astarita, Professor of History at Georgetown University. The cookbook is full of advice for stewards of the day, and has over a thousand culinary recipes fit for the table of a Baroque King.  It also features the first tomato sauce recipe in print. But wait, I hear you say, didn't the Italians always have tomatoes? Or perhaps you were thinking that foods from the New World were surely available in Italy by then? 

Tomatoes came to Italy by way of Spanish explorers to Mexico and Central America, probably in the early 1500s. But once they came to Italy, the tasty tomato ran into a problem. The juice from these fruits would run all over the pewter dishes of the wealthy, thereby leaching the lead from the plates and killing people. The peasant population ate off wood or clay dishes and didn't have this problem, but it was too late. The correlation was made and it was nearly two hundred years before Latini embraced the ways of the Spaniards he worked for and put tomatoes on the tables of nobility. 

The first tomato sauce was not what we think of as tomato sauce today. Rather, it is what we would call a salsa, which is fitting considering the word for sauce in Italian is the same--salsa.  You'll notice that it is much simpler, and missing some typical salsa ingredients such as oregano. But I swear you won't be disappointed. 

Latini has two versions of this recipe, one in each volume of the cookbook. One recipe cooks the tomatoes over the coals, then chops them up, calling for onions, thyme or pepperwort, with a bit of salt, oil and vinegar. The second recipe calls for uncooked tomatoes and omits the vinegar, so clearly there were variations on this sauce at that time. I chose to go with uncooked tomatoes, but after some taste testing, added the vinegar to round out and freshen up the dish a bit. 

This salsa would have been placed in small dishes as a condiment to meats. Latini suggests that they are served in tondini , little serving plates. 

In the photo below you'll see we used the salsa to top a dish of cheesy beef involtini, which is a recipe I'll share at some point in the future. You can, of course, use this delicious salsa on corn chips too! 

World's oldest tomato sauce recipe atop beef involtini

Antonio Latini's Spanish Style Sauce 

From Lo Scalco all Moderna Vol. II.380
interpreted by Crystal King

  • Two medium sized tomatoes 
  • 1/4 cup (40g.) onion, finely diced
  • 1 minced jalapeno or other type of chili pepper, seeds removed
  • 1 tbsp chopped thyme 
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp oil 
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar  

Mix together and serve. 

Buon appetito!