This recipe is a classic Tuscan Minestrone soup, so very similar to what da Vinci would have cooked, as he spent much of his life in Tuscany. He was most likely a vegetarian, at least for the later part of his life, and historians have claimed that Minestrone was his favorite dish.
European food culture in Leonardo da Vinci’s lifetime went through two major changes. First, Christopher Columbus made his famous 1492 voyage to the New World and returned with a host of new foods that were native to the Americas. Then in 1497, the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama sailed around the horn of Africa creating a trade route to India, the source of one of the most valuable commodities in Europe: black pepper. From then on, Portugal controlled the spice trade making spices far more available to Europeans.
The advent of the printing press in 1440 also revolutionized food in Renaissance Italy with the printing of the first mass-market cookbook. “On Right Pleasure and Good Health” by Bartolomeo Platina is a fascinating book of essays on food knowledge at the time, including recipes first created by celebrity chef Martino da Como. Many of the book’s entrees and ideas are laughable in light of today’s knowledge which makes for a very entertaining read - especially if you want to learn how to cook a peacock with its feathers on, that appears to be breathing fire! We know that Leonardo da Vinci owned a copy of this book.
Medieval and Renaissance views of nutrition were still based upon the ancient Greek idea of Humorism. Humans were made up of four “humors:” Blood, Bile, Phlegm, and Black Bile. An imbalance in these humors led to poor health, and the food we ate kept them in balance. Sweet food increased blood, bland foods increased phlegm, bitter foods increased bile, and sour foods increased black bile. Recipes were crafted to balance out the humors of the foods themselves as well. For example, vegetables were considered cold and wet which are phlegmatic traits, so they had to be cooked in ways that made them more hot and dry, which are associated with bile and considered Choleric.
More on Humorism
“On Right Pleasure and Good Health” by Bartolomeo Platina
Video: Prabir Mehta and Tyler Rhodes
Blog and Soup Chef: Michael Andrews