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Renaissance Treats

Three Recipes from The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570)

By Gael Stirler

(October 2014)


Feast-day Cheese Tourte

Bartolomeo Scappi (1500 to 1577 A.D.) was a famous Renaissance chef. He served as master cook in the kitchens of two popes and several powerful cardinals. Toward the end of his illustrious career Scappi wrote a major cookbook on meat, fish, poultry, pastries, vegetables, food for the sick, food presentation, how to choose the best foodstuffs, and how to manage the workers in a large kitchen of a royal or papal household. It was called The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi. The word opera means "great work" in Italian and can apply to any art, not just music. This six-volume cookbook was an international best seller in its day. It's first printing in 1570 was so successful that it was reprinted 4 years later by the same publisher, and was reprinted by other printers a total of 6 more times between 1590 and 1649.

On feast days the Catholic religion allowed everyone to indulge in eating foods rich in butter, eggs, cheese, meat, and fat. The Feast-day Cheese Tourte below is made from four different kinds of cheese in a rich buttery crust. But on lean days when meat, eggs, and dairy were prohibited by the Church, the cooks had to make substitutions like nut milk for cow milk, oil for butter, etc. However, Scappi still managed to create wonderful treats, tasty enough for a pope. Scappi's Apple Tourte recipe makes wonderful bar cookies topped with nuts and apples. The Marzipanned Tourte below can be made with leftover ingredients from the other recipes and adapted for either Feast or Lean days.

Feast-day Cheese Tourte
Scappi V 81

Scappi calls this a "white dish" but it isn't white at all. It looks and smells like a pumpkin pie but the flavor is cheesier like a quiche or a cheesecake. Scappi's version calls for a heavy amount of spices, 1/2 ounce cinnamon and 1/4 ounce ginger to be specific, which I reduced for modern taste. Scappi also suggests decorating the tourte with sheets of real gold or silver leaf! This pie is very rich, so cut thin slices.

Pie crust

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, chilled
  • ½ to ¾ cup cold water

Mix the flour and salt in large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, mixing until it takes on a pebbly appearance. Lightly mix in the water until the dough forms a ball but is not sticky. Chill for 20 minutes. Roll out the dough and line three 8" pie pans or two deep-dish pans, or one spring form pan. For hors d'oeuvre size, fill tiny muffin pans with small balls of dough and press into the shape of a pie shell with an inverted beer bottle, wooden dowel, or a tart-shaping tool.


  • 1 pound (pint) ricotta cheese or cottage cheese drained
  • 1 pound fresh mozerella (or more ricotta and cream cheese)
  • 8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • 3 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 egg whites or 4 whole eggs
  • 3 ounces raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar mixed with a tablespoon of water

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Pulse the cottage cheese in a food processor until smooth or use an electric mixer. Add the other cheeses, one at a time, then the rest of the ingredients. It should be the consistancy of hot oatmeal, add rosewater or apple juice, a tablespoon at a time, until you get the right consistancy. Fill the pie shells nearly to the top. Bake for 45 minutes or until the tops are brown, completely puffed up in the middle and the shells are pulling away from the sides of the pans. Hors d'oeuvre only take 30 minutes, spring form pans can take 70 minuets or more. Five minutes before it is done, baste the top with the sugar glaze and put it back in the oven to finish cooking. Makes three 8" pies, two deep-dish pies, one 10" springform tourte, or 6 dozen hors d'oeuvre.

Variation: For a savory version substitute chives, dill, parsley, sautéed shallots, and other herbs for the sugar, raisins, cinnamon and ginger. Scappi suggests substituting 3 ounces of heavy cream mixed with 3 egg yolks for the 8 egg whites and says you can make it without a crust as well.

Apple Tourte

Lean Day Apple Tourte
Scappi VI 126

The original recipe calls for mostaccioli, which is made by grinding musk-flavored biscotti. Musk is a perfume made from the scent glands of the musk deer but you can substitute anise or almond flavoring. If you can't find plain biscotti in the store, you can make biscotti from plain un-iced cake by slicing it into pieces about ½ inch wide and toasting them slowly in the oven at 210°F or you can grind animal crackers or vanilla wafers. The irony of this dish is that the mostaccioli recipe in Scappi's book is made with eggs. I guess that didn't count.

Sweet Oil Pastry

  • 1½ tablespoons white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2¼ cups flour, sifted
  • ½ cup cooking almond oil or vegetable oil
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons almond milk

Mix the sugar, salt, and flour together. Mix in the oil and enough almond milk to create a dough that is not crumbly or sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic film and chill it 30 minutes.


  • 3½ ounces of biscotti, crumbled (6-8 plain biscotti)
  • 3 ounces chopped nuts (pinenuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, or walnuts)
  • 6 ounces of tart apple cored and sliced (about 1 medium-size Granny Smith)
  • 4 ounces (½ cup) almond pie and cake filling or 2 ounces ground almonds and 2 ounces sugar 
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
  • (Optional) 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon mace or nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, and a pinch of cloves
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup to ½ cup almond milk

While the dough is chilling make the apple filling. Crumble the biscotti into a food processor and pulse until you have crumbs. Add half the nuts and grind it some more. Add the apple slices and the rest of the ingredients and pulse it on high until the apple is chopped but still somewhat chunky.


  • 4 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoons rosewater or plain water
Spreading the apple filling.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into 6 pieces. Roll the pieces of dough into rectangular shapes and place them next to each other, overlapping a little on a stoneware baking sheet, a silicon mat, or a greased cookie sheet. Press them together to form one continuous rectangular sheet.

Spread the apple mixture over the pastry crust and as close to the edge as you can without going over. Sprinkle the rest of the chopped nuts over the top. Bake for 60 minutes or until the filling is brown and the crust is lifting up at the edges. Allow the bars to cool just enough for you to handle them. Cut them into squares with a pizza cutter then leave them to cool to room temperature.

Make a glaze of powdered sugar and water and drizzle it over the top with a flicking motion. Let the glaze harden before packing the bars into cookie tins with sheets of parchment or wax paper separating the layers. Makes about 4 dozen 1½" bars.

Scappi suggests this variation: Grease the pan with butter or wax. Use crushed wafers (vanilla wafers or graham crackers will do) moistened with almond milk or rosewater for the crust and use less sugar in the filling.

Marzipanned Tourte
Scappi VI 120

These pies are very flaky and buttery with a sweet almond and pastry creme filling that was later known as Frangipane. Scappi always gave lots of suggestions for variations and substitutions, so you can use cream cheese (my favorite) or ricotta instead of pastry creme. The yellow egg yolk glaze was called gilding and was a common technique mentioned in period cookbooks. It is best done near the end of the cooking time to maintain the bright yellow color. You can also make these with puff pastry and decorate them with sliced almonds!

Marzipanned Tourte

Sweet Pastry

  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold but not hard
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • ¼ cup rose water

Cream the butter with an electric mixer then add the egg yolk, scrape down the bowl, then blend in the sugar. Slowly add the flour a little at a time. Then add enough rosewater that the dough comes together in a ball but isn't sticky. Roll it into a log about 2" in diameter and wrap in plastic film and chill for 1 to 4 hours.


  • 8 ounces almond filling (or 2 ounces ground almonds, 3 ounces sugar, 1 egg, and 1 ounces of butter)
  • ½ cup pastry creme or 1 snack cup vanilla pudding or 4 ounces cream cheese or ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • Egg wash made of 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of water

Preheat the oven to 420° F. Mix the almond filling and pudding or cheese together and put it in a pastry bag. Take the pie dough out of the refrigerator and cut into 24 rounds. Take a circle of dough and press it or stretch it a little into an oval shape. Brush the edges with water and pipe some almond mixture on one side of the dough. Fold the other side over the top and seal the edges. Place on a stoneware baking sheet, a silicon mat, or a greased cookie sheet. Poke a hole in the top with a knifepoint. Bake the pies for 13 minutes or until the pies are almost done and the tops are blond but the bottoms are brown. Baste the tops of the pies with the egg wash and put them back in the oven for 5 minutes. Allow to cool before eating. Makes 2 dozen little pies.

Variation for lean days: Use the Sweet Oil Pastry recipe for the crust. Make the filling with almonds, sugar, oil, and almond milk thickened with flour or mostaccioli. Instead of egg wash use a glaze of powdered sugar and rosewater.

For more cookie recipes see Traditional Cookies of the Renaissance.

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