What was Leonardo da Vinci’s favorite recipe?
While leaving my class in Stanford University, a gentleman named Jonathan Gifford introduced himself after learning that I am a fan of Leonardo da Vinci. Dark circa 9pm, we both walked towards Palo Alto, and there I learned about his passion in culinary. While talking to Gifford, I promised to share with him Leonardo da Vinci’s favorite recipe.
The last supper is the authentic recipe of the most remarkable figure of the Renaissance, and the artist who painted the most famous version of The Last Supper — Leonardo da Vinci. It is not known when da Vinci first became a strict vegetarian and great lover of animals. But his vegetarianism was well-known throughout Italy, although this practice would not be accepted for another 500 years. The Florentine traveller, Andrea Corsali, wrote of Leonardo’s vegetarianism in a 1515 letter sent from India to Giuliani Medici in Italy: “Certain infidels called Guzzarati do not feed on anything that contains blood, no do they permit among them any injury to be done to any living things, like our Leonardo.”
The artist’s love for all living creatures is also told in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Architect, Painters and Sculptors of Italy (1550): “He always kept servants and horses, which later he took much delight, and particularly in other animals which he managed with the greatest of love and patience. And this he showed after passing the places where birds were sold, for taking them in his own hand out of the cages, and having paid to those who sold them the price that was asked, he let them fly away into the air, restoring to them their lost liberty.” This reminds me very much of John Muir of Yosemite.
On the origins of Leonardo’s Easter, vegetarian, and humanist influences, Michael White, historian and author of Leonardo: The First Scientist (2000). He replied: “Indeed, Leonardo was greatly influenced by travelers he met in Florence and Milan, and he was fascinated with all things linked to Eastern culture. He probably learned vegetarianism from such sources and he was almost certain to have stumbled upon recipes from the Far East handed to him by peripatetic painters and philosophers who crossed his path.”
There are references in da Vanci’s notes to meat purchases, which must have been for his non-vegetarian students. Although a confirmed 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.”
When courting royalty and religious patrons at their castles and affairs 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 liked served nice and hot. While writing and drawing in his notebook, he ends sentences with an “et cetera” — which means in Latin: and other things — and upon returning to the page he explains why he stopped, “it is because my la minsetra is getting cold.”
“If you want to be healthy, heed this advice, eat only when hungry, and let light fare suffice. Chew all your food well, and this rule always follow. Well cooked and simple, be all that you swallow. On leaving a table, a good posture keep, and after your luncheon, do not yield to sleep. Let lil and often be your rule for wine, but not between meals or when ready to dine.”
Leonardo da Vinci.
At the end of his life, da Vinci moved to Clos Lucé in France at the invitation of King Francis I. After his death, a cookbook called Platina de honest voluptate containing da Vinci’s favorite vegetarian recipes was found in his home library at Clos Lucé.
Following is an authentic recipes from da Vinci’s 1487 edition of Platina:
The Last Supper
La Minestra (Luis in Cecere Rubeo) means Chickpea soup.
From Platino: “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.”
Thank you da Vinci, your message has survived to our present 2016 AD! The greatest artist in the history of art! Yours, Woz.