The signs of the Renaissance are everywhere in Italy.
Grand piazzas and palazzos. Metal-spiked doors. Looming archways. And, of course, all that ever-present art in the churches and galleries. But in one city, you also get a taste of the Renaissance every time you enter a restaurant.
In the northern region of Emilia Romagna, Ferrara was once home to the Estense court, or House of Este, which ruled the city from the 13th to the 18th centuries.
On the River Po bank, the court was one of the most formidable cultural powers during the Renaissance. Writers including
The court employed Boiardo, Ariosto, and Torquato Tasso, and artists such as Bellini, Mantegna, and Piero Della Francesco worked for the Este family domineering, a moat-surrounded castle in the centre of town.
Their works have survived the centuries — but so have those of Cristoforo di Messisbugo, the court’s master of ceremonies and steward.
Messisbugo was one of two celebrity chefs of the Renaissance. His prowess with multicourse banquets to impress visiting heads of state and fill the Este tremendous and good bellies led to him writing one of the world’s earliest cookbooks.
His tome, “Banchetti, composizioni di Vivante e apparecchio general” (“Banquets, Recipes and Table-laying”), was published in 1549, a year after he died. In it, as well as sample dinner menus and drinks pairings, he lists 300 recipes.
And it’s thanks to Messisbugo that, nearly five centuries later, the Ferraresi is still eating the Estes’ favourite meals.
Because while every town in Italy has its signature dishes, Ferrara’s are straight from the cookbook of that 16th-century court.
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