A garlic, herb, & Feta cheese paté - contributed by Gaylin J. Walli

Original recipe from A Taste of Ancient Rome by Ilaria Giacosa, p. 54:

Quattuor alia, apius, ruta, coriandrum, salis micas, caseus.

Modern recipe: Garlic and Herb Cheese Paté

These ingredients in the original recipe can be translated as:

  • Four garlic cloves
  • celery
  • rue
  • coriander
  • salt grains
  • cheese.
Some ingredients require careful handling. See Safety Information below.

No instructions are given for what to do with these ingredients, though it is easy to surmise from the name that they were combined in such a way as to make a spoonable sauce. Some debate exists over the exact translation of "quattuor" in that scholars disagree strongly on exactly how much garlic is meant: four cloves or four heads of garlic. We have chosen to accept the four clove translation rather than the four head translation because garlic heads were smaller in during the time period and because four heads of modern garlic would completely overpower the dish so that only the truly intrepid garlic fiend would brave it. Also note, the cook seems free to choose exactly which type of cheese to use and whether or not to use fresh coriander (cilantro) or dried.

For 160

  • 10 small bulbs of fresh garlic (or more to taste), finely minced
  • 4 3/8 pounds fresh feta cheese
  • 20 stalks celery, finely minced
  • 10 small bunches coriander leaves, finely minced
  • 10 small bunches of fresh rue leaves, finely minced; OPTIONAL: See Safety Information below
  • 1 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5/8 quart white wine vinegar
For 8
  • 1/2 bulb fresh garlic (or more to taste), finely minced
  • 3 1/2 ounces fresh feta cheese
  • 1 1/2 stalks celery, finely minced
  • 1/2 small bunch of coriander leaves, finely minced
  • 1/2 small bunch of fresh rue leaves, finely minced; OPTIONAL: See Safety Information below
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Break up the bulbs of garlic into cloves and remove them from their papery skins. Mince the garlic finely or use a food processor or a mortar and pestle to reduce it to paste. Roughly chop celery, cheese, and herbs, then combine until smooth in a food processor. Alternatively, finely mince the celery and herbs and set them aside. If you are not using a food processor, add these finely minced ingredients to feta which you have pounded in a mortar until it is smooth and creamy. Add vinegar and oil to the cheese and process until smooth, either with a food processor or by hand in a bowl. Combine all ingredients and let sit for at least 15 minutes, preferably overnight, to allow flavors to mingle.

Per serving nutritional information:

49 Calories; 4g Fat (77% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; 11mg Cholesterol; 143mg Sodium

Notes on the recipe:

Safety Information:

Rue (Ruta graveolens) contains a volatile oil and alkaloids, both known to be responsible for this plant having been used to treat indigestion, among other ailments, during our researched time period. However, because of its ability to strongly influence the female menstrual cycle, consumption of Rue by pregnant women or women trying to conceive should be avoided even in the smallest amounts. Consider omitting the Rue altogether.

Vinegar and oil use:

Although the original recipe did not call for them, we added a small amount of vinegar and oil to the dish. The cheese we used to make the dish was dry enough to make the paté crumbly rather than spoonable or suitable for dipping. It required some liquid to smooth it out. A straight oil addition made the cheese seem greasy, but the addition of the vinegar added a smoothing quality that resulted in the texture we had hoped to achieve with the original recipe. In Platina, both ingredients would have been listed as suitable for this combination based on their inherent humoral qualities. The vinegar may have been used to repress the heat of the garlic and instill the desire to eat at the beginning of the feast (Milham, pg. 167) and the oil of olives in particular was often used to induce a healthy appetite (Milham, pg. 151).

Garlic and the amounts used:

Adjust the amount of garlic in this recipe to suit the tastes of your feasters. The garlic will overpower the dish easily, but for "garlic fiends" this may be ideal. By letting the dish sit for at least 15 minutes the flavor of the fresh coriander leaves is also tamed. Some feasters may liken the taste of fresh coriander to the smell of medicine. We recommend making the moretum a day ahead and letting it sit overnight so the garlic flavor and the coriander flavor permeate and meld properly with the cheese.

For garlic aficionados, consider this alternative to reducing the amount of garlic: increase the amount of garlic, but roast it or bake it first before removing the papery skins. This will mellow out the flavor and give the dish a little more sweet tang to counteract the often salty taste of the feta cheese. Garlic can be roasted several days in advance, removed from its skin, and saved in a well-sealed dish until the rest of the ingredients can be combined.

Many people find the convenience of pre-minced, bottle garlic worth considering for a feast, especially one in which large amounts of garlic will be used. The time saved by using this product may outweigh the disadvantage we believe exists with using a preserved and canned product. To our taste buds, however, the use of bottled garlic in this dish enhances the acidity of the preservative in the garlic and the slightly cooked taste of the spice. Therefore, instead of bottled garlic, we recommend obtaining the whole, pre-peeled garlic cloves often offered at restaurant supply stores.

Additional notes on this recipe may be found at: The Coronation Feast of Dag IV & Elayna II


Milham, Mary Ella. Platina's On Right Pleasure and Good Health. University of North Carolina at Asheville: Pegasus Press, 1999. ISBN: 0866982086.

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Gaylin Walli is a technical writer and editor for a multinational software company. She spends the vast majority of her personal time researching things because her friends (and people throughout the known world) torture her with comments like "Do you know anything about..."

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