The Pope's Kitchen

Mar 1, 2013

These days the pope is every bit as much a celebrity as any rock star or movie idol. Consequently, almost every conceivable aspect of the papacy has been analyzed and discussed -- all but one that is. For some reason there's been scant attention paid to LaCucina del Papa, the pope's kitchen.

That's a shame, it seems to me. After all, the Apostolic See has exerted its impact on our culinary customs, and not just through its calendar of fast days. The tradition of the Christmas Eve feast, for example, owes its existence to the 15th century pope, Alexander VI, who had a penchant for desserts.

Legend has it that the French owe a debt to Pope Gelasius I of the fifth century for one of their national dishes, the crepe. And Chateauneuf-du-Pape, according to some the noblest of all wines, clearly is connected to papal gourmandizing.

Granted, not every pope has been a gourmet. St. Sylvester I was a hermit given to fasting. Pope Innocent III insisted that only a single dish be served at his table. Pope Sixtus IV, the architect of the Inquisition, was a confirmed dieter.

But many pontiffs vowed that enjoyment at the table was not incompatible with papal duties. Perhaps the most notorious from a gastronomic perspective was Pope Martin IV, who lived in the 13th century. He was nicknamed the "gluttonous" pope.

Though not as infamous as Martin, there were plenty of other epicurean popes over the years. Clement VI had 50,000 pies baked for his coronation. Benedict XIV built Rome's first cafe. Julius III appointed the great Italian cook, Bartolomeo Scappi, as his personal chef. (When he catered the conclave is 1549, the food was so good the cardinals took two months to finish their task.)

+++++ Eggs Pope Benedict +++++
This recipe is one adapted from famed Seattle chef Don Curtiss. Relying on Italian ingredients like ciabatta, prosciutt and tomatoes makes the dish all the more heavenly.

1 cup hollandaise sauce
4 teaspoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon tomato paste
4 eggs
4 slices ciabatta
8 slices prosciutto

Combine tomato puree and tomato paste with hollandaise. Toast ciabatta. Lightly grill prosciutto. Poach eggs. Place two slices prosciutto atop each ciabatta slice and top with egg. Ladle with sauce. Makes 4 servings.