One of the exhibits on display until Feb. 16th at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art is called "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy," and it's well worth a visit. I loved the artwork, but even made a culinary discovery that I'll tell you about in a sec.
First let me recommend the show. It's a real treat to see all these beautiful works of art - from ceramic plates to dowry chests to paintings and drawings - that were created during the 15th and 16th centuries as expressions of love.
Expect to see typical depictions of "Venus and Cupid," as in the detail above by Lorenzo Lotto, as well as other less controversial paintings and art objects. But don't say I didn't warn you when you come across quite a few pieces of art featuring phalluses (phalli?)- including an engraving that must be four feet wide, with enough appendages to satisfy a brothel.
OK, so this is a family blog - onto the culinary part.
One of the items in the exhibit looked exactly like something my husband found when we were living in Rome. There it was, this cast iron implement with two rectangular plates that closed shut via two long long handles. It was leaning against a street post outside the church of San Sabino in the Aventine neighborhood. Intriqued, and an intrepid scavenger, my husband schlepped it back to our apartment, and then back to the U.S. at the end of our stay.
It was sort of reminiscent of a pizzelle iron, but the space between the two plates was too slight to accommodate a batter. Engraved on one part of the inside were the intertwined initials "C" & "R". The year "1939" was engraved on the other half. We just weren't sure what it was used for.
My husband experimented, slathering the iron with some olive oil and placing a piece of crustless Wonder Bread sprinkled with some minced rosemary in the middle. He squeezed the two halves together and cooked them for a few minutes over an open flame. What emerged was a crusty, crispy cracker that made a nice accompaniment to a glass of wine. But somehow we didn't think they had Wonder Bread in the Renaissance.
We finally found out what it really was when we saw a nearly identical one dating from the 16th century in the Met's exhibit. The one at the Met has round plates, not rectangular. We learned that such implements are called "wafering irons," and were used for making wafers that were served at the end of festive meals. Recipes for them are found as early as the late fourteenth century, according to the exhibit's catalog. The wafering iron in the show was used to provide personalized wafers for a wedding feast, and then kept to commemorate the event.
I just had to try a pizzelle recipe on my own wafering iron, even though my gut feeling was that the batter would indeed squirt out when I pressed the two plates together. As a backup, I had my REAL pizzelle iron warming up in case this didn't work. Well, guess what? It worked, but not so well that I'll be churning these out for the next ceremony held by C & R. The plates really have no space in between, so all the batter kept squeezing out, leaving me with a very thin and very crispy, easy to break pizzelle. No complaints, they tasted great. But I'll leave the wafering iron by the fireplace, where it makes a nice conversation piece. I'll continue to use my pizzelle iron and will post a recipe shortly.
It's hard to see the imprint in the center where the initials C&R are intertwined on one side, and the date of 1939 on the other.
Now the question remains. Who was C? Who was R? Did Carlo marry Rita in 1939? Or Riccardo wed Camilla? Or did Carlotta Ruspoli become a nun in 1939? I guess we'll never know.