Da Vinci's Salad Dressing

Ingredients for Da Vinci's Salad Dressing (yields 1 cup)

  • 1/8 cup + 2 teaspoons (10 parts) of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, minced

  • 1 teaspoon (1 part) fresh mint, minced

  • 1 teaspoon (1 part) fresh thyme, minced

  • 1 teaspoon (1 part) lemon zest

  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar

Directions for Da Vinci's Salad Dressing

Combine all ingredients in a jar, shake well. Allow flavors to meld 4 hours prior to use. Store in refrigerator.

Back in February, I read the book "Da Vinci's Kitchen: A secret history of Italian Cuisine" by Dave Dewitt. A must read if you enjoy food and history. Unfortunately, when I was reading this book it was during the chaos of my kitchen construction, so I misplaced most of my notes. I hope I can recall all the facts :)

Most people associate Leonardo Da Vinci with his talents as an engineer, artist, and scientist. But did you know he was also a foodie? He believed in maintaining a sensible and balanced diet. He also believed that certain foods would affect your emotional temperament. Leonardo oversaw catering at extravagant royal feasts and planned the remodeling of Ludovico Sforza's {Duke of Milan} castle and it's kitchen. Da Vinci felt that a kitchen should be large, well run and efficient, but should be away from the master of the house so that he won't hear the clatter.

Da Vinci kept detailed diaries for nearly 30 years. In them he chronicled the price of food, menus at parties, the differences in diet between the upper and lower classes. I found it interesting that he owned only one cookbook, On Right Pleasure and Good Health written by Platina.

Today's salad dressing recipe appeared in a notebook written by Leonardo in the form of list: "parsley (10 parts), mint (1 part), thyme (1 part), vinegar, a little salt". Using that information the author of Da Vinci's Kitchen extrapolated this recipe with the addition of olive oil. I made one additional adjustment to the recipe, I added lemon zest (1 part) to brighten the flavors. I feel that the addition of lemon zest honors Da Vinci's original recipe because that ingredient was readily available during 1400-1500 bc in Italy.

This salad dressing tastes the best after letting the flavors meld at least 4 hours. I served the dressing over mixed greens with a light shaving of Grana Padano {parmesan} cheese. Fennel, widely used during Leonardo's lifetime, would also be a great addition to the salad. For another variation, I am going to try this dressing brushed onto sliced zucchini or eggplant prior to grilling.

In parting, I leave you with a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci, 1515:

"If you want to be healthy, observe this regime. Do not eat when you have no appetite and dine lightly; chew well, and whatever you take into you should be well-cooked and of simple ingredients.... And rest your head and keep your mind cheerful. Avoid wantonness and keep to this diet."