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Alboin, the Longobard King

526 (about) - Verona, 572

Life and History

Alboino

As a young man, king Alboin arrived in Italy with his troupes during one of the last Barbaric invasions. The Roman Empire was falling apart and Alboin crossed the Alps into the fertile Padan plain without any major resistance. The Lombards were able hunters and livestock managers, and their food culture was based on the presence of animals.

They deserve credit for a series of foods created out of the need to conserve meat. They used salt, which they brought with them from the salt mines in Comacchio, to cover and preserve meat. The Lombard practice of salting meat likely led to the first prosciutto. The Lombards also cooked meat for long periods of time, giving birth to the Italian boils, stews, and braises.

The Lombards were a population of conquerers and were not strangers to violence and cruelty. Before marrying Alboin, Rosemund, daughter of king of the Gepid, was forced to drink wine out of her dead father’s skull. However, legend suggests that king Alboin was at times merciful. After the siege and surrender of Pavia, he ordered for all of the city’s people to be killed and for the city to be destroyed. He climbed on his horse and just as soon as he made it outside the city walls, the horse stopped and would not go any further.

Alboin ordered the citizens to deliver him twelve young female prisoners. The girls arrived and one of them had a dove-shaped sweet bread in the palm of her hands. When the horse noticed the treat, it began to move, carrying the king into the city. This moved, or perhaps frightened, the king into sparing the city from destruction, and declaring to the capital of his kingdom. The sweet bread, or colomba, became both symbol of reconciliation and traditional Christian Easter treat. The rest is history.

The recipe


Colomba (di Alboino)

Colomba is a typical Italian Easter treat. Its dove-like shape represents the Christian Holy Spirit, but also the announcement of the reconciliation between God and man, or simply the arrival of spring.

Ingredients
  • 1 lb all-purpose flour
  • 5 oz butter
  • 4 ½ oz sugar
  • 1 ¾ oz yeast
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 oz mixed candied fruit
  • almond sweet to taste
  • coarse sugar to taste
  • oz salt

Preparation

Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water and slowly work in half of the flour; allow the dough to rise in a warm place in a floured bowl. When the dough has doubled in size, place it in a larger bowl and add the remaining flour, beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar and salt.

Work the dough gently until it stops sticking to the sides of the bowl, cover with a cloth and allow to rise for another hour. Sprinkle flour on the raisins and the candied peel then shake excess flour away in a sieve.

Add the raisins and candied peel to the dough, place in a dove-shaped mould and decorate with almonds, baste with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar crystals. Cook in a moderate oven for 20-25 minutes.

Gastronomic Library
M. RINALDI, La storia è servita: vizi e virtù nel piatto dei grandi della storia, Milano, Golosia & C., 1996.