Feast on Cato’s placenta!

Before diving into the recipe, I have to set the record straight. What the hell is up with the name of this dish? Rest assured, in Roman times placenta didn’t have anywhere near the meaning it has today. In fact, the modern reference to the human organ only came about in 1559, when anatomist Renaldus Columbus used it in his De Re Anatomica. Before that, placenta (derived from the Greek πλακοῦς, plakous) simply meant…”flat cake”. Thank the Roman gods for that!

And it is quite appropriate to praise the gods, because placenta – just like libum from last week’s blog post – had an important role in religious life. The Romans used it as a bloodless offering to worship their gods.

This tasty sacrifice is basically a sweet lasagna recipe, made of layers of tracta (similar to lasagna noodles) and a honey-cheese filling.

To make placenta, I used a round 25cm / 10in diameter tart pan and the following ingredients. Make sure they’re high quality – Cato insists!


  • 150g / 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 120ml / ½ cup water


  • 150g / 1 cup spelt flour
  • 150g / 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 240ml / 1 cup water


  • 500g / 1 lb fresh ricotta
  • 85g / ¼ cup honey

Garnish: honey & bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F, using the convection setting.

Start with the crust. In a bowl, mix the flour and water, knead the dough thoroughly and shape it into a ball. Roll it out into a circle twice the diameter of the pan you’re using. Set aside.

Now make the tracta. Mix the spelt and all-purpose flour and drizzle in the water slowly. Knead well and divide it into 5 small balls. Roll each of them into a circle the same diameter of your pan. Brush with olive oil and set aside. Technically, you’re supposed to leave them until they’re completely dried out. Instead, I opted for pre-baking (about 10min).

The filling is the easy part. Simply mix the ricotta and honey and you’re done.

Now you have all the ingredients to assemble your placenta!

Oil the tart pan and place a couple of bay leaves on the bottom. Next, place the crust on top. Then, spoon out 1/5 of the filling and divide evenly. Cover it with one tractum and add another 1/5 of filling. Continue until you run out of ingredients. Finally, fold over the crust so that none of the filling or tracta remains uncovered. Brush with olive oil and garnish with bay leaves.

Put the dish in the oven and bake for about 1.5 hours. You can choose whether or not to cover it, as Cato tells us to. (I didn’t because I wanted to get a nice crust.) When done, drizzle some honey over it.

Bona Dea, look at that!

In the mood for something more contemporary? Try substituting Cato’s dough with filo dough or puff pastry. This variation on Cato’s placenta was inspired by a pastry that I devoured during the many months I spent in Greece: a savory treat called tyropita that’s made with filo dough and stuffed with a feta filling.

After two weeks of pastry making, I think it’s time for some refreshments. Next week, I’ll present a classic recipe from the famous Apicius that can hold its own against modern aperitifs: a spiced wine called conditum.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s