We had such a wonderful and enjoyable Christmas at our home in Rome. Christmas actually started a few days earlier for us. A number of things made us appreciate and feel festive as soon as we came back to Rome, left the bags to unpack in the morning knowing that no further work related trips were planned until the first weeks of January of the New Year, 2019.
Rome has been very cold recently which only helped us feel the Christmas atmosphere immediately. The christmas illuminations were so beautiful this year, somehow more special or maybe we were just relaxed, grateful and just happy. The late morning Christmas grocery shopping was filled with joy, exchanging wishes and little gifts with our local food vendors, shops keepers and eateries that have been welcoming us regularly since we arrived in Rome. Our final port of call was “our local” wine bar (not exactly on our door step but it is our favourite) for a quick glass of bollicine. We received a lovely gift, a bottle of Ferrari sparkling wine from the owner to take away, and with bags even heavier we were ready to go back home.
I took care of preparing all the festive meals, you may know by now that I love cooking, and the Dègustateur took control of the wine.
On Christmas Day as per our small tradition we walked to The Roman Forum which is closed on that day. We found a perfect spot to pause and admire its full and unspoiled glory.
And then came the day to take a morning train and set off to Venice. For us every opportunity is good enough to visit this breathtaking city. It was the first time that we have visited Venice during New Year’s Eve. We hardly ever celebrate the end of the year, I find it too commercial and cliched. I’d rather spend the evening having a nice simple meal sipping a good wine in a homely atmosphere. Since Venice feels like home to us by now, why not to watch the fireworks there? So we went.
The train journey is never a hardship, usually I catch up on reading or come up with new ideas what to do, visit or revisit. Mainly the agenda evolves around the food which I’ve grown very fond of.
Once you understand Italian regional food you will never get bored. Quite the opposite.
And the food of the lagoon and its produce is no exception to that rule.
The weather was just perfect, crispy cold but sunny days with the fog settling on the water in the evenings. So mesmerising and magical, even spooky at times.
As soon as we arrive in Venice we tend to go for cicchetti, small snacks typically served in bàcara which can be either served on a piece of bread or polenta but they could also be small servings of food like a meatball, moscardino, artichoke heart, boiled egg with an anchovy and so forth. All washed down with a glass of lovely prosecco. And that is exactly what we did upon our arrival a couple of weeks ago.
The weather was so beautiful, in fact perfect for a boat trip. It didn’t take us long to decide to make a bit of an experience of a Sunday lunch and we were off to the blissfully quiet Torcello island. A home to only a handful of inhabitants but also home to the iconic by now, Inn and restaurant Locanda Cipriani. Ernest Hemingway having been smitten by the island’s unique charm, settled in the Locanda Cipriani during the fall of 1948 dividing his time between writing and duck hunting. Having read “Autumn in Venice” by Andrea di Robilant talking about Hemingway’s love affair with Venice and the muse he met there called Adriana, I have been longing to visit Torcello island ever since.
We enjoyed every single course we had, baked scallops, langoustines in saor, pancakes with radicchio and veal ragù followed by fegato alla veneziana (calves liver with onions and polenta) and fish and shellfish soup. We discovered yet another great wine from the Veneto of which I managed to buy one bottle in a local wine bar to bring back to Rome.
Cold weather calls for pasta e fagioli, a warming and thick borlotti bean cream with some pancetta and short pasta. I make it at home very often. Not only because it reminds me of Venice but because it is also simple to make and delicious. There is nothing more comforting than sitting by the window in one of the Venetian osteria and watching the world go by while eating a warm plate of pasta e fagioli. The world seems to slow down. I feel warm and calm. Who knows, maybe that is the influence of “La Serenissima” on me?
The almost 25 minute long firework display was extraordinary, one of the most spectacular ones that we have seen. We are asking each other right now: shall we see it again?
A part of the fun is to revisit our already favourite restaurants but also to discover new ones. This trip was extremely successful. I have yet more eateries and new dishes that I will be looking forward to having again to add to the already extensive list.
Having bought two kilos of bigoli pasta (not easily found in Rome) we are ready to go back.
On the train I am thinking of a menu for a dinner with friends just a few days away. I’ve been talking so much about bigoli in salsa to them, that they have built up a good appetite for this dish. The sauce is simple, made of onions and anchovies but the key is to allow the onions to sweat and turn into a sweet sauce contrasted by the saltiness of the anchovies. Venice was once the largest spice trade port in Europe and you can find the influences of that period in many dishes. My little touch on the bigoli in salsa is to add a pinch of cinnamon, which in my opinion binds the flavours of the lagoon and its history together.
But then I could still remember that lovely creamy chestnut and langoustine risotto which I had on New Year’s Day. Well, the train journey was long enough to allow me to decide.
In Rome we have artichokes alla Romana, stuffed with mentuccia, parsley and garlic and cooked until tender and drizzled with some lemon juice just before serving. They are more laborious but definitely worth it. In Venice the artichoke hearts are the local treat. They are fried and then cooked with garlic, lots of fresh parsley and white wine. So I made them to start our dinner with.
I had promised my friends the bigoli pasta dish a while ago so I kept the promise and we had them as the following course. The risotto will wait for another dinner, perhaps just two of us and that lovely bottle of red wine that we brought with us? I think yes.
In Rome I began to make “my Italian meatballs” with grated lemon zest and parmesan cheese.
I also like to add minced veal to the meat mixture. They are very delicate yet distinctive in flavour and I serve them with a plain tomato sauce. They get better overnight hence I decided to prepare them for our last savoury course. That way I can just heat them up and be able to dedicate more time to the guests. There is always a salad, a plain salad made of my latest obsession: radicchietto salad leaves dressed with garlic infused olive oil and a good wine vinegar.
Having just returned from Venice, I couldn’t choose anything else to end the meal but tiramisù (link). Italian desserts are not overly complicated but they require good quality ingredients as well as a perfect balance and flavour combination. There are so many versions of how to make “the perfect” tiramisù in respect of the alcohol being added or the coffee and so forth.
Here is my recipe that creates the sought after by us delicacy of the textures with just a hint of coffee and warmth of alcohol running through (a blend of rum and Marsala wine).