Autumn is here. The time of year that I had been waiting for perhaps the most.
Of course I love summer too, to be able to feel the sun kissing your skin, long warm evenings on the terrace, a dip in the sea and a different lighter kind of food and cooking as well as a bellini for an aperitivo made of fresh, ripe white peaches at their best.
I absolutely adore chilly and crispy mornings and I have always loved watching a place wake up. It doesn’t mean to be out there at 6am and seeing an empty place. It’s about the whole process and ritual of the first morning coffee (currently still being able to have on the terrace), first cornetto or brioche and their smells travelling incorruptibly along the narrow allies, the opening of your local news agent’s, people on the way to work, markets or while running errands. The air and the water, in the case of Venice, feel so fresh, clean and unspoiled. This particular part of the day lasts only for a few moments, it disappears almost if it was touched by a magic wand and the dream is over.
To make our mornings complete, the long awaited opening of the “little pasticceria” slightly hidden from the main thoroughfare, with the best krapfen (as light as air fried doughnut and even more heavenly pastry cream filling) and focaccia Veneziana (fugassa in Venetian dialect) I’ve ever tried has finally opened it’s doors again and it’s “forno”. We gave it the name “little psaticceria” as it is small and cosy and knowing our tendency soon we will rename it to “krapfen and fugassa place”. I’ve grown very fond of Venetian pastries. They are made with such care and finesse but it doesn’t necessarily stand for light. Quite the opposite, they feel velvety rich and the flavours are profound, deep and absolutely irresistible. Once you’ve had your first bite you will be immediately thinking about having another. These are our little treats, guilty pleasures or even sins that I can’t and I don’t want to resist. In Venice, of course, I walk a lot. I’ve always done so. After having passed a few bridges whilst running errands, there isn’t even any shade of guilt left from my indulgence.
I am a great believer and I fallow the rule of eating everything in moderation. There are days of special meals, feasts and way too many krapfens, but then, there are also days of lighter, simpler less rich meals to follow. It seems like a perfect balance to me, a rather greedy person, who loves to cook, eat and read cook books in bed before falling asleep.
Our diet and the way of eating, since moving to Venice, has changed as a natural process of following the local food traditions and the seasons. I must have already mentioned that shopping for fish at the Rialto Market had been my dream. And here I am, after four months along the way, I have “my” market days. Most often it is Tuesday and Saturday, and I like my little routine. For meat I shop near our house at Campo Santa Margherita, fruit and vegetables I select either from the boat at Campo San Barnaba or from one of the stands at the Rialto Market, which I particularly like.Then during the week there are days when we go out. Until now every Friday we would travel to Burano, a little fishing island in the lagoon, so distinctive with its colourful houses. The restaurant Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero, where you can sit by a peaceful canal and where I’ve learned about cooking fish in prosecco, giving it a sweeter and a very pleasant note, was our destination for dinner on warmer evenings. We loved the experience of eating outdoors despite the sudden weather changing conditions. It’s all a part of the experience of living on a lagoon. Trattoria da Romano is another place, where we’ve had lovely and delicious dinners so far. These are two institutions, establishments on the island which in my opinion are really worthwhile visiting (and making an effort of setting off on a 40 min journey by a vaporetto from the Fondamenta Nove stop). A very particular dish to try is Risotto ai Gò, which may seem a very simple dish but it is it’s simplicity which makes it so special. In Burano it is called Risotto alla Buranella and it’s secret lies in the stock, prepared from little fish which live only in the lagoon called ghiozzo. Perhaps not the most beautiful fish to look at but is so rich in flavour.
Last Saturday we went for a day trip to the island of Chioggia. Weekends have been quite busy in Venice but Chioggia is less of a tourist destination. It is actually the home of the largest fishing fleet in Italy. It’s canals were calm and unspoiled with a few friendly locals passing by, which only made our lunch al fresco more special.
With the vaporetto line number 1 we arrived to Lido. From there we took the bus, line 11, which takes you the entire way to Chioggia. By the entire way I mean the bus being transported later on a ferry, after that reaching Pellestrina and then taking another boat waiting for the bus to take us finally to Chioggia. A smooth and well organised trip provided by public transport. It takes about two hours to get there from Venice, but we had so much fun.
On one of the occasions whilst discussing with the Dégustateur food in Italy and the vast choice of produce available, we agreed that the autumn for us is the most flavoursome and varied time of year.
Plums and apples to bake with. Chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts to follow. Pumpkin, cavolo nero and pomegranates. Mushrooms and truffles.Then the artichoke season starts along with all manner of radicchio from Veneto. On top of that I have just managed to buy the first puntarelle of the season at the next door barge at Campo San Barnaba.
I have been tasting and cooking a lot of local specialities, either by reproducing the flavours I’ve come across in trattorias or restaurants and asking questions or going through many older cook books with no pictures but being a mine of ideas and inspiration. We particularly love scallops. Apart from having them very often on a slightly spicier note pan fried witch chorizo or smoked paprika, I’ve been making them also the Venetian way. With time resulting in my own close interpretation of the tradition. Here I mean scallops au gratin or baked in a leek and prosecco sauce for example. Baked fish in salt is always a treat for us and I prepare it very often. We’ve recently had trout with herbs in cartoccio (au papillote) and moscardini in ever so slightly spicy tomato sauce with olives (olive tagiasche to be precise).
I’ve made my first proper attempt to cook bouliabase, a very well known french fish soup. I asked my fish monger and he gave me three John Dory heads from which I prepared a very good stock, a crucial step towards preparing the dish. I finally made a use of the Pastis de Marselle, which I had bought a long time ago in France with exactly that purpose in mind. I was rather taken by the result and I will be making it again, most likely this week.
Fondi di carciofi, artichoke hearts play a very important role in the Venetian diet as well as when I want to quickly conjure up a lunch or dinner without too much planning. The fondi are readily available here in the markets and they are already prepared for you, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to prepare the artichokes yourself. I cook them with enough stock, light chicken stock being my favourite, to dip a lovely crunchy bread into. Some gorgonzola dolce and a few slices of bresaola, a glass of Prosecco perhaps and to me, a very delectable meal is ready.
A radicchio, smoked pancetta and borlotti bean salad is a must try. It’s really worth it and so representative of the Veneto region. Use any radicchio you can find. I’ve noticed that many kinds of radicchio have become more accessible, popular and easier to find in grocery stores outside of Italy.
Occasionally, when I stay at home for a few days on my own, I cook myself chicken with chanterelle mushrooms. Normally I’d buy chicken legs which have so much more depth and cook them slowly, but during the days when it’s just me I like something quick. Instead, I cut a chicken breast into fairly thick slices and pan fry them with chanterelle mushrooms. It’s my latest favourite especially when finished with a few drops of Marsala. Oh, and some Pattate alla Veneziana to go with it. Love the combination.
Once you stay in Venice for a couple of days you will notice that polenta is very present in the local way of eating. For me it is a comfort food of Northern Italy. There are many ways of eating it: cold, cut and char grilled or as a creamy warm accompaniment to the protein.
Baking with polenta is no exception. Upon our arrival to Venice we discovered zaletti (polenta, raisin and grappa biscuits).They gain the yellow colour from the yellow polenta and in fact, in Venetian dialect, they translate to „little yellow” (biscuits).
Very often the raisins are pre-soaked in grappa but you can use marsala or rum instead if you don’t have grappa to hand. Giving zaletti an oval shape is traditional, but you could always be creative and make them round or of a shape of a walnut. Grating some lemon zest into the dough and adding some vanilla will only make them more delectable and I hope you will enjoy them too.