My dining table, a marble work space for rolling out pasta sheets, my desk, situated right next to the highest windows I have ever had in any place I’ve lived in. The windows, floor to ceiling tall, widely open to a gothic styled balcony, on which we planted jasmine once we moved in. The plants are still small, but give them some time and they will spread across turning vibrant green generously dotted with white little flowers of the most magical scent.
A red-hued palazzetto (a little palazzo), perched on a canal, has become our home in Venice for the time being. One starts to automatically imagine grand Venetian buildings stretching along the Grand Canal when you see the word: palazzo (palace). You see, in Italy it is how many representative residential buildings are generally called. Our’s is a lot more modest than that but still, think of a long piano nobile room with the high dark beamed ceilings and granite mosaic floors .
The lapping water of the canal that runs alongside our house sets you immediately in the right mood. There is nothing more pleasant than listening to the gentle sound of splashing water, listening to the falling rain or passing little boats, mostly with a dog on board, whilst having a meal or catching up on some writing. Gondolas pass below our windows too. I get the treat of hearing anecdotes and stories being told and exchanged between the gondoliers and the tourists, this year a lot less so and predominantly Italian.
Venice is a dream at the moment. Completely empty, so beautiful and romantic. Selfishly, it’s a really incredible and unforgettable experience, but it’s impossible not to feel the devastating impact on businesses.
While I am sitting at my desk my mind is drifting away for two reasons.
The first one being the very relaxing sound of the rain. And the second, I am pondering in my head over a Valentine’s dinner menu. We have never made a big thing about Valentine’s Day. This year however, when the course of the day is dictated by breakfast, lunch and dinner at home (and a occasional aperitivo if premises are open), I decided for this day to feel a bit more special than in the past and different from the every-day meals we have. I’m thinking of the Dégustateur’s latest favourite pasta dish for our main. A homemade walnut paste with a hint of garlic tossed with just a touch of fresh herbs. Chopped winter tomato adds freshness and elevates this dish onto another level. The walnut paste can be prepared in advance, later on it is lengthened with the pasta cooking liquid turning it into a very cosy yet elegant and delicious sauce.
Seafood or shellfish has always been in a treat for us. Somehow it has the notion of something special, perhaps because it’s seen as a slightly more sophisticated produce to handle or more complicated to prepare. I’ve got scallops in my mind, perhaps baked with some prosecco and baby artichokes in their shells. In Rome I managed to buy scallops twice over the entire period of us living there and we have been craving for them a lot ever since. But Valnetine’s Day is on Sunday so perhaps I will give the scallops a miss. Although I’ve never had a bad experience with my fish monger, I am always quite apprehensive about leaving fish or shellfish for the following day (based on a past bad experience).
I will buy an octopus instead which I always feel it’s a safe choice and it literally just cooks itself. All I’ll have to do is to watch the timing so it turns out just perfect and tender. Making it a la Gallega: seasoned with flaky sea salt, smoked paprika and finished with a splosh of good olive oil is so stress free but the end result is extraordinary and it’s the Dégustateur’s firm favourite. Whilst I am playing around in the kitchen we will start the evening with little nibbles (in the kitchen) like sliced cured ham, Gorgonzola Dolce and Mascarpone log with hunks of a good fresh crunchy bread and a glass of prosecco (extra chilled for me).
A special occasion requires a special wine, which I have already bought. I’ve always wanted to try Orto di Venezia fine white wine made on the Island of Sant’ Erasmo. It could’t be more local if you tried. I am so excited about this meal already.
It’s time choose dolci. There is one in particular that we both feel strongly about. Every so often I make this decadent, moist melted chocolate and chestnut puree cake which smells of hazelnuts. For me these are the quintessential flavours of Piedmont, the flavours we love.
Over the Christmas festivities and New Year’s Eve our dining table was lit by a twinkling of candle light only, lots of them. And that is how I’ll prepare that same table for the Valentine’s dinner with hope of creating a different and special atmosphere, suitable for the occasion.