Simple things are often the most exquisite

April 27, 2021

It has finally rained in Venice. And by rain I mean a steady rainfall for a few days. This very much awaited moment has come.

You probably must be wondering, why do I like wet weather so much.
It’s not so much about the rain as such but about the changing weather fallowing the seasons. You see, I was born and grew up in Poland where I lived with four distinct seasons. The smell of young grass, first snowdrops followed by daffodils, bright and shiny cherry blossoms and the fresh air of the woodlands with all their earthy notes accompanied by the sounds of the indigenous wild life is what I have in mind when I think of spring. What I also miss is our Polish Golden Autumn, warm post summer months embellished with gradually falling leaves, which change their colour into a panoply of yellow, red and brown hues. I can imagine myself right now walking along the majestic tree lined avenues feeling a golden light gently caressing my skin before it cools down towards the evening. After autumn comes winter, most memorable and beautiful when shrouded with white, crisp and light snow flakes. Both the cities and country side resemble a fairy tale-like and almost unrealistic land of dreams.

So far I’ve experienced snow in Italy once whilst we were living in Rome. It was an early morning and we rushed from our bed, got dressed in a frenzy and walked from Piazza del Popolo towards La Scalinata joining Piazza di Spagna leaving the first foot prints behind us on the untouched snow. Then we walked through little allies and enjoyed a very Narnia-like moment, knowing that it wouldn’t last long with the rising temperatures.

Apart from (mainly) sudden and short lived heavy downpours it didn’t rain much in Rome.
In fact we were going through periods of a couple of months of clear blue skies and summer heat temperatures where even the most resistant plants turned yellow and just dried out. Hence my nostalgia and inner longing for proper weather changes and a desire to experience storms, lighting and the entire aura surrounding the life by the open water. If you’ve read any of my previous posts mentioning Venice, you will know by now that for me La Serenissima is most charming, atmospheric and majestic during cold misty wintery days.

On the second day of rain I sat down at my desk by the gothic tall windows overlooking our canal and decided to write a few lines and share my latest culinary home adventures.

We are still in a period of another lockdown and the restaurants have only been able to open for take away service. As much as I enjoy being in the kitchen and using almost all of my pots I’ve started making more one pot dishes, those that are easy to reheat the following day and that are just a matter of stirring, tossing and assembling.
On top of that I’ve found a perfect formula to break the daily home cooking routine. Twice a week we have take away food. There is a kebab, which we always crave, so good, and Japanese food, from a restaurant next door, luckily the best one in Venice.

I’ve been cooking some of the dishes that I make time and time again which provide me with great joy, but also I’ve been conjuring up many new simple, flavoursome, delicious and brimming with solace meals. Firm evidence that when it comes to food, simple things are often the most exquisite. Italy of course is no exception to this rule. In fact, Italian (regional) food is a celebration of simplicity.

Some of my latest culinary adventures have been dictated by the local produce, weather, restaurants I’ve eaten in, articles and books I’ve recently read or culinary programs that I’ve been watching lately. Cosy and warming comfort food like: leek an potato bake; buckwheat, Toma cheese and Swiss chard gratin; different kinds of meat stew in a tomato and juniper berry sauce or a fish and shellfish stew in a fennel, tomato and red wine sauce coming from older BBC programmes with Antonio Carluccio (who sadly is no longer with us). These programs are not new to me but with honesty I must admit, that after having lived in Italy for a while now, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of the message they are sending.

Just before the latest lockdown we were frequent visitors to the Island of Giudecca.
By accident, as it happens very often, we found our latest favourite osteria. We judged it by stopping for an aperitivo followed by a bowl of pasta as we got hungry almost immediately.
We booked a table for Sunday lunch, and the next Sunday lunch and so forth. Only local food of the lagoon, made to perfection and extremely welcoming, relaxed and just fun characters running the place. It was the beginning of the season for moeche, the Venetian lagoon soft shell crab, deliciously sweet, deep fried and served with a creamy yellow polenta (best one I’ve had). You can spot the moeche on the menu if you are in Venice in spring or autumn, and that is something worth trying. We used to finish our lunch with a glass of a chilled dessert wine made of wild strawberries. The flavour was so honest end evocative that I travelled with my tastebuds back home to Poland, where strawberries, raspberries and wild strawberries are second to none.
The wine is made by a family friend and you can’t find it on the wine list, it’s a little treat for the regular crowd enjoying their food accompanied by some wine.

The dish Tagliatelle Gratinati / Baked Tagliatelle with Ham and Béchamel Sauce came about as a result of recent trips to Giudecca Island whilst passing by Harry’s Dolci eatery. It lends itself very well to storing and reheating, therefore I always make a larger portion and we happily finish it off the following day, something that you can’t underestimate the value of during the full on home cooking covid time.

The asparagus season, both for white and green, is well under way and a few weeks ago I shared a recipe for an Asparagus, Speck and Soft Cheese Tart. Speck is very often used in the region of Veneto and it is a catalyst of flavour. It gives a subtle salty smoky note to the tart and creates a perfect harmony with the asparagus, which is cooked through but still retains some crunch.

In Veneto asparagus is usually served with lashings of an egg sauce. You basically crush hard boiled eggs with a fork and stir them with a vinegar and mustard dressing (or you can blend the sauce into a smooth paste). A very simple way of having them and it is almost a dish on its own, perhaps with a slice of crunchy bread.

While reading „Che la Festa Cominci” by Niccolò Ammaniti, a novel depicting a certain Roman social scene and events, I stumbled upon one line that particularly caught my attention. It refers to frittata di macceroni made by auntie Imma in Gaeta. Gaeta, in the region of Lazio, is known for it’s olives. I can’t buy them here, but instead I used olive taggiasche from Liguria, added some capers and tomato sauce, stirred in some pasta, effectively making Pasta alla Puttanesca, from which I made a frittata the next day. In Italy it is a very common way of using up what is left and transforming it into another meal. And by simply frying a firm flat disc of pasta from both sides we have a crunchy and delicious frittata. In the traditional recipe you will not find anchovies, but I like adding them. They bring more flavour and a certain character to the dish.

Delving into the depths of simplicity combined with a good produce and the passion with which Italians cook I would put forward Spaghetti al Limone e Mascarpone as a very strong contender. Again, fresh mascarpone, a dash of cream and an intense, refreshing and vibrant perfume of a good lemon is all you need to throw together a very summery, easy and immensely pleasing lunch.

Occasionally I pick up for us a selection of small pastries from different pastry shops as they all have a slightly different offer and insight into the Venetian sweet tooth. I very much like little and very neat bite size portions of tiramisù sold at Pasticceria Tonolo.
Moreover, apart from swapping savoiardi biscuits with thin slices of a sponge cake, a layer of crunchy dark chocolate runs through it, which makes all the individual components come together beautifully. Vanilla and Crunchy Dark Chocolate Tiramisù is my humble version of the tiramisù served at Tonolo (Dorsoduro) and I hope you will find it as simple and exquisite as I do.