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Posts Tagged ‘Venetian food’

Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the radiator in my apartment had remained on all night long. The blankets that I had, in my feverish state, piled on myself the afternoon before were now tossed in a pile at the foot of my bed. Even so, I slept soundly—except for a disturbing dream about missing my alarm. When my alarm woke me reliably at 6:30am, I was relieved to find my cold to be much better, with no lingering trace of food poisoning. I did have a bit of a sinus headache, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from taking one final day trip from Trieste.

During nearly every one of my trips to Friuli, a day trip to Venezia was requisite. Even though it’s one of the most touristy cities in Italy, I can’t help ranking it my favorite place in the world. Admittedly, there’s much to dislike about Venezia. Well, actually just one thing: the incessant masses of people that descend upon the city, particularly during Carnevale, Christmas, and summertime. These noisy, unrelenting crowds have made many of my visits less than enjoyable, and sometimes downright miserable. On this particular October day, I would happily be avoiding the high seasons that I had landed amidst in years prior.

It was another muggy day, quite foggy when I set out first thing in the morning. On my way to Trieste’s train station, it even began to sprinkle a little. Fortunately, the sky had cleared by the time I arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia station around 11:00am. Unlike my other recent day trips, I had no agenda at all, other than to wander aimlessly and to eat plenty of cicchetti.

Following the well-worn path through the Cannaregio and across the Rialto Bridge, I ended up at Cantina Do Mori. Established in 1462, it is officially the oldest bacaro in Venezia. There, I had a glass of prosecco with a plate of assorted cicchetti: velvety grilled eggplant, crispy fried zucchini, a savory polpetta (meatball), crostini topped with creamy baccalà mantecato (puréed salt cod), and a succulent crab claw.

From there, I wandered through the fish market, stopping frequently to admire all the beautiful seafood. On my last trip, having followed a similar route, I remember wishing that I had had an apartment, so that I could take some mussels or baby octopus home to cook. This time, I did have an apartment in Trieste, but I was dissuaded by the mere fact that any fish I bought would remain unrefrigerated for the entire afternoon, including the two-hour train ride back. (Five years later, that dream of being able to shop in the fish market would finally come to fruition, when my family rented an apartment in Venezia for the Christmas holidays!)

I crossed back over the Rialto Bridge and wound my way through San Marco. Across the Accademia Bridge, I headed straight for my favorite bacaro, Cantinone Già Schiavi. There, I had another glass of prosecco with another plate of assorted cicchetti. Già Schiavi specializes in crostini (or sometimes referred to there as crostoni), those little slices of bread with various toppings. I chose toppings of baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor (marinated sardines), and salsa tartara di tonno e cacao amaro (tuna salad sprinkled with cocoa powder).

Instead of venturing back into the fray of the more lively neighborhoods, I spent some time strolling through the relatively tranquil alleys of the Dorsoduro. When I tired of walking, I found a bench on the Zattere, the promenade that runs along the southern shore of the Dorsoduro. I sat there awhile, gazing across the water toward the island of Giudecca. In contrast to the tight, confined alleys, out here in the wide-open space, I could relish the cool breezes drifting off the lagoon.

After my brief respite, I headed back across the Accademia Bridge, where I came upon a man playing the saxophone for tips. The melody was hauntingly beautiful and literally brought a few tears to my eyes. I dropped a €2 coin into his hat and continued on to Chiesa di San Vidal, where my mom and I had attended a performance by the string ensemble Interpreti Veneziani the previous winter.

Having seen the group on several previous trips, my mom had a growing collection of their CDs. On our trip together, I had stopped in to buy her a couple of CDs for Christmas, but not remembering which albums she already owned, I asked the attendant which ones were the newest. With cheerful courtesy, she pointed out their two most recent releases, which I bought. This time, still not recalling which ones my mom owned, I repeated my question. I recognized the attendant to be the same woman as before, but now she looked at me as if I had just asked the most idiotic question on Earth. Even though I spoke Italian, she responded tersely in English, “None of them are new! They are classical music, not rock!” Sigh. So I just picked one at random to purchase—happily, it turned out to have been a good choice.

It was mid-afternoon by now, so I began making my way back to the train station, aiming to arrive in time to catch the 4:10pm train. Inevitably, though not at all regrettably, I got myself turned around in circles. As long as there was no great urgency, I always rather enjoyed the experience of getting lost in Venezia.

I made it to the station just before 4:00pm to find that an earlier train was running late, and I had just enough time to catch that one. My headache had never completely gone away all day, so I was glad for the chance to sit and stare out the window for the duration of the ride back to Trieste.

I arrived back in my apartment by 6:30pm, in time to fix a bite to eat. As my days in Trieste were drawing to a close, I hadn’t bothered to stock up on many groceries. I was out of bread and had no more fresh fruits or vegetables. I made myself a scrambled egg, accompanied by a hunk of cheese and some leftover sautéed eggplant.

Most evenings I had been eating an apple after dinner, but since I had no more fresh fruit, I decided to finally open the single can of pineapple I had bought on my first trip to the mini supermercato nearly three weeks earlier. My cans of tuna had had pull-tops, so this was my first time using the apartment’s can opener. With growing frustration, I found that the gears wouldn’t turn and the blade wouldn’t even clamp down onto the can. Turning the piece-of-shit can opener sideways, I managed to clamp it down tightly enough to puncture the side of the can. Repeating this, I slowly poked holes all the way around, until I was able to remove the lid.

But after all that effort, I found the pineapple to be cloyingly sweet, with the unpleasant texture of rubber. I just couldn’t force myself to eat it. So I pitched it and instead dug into the putizza I had bought at Pasticceria Bomboniera a few days earlier. With chunks of dark chocolate and rum-soaked raisins spiraling through the tender dough, it was a much better choice for dessert!

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Do MoriWhenever I traveled to Friuli–Venezia Giulia, I could never bear to leave without visiting the neighboring Veneto region and my favorite city in the world: Venezia. My five-week-long trip of summer 2005 had almost come to a close, and I was taking the train from Udine into my beloved La Serenissima for the day. After three previous visits to Venezia during Carnevale (of which only one was intentionally planned to coincide with the event), I found myself desperately longing to encounter fewer crowds. The Biennale film festival was scheduled to begin the following day, however, so I was inevitably doomed to battle another sea of tourists.

Do MoriWhen I got off the train, I headed directly for the Rialto. Instead of choosing a single restaurant at lunchtime, my plan was to nibble on cicchetti throughout the day at my favorite bacari. My first stop was one of the best in the city, Do Mori, where I savored crostini with baccalà mantecato (puréed salt cod), a crab claw, and a baby octopus, all washed down with a refreshing midmorning glass of prosecco.

scallopsAt the nearby fish market, I wandered through the crowded aisles, wishing I had an apartment where I could take some of the beautiful seafood home to cook (that dream would come true one December five years later). I did purchase some scallop shells, which I needed for my recipe capesante gratinate (scallops baked with a bread crumb topping). Even though the oven-safe shells that I had bought at a gourmet food store back home were usable, they had been bleached an unnatural shade of white, their enormous size dwarfing the scallops within. The ones I picked up in Venezia were the real thing, fresh from the sea, with all the markings in pink and mauve that a scallop should have.

Cantinone Gia SchiaviI crossed the Rialto Bridge and made my way through Piazza San Marco to the Accademia Bridge, which led to one of my favorite sestieri, Dorsoduro. I had stayed in this relatively quiet neighborhood twice before, and my heart was still brimming with wistful memories of hidden alleys, misty canals, and the most tantalizing cicchetti at Cantinone Già Schiavi. Their vast selection of crostini, for which they are best known, included toppings of baccalà (both mantecato and alla cappucina); tomato, brie, and anchovy; and fluffy herb-flecked ricotta with sun-dried tomato. Knowing that I had one more stop on my bar-hopping lunch, I settled for just one bite—tuna salad sprinkled with cocoa—and another glass of prosecco.

By early afternoon, the late July sun was becoming unbearably hot. Not a single breeze blew in from the lagoon to ease the scorching temperatures. In an effort to cool off, I treated myself to a gelato (cioccolato and stracciatella) on my way to the Chiesa di San Vidal, where I bought my mom another CD by her favorite string ensemble, Interpreti Veneziani.

Ai Promessi SposiThe throngs of tourists in San Marco proved to be too much for me, so I decided to wind my way back through the less populated calli of Dorsoduro and Santa Croce. By the time I reached the Cannaregio sestiere, it was already 3:00pm. My final cicchetti stop of the day, Ai Promessi Sposi, was still open, though empty. Seeing as I had been snacking on and off all day, I only wanted a few more bites. I requested a crab claw, a little eggplant, some baccalà, and one canocia (mantis shrimp). The man at the counter told me to find a table, and he would bring me my plate. When he did five minutes later, the plate was twice as large as I had expected, piled high with food, and heated in the microwave. He had given me four crab claws (these were deep-fried and not nearly as exquisite as Do Mori’s), a huge serving of marinated eggplant, and a mammoth portion of baccalà (this one prepared with potatoes, olives, and anchovies). He had forgotten the canocia, but I wasn’t about to point that out. I just ordered myself a third glass of prosecco and decided to call this meal an early dinner.

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baccala mantecatoMy recipe for Baccalà Mantecato has been featured at www.bbaudiology.com as a “healthy hearing recipe.” The original version, Baccalà in Bianco, was published in my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy.

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gondolasSomehow or other, I always seemed to wind up in Italy during Carnevale season. The first time was coincidental, when I went to Friuli to visit the Ledragomma GymnastikBall factory. I had stayed in Udine for several nights, which gave me plenty of time for some day trips—one of which was to my favorite city, Venezia. It must have been a weekday, for the crowds were virtually non-existent, and I had been able to drift along the calli in pure bliss.

The second time was with Mike; we had planned a few days in Venezia before heading on to Udine and then Firenze. Since we had found a quaint hotel on a quiet canal in the Dorsoduro, we were able to avoid much of the Carnevale chaos. With the exception of one weekend, when we found ourselves in human gridlock trying to cross the Rialto Bridge, things weren’t too bad. Or possibly the wonderful moments—like meandering back to our hotel after dinner, hand in hand, alone in the dark mist, with ghostly images of masked figures and strains of Vivaldi echoing through my mind—pushed all the bad ones to the recesses of my memory, because I had the crazy idea on yet another February trip to spend a day in Venezia.

This time, it happened to be a Saturday—a rainy Saturday. Venezia during Carnevale on a rainy weekend—it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it was the only free day in my schedule, and I just couldn’t bear being in this part of Italy without seeing La Serenissima at least once.

From Udine, Venezia is a leisurely 2-hour train ride. I had no plans for the day, except to wander around the labyrinth of narrow alleys and lose myself in the magic of the city. This was not to be. As soon as I stepped off the train, I did become lost—lost in the throngs of tourists pushing their way to San Marco. The rain was gushing down, and we were packed like anchovies in alleyways barely wide enough for one umbrella. It was impossible to see anything but the tourist in front of you; if your focus strayed for one second to look in a shop window, you risked being shoved and knocked to the ground. A ceiling of umbrellas masked the skyward view but didn’t seem to block the downpour. My pants were soaked up to my knees. My umbrella broke as I struggled to wrestle it free from the gusts of wind that whipped around corners and threatened to carry me aloft.

When the tight passageway finally opened up into Piazza San Marco, I could breathe a little easier, although the masses were still too close for comfort. The line to enter the Basilica stretched halfway across the square! I continued walking westward in the direction of the Dorsoduro, where I hoped the crowds would be somewhat thinner. I was also craving a bite to eat in my favorite cicchetti bar.

Cantinone Gia SchiaviThe Dorsoduro sestiere lies across the Accademia Bridge, and while it is home to many of the city’s tourist sites—including Santa Maria della Salute and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection—it doesn’t typically see the same crowds as San Marco or the Rialto. So when I reached my destination, Cantinone Già Schiavi, situated on a small canal across from Campo San Trovaso, there was room for me to squeeze my way up to the bar and enjoy a plate of bite-size treats. There were chunks of salami, mortadella, and cheese; anchovies, pearl onions, and peperoncini; and freshly prepared crostoni (mini open-faced sandwiches)—each serving speared on a toothpick. The crostoni came with countless irresistible toppings such as baccalà (both mantecato and alla cappucina); tomato, brie, and anchovy; fluffy herb-flecked ricotta with sun-dried tomato; and tuna salad with a sprinkle of cocoa. All of this I enjoyed with a glass of prosecco.

Heading back to the train station, I took a roundabout path along the outskirts of the Dorsoduro and avoided much of the madness. Even though I appreciated being able to pause occasionally to gaze around in awe, I still found myself continually dodging hordes of people as they streamed by. There was no chance of getting myself lost on this trip—literally or figuratively.

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fave dei mortiMy recipe for Fave dei Morti (Almond Cookies), as excerpted from Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy,  is featured today at www.chicgalleria.com. Translated literally as “beans of the dead,” Italian fave dei morti cookies are typically prepared during the months of October and November to celebrate All Saints’ Day. This recipe was given to me by the Stoppar family at Pasticceria Penso in Trieste.

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My recipe for baccalà (salt cod stew), as excerpted from Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy,  is featured this week at www.chicgalleria.com.

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My recipe for sarde in saor (sardoni in savor, in Triestine dialect), as excerpted from Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy,  is featured today as a Super Food Recipe at www.alwaysnewyou.com.

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