a tavola - the cuisine of veneto
(return to food)
Venetian cuisine is known for its variety of dishes and ingredients. This
can be expected in a lagoon city which, though born of its own waters, has
always maintained close ties with the mainland as well as flourishing trade
routes with many faraway countries, from northern Europe to the far East.
Here you find not only the dried Baltic cod and the exquisite Asian spices,
but also the genuine if perhaps more modest fresh vegetables from the
estuary islands, fish from the Venice lagoon and game fowl captured in the
barene, or shallows. A visit to Venice offers an opportunity to discover
a fascinating gastronomic tradition.
Venetian cuisine is simple and tasty, fish-based. Vongole, Capparozzoli,
Cappe (clams), Cozze (mussels), Gamberi, Gamberetti,
Gamberoni, Scampi, Astici (all in the family of shrimps),
Seppie, Seppioline (cuttle-fish) are
the most popular. It is, however, difficult if not impossible to have
fresh fish on Mondays because most fishermen do not work on Sunday nights.
You will also notice there is no fresh fish at the market or in the shops
Beans are another Venetian speciality. You can have pasta e fagioli (in
dialect: pasta e fasoi) but ask in advance if there is meat or meat
products in their recipe. Obviously you can have salads including bean
salad; and there is a variety of pasta, spaghetti, rice, gnocchi, and
Grappa is grape pomace, the remnants of winegrape pressings. Derived from
the crushed skins, pulp and seeds of winegrapes, grappa is produced
throughout Italy and is generally considered to be one of the most
elementary of distilled spirits-an authentic case of Distilling 101, if you
will. Regardless of which accounts of the history of distilling you adhere
to, it is certain that distillation of some forms of grape juice was
occurring in Italy by the 12th century. For centuries, grappa has been the
peasant's drink of choice. Farmers in bucolic districts such as Piedmont,
the Veneto, Umbria, Friuli, and Tuscany customarily wanted a strong drink
to help patch up their workday wounds and salve their aches for the night
It was grappa that became Italy's national spirit. It is a liqueur now.
I first tasted the various kinds of Grappa in Basano del Grappa. I loved
Basan del Grappa but not the Grappa. It was too strong for me. Now Grappa
is being made in all kinds of fruit flavors which are more appealing.
PANE - BREAD
La polenta - Cornmeal mush
Polenta is considered by the inhabitants of Veneto to be a proper bread.
Before the arrival of corn, buckwheat was used instead, in combination with
millet and fava beans. Around the middle of the 16th century, the Venitians
began to import and employ corn. A famous dish which unites the Venetians'
love of polenta with their love of meat is polenta ed osei, (E-mail me if
you would like the recipe) polenta accompanied by small birds roasted over
a low flame and flavored with lard, sage and olive oil.
PRIMI PIATTI - FIRST COURSES
In Veneto, the first courseconsists primarily of rice. Cultivated in the
province of Verona, it is prepared in dozens of ways, with each area adding
its own local flavor to the recipe. Perhaps the most common example of this
is Risi e Bisi (rice with peas - recipe follows) of which there are at
least ten different versions to choose from. Besides this famous dish which
opened the Doge's lunch menu during the fest of San Marco, Veneto claims up
to 40 recipes, all combining rice with all manner of other ingredients:
meat, fish and, above all, vegetables.
Pasta e Fabioli - Pasta and Bean Soup
Originally a country dish, it is now a very popular Venetian dish.
Use freshly shelled Lamon or Borlottini (Baete beans. Those from S.
Erasmo would be especially nice) beans or dried beans left to soak
overnight with a pinch of bicarbonate.
Prepare a finely chopped mixture of onion, carrot, celery, rosemary,
bayleaf and bacon, and saut�e lightly.
Add beans (if using dried beans, rinse well and drain water) and a hambone,
cover well with water and add rock salt to taste. Boil for about 40
minutes. Separate 1/3 of the beans and pass through a food mill, then put
back into the soup. Add small quantities of short pasta to the soup, and
let cook as necessary.
Serve hot or warm with freshly ground pepper and a dash of virgin olive
oil. It is not correct to add Parmesan cheese but many people like it. The
final addition of chopped parsley and garlic-flavoured oil can also be
Bigoli in Salsa - Wholemeal Pasta in Anchovy Sauce
Bigoli in salsa is the traditional dish for days of fasting: Christmas
Eve, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
2 large yellow onions
70g of salted sardines or anchovies
100 ml of olive oil
2 spoons full of water
360 gr of wholemeal pasta
Slice two large onions and clean 70g. of salted sardines or anchovies,
washing them carefully and leaving them to soak for a while. Lightly saute'
the onions and the sardines, cut to pieces, in 100 ml. of olive oil, first
over high flame without a lid and then, when the onions turn golden, add
two spoons full of water to halt the cooking, cover and leave over a very
low fire until the onions are completely soft like tender golden fillets.
Cook the pasta until it is al dente and season with the sauce, adding a
pinch of freshly ground pepper.
There are many variations of this dish whose traditional recipe is the one
here: you can add garlic, or use tuna fish instead of the sardines.
RISO/RISOTTI - RICE/RISOTTO
Risi e Bisi - Rice and Peas
1 cup of rice
1 cup of peas, fresh, just-shelled peas are recommended
1 small yellow onion
2 or 3 pieces of garlic
3 cups of chicken broth
This is the most famous Venetian soup. The Doge used to eat it - observing
a strict ccrimonial - on the feast-day of St. Mark, Venice's patron saint.
Lightly fry some onion and half a clove of garlic in oil and butter. When
the onion turns golden, add a generous quantity of peas and some broth, and
let cook for about 10 minutes. Then add the rice , mix very well, and
completely cover with good broth. Let cook over moderate flame for about 25
minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if necessary. Toward
the end of cooking time, add pepper to taste, some butter and a generous
spoonful of fresh parmesan cheese.
Venetian Shellfish Risotto
1 1/2 - 2 pounds cooked shellfish (shrimp, clams, lobster, scallops, any
combination you like)
Shells from shrimp and lobster
Fish bones and heads
1 recipe Risotto alla Milanese
1 clove garlic, chopped
6-7 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese
Make a rich fish stock with the shells, fish bones and heads. Follow the
recipe for risotto but add chopped garlic with the onion, and cook the rice
in the strained fish broth.
Heat the cooked shellfish in 4 tablespoons butter, season to taste and toss
with the chopped parsley. Mix into the cooked risotto and add the remaining
butter and grated Parmesan cheese.
CARNE - MEAT
Fegato alla Veneziana - Liver and Onions
Among the dishes that make up Venice's gastronomic history, probably the
most famous is fegato alla veneziana, which has spread to many cities
throughout the world. It is a liver dish which appeals even to those who
have refused liver since childhood. The calves' liver is sliced into very
thin strips and saut�ed in olive oil with onion and butter.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 white onions, sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon rubbed or ground dried sage
1 garlic clove, flattened
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1 12-ounce, 1/4- 1/2-inch-thick calf's liver, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions,
1/2 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon sage and saut� until onion is tender
and brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Add remaining 1 tablespoon
oil to skillet. Add garlic and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Combine flour, remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme and remaining 1/2 teaspoon sage
in bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Pat liver dry. Add liver to flour
mixture and toss to coat. Add butter to garlic oil and melt over
medium-high heat. Add liver and stir until beginning to brown on outside
but still pink inside, about 3 minutes. Add onions and saut� until liver is
just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in parsley.
Soppressa - Sausage
Sopressa is a finely ground pure pork sausage with a finer spray of
speckling than in salami. In is at home anywhere in Veneto and is the ideal
companion for a glass of wine. It's best when freshly cut slices are
grilled and served atop toasted slices of polenta. In Vicentino, every
valley proudly boasts its own production of the sausage, but the origin of
choice for this sausage is Valli del Pasubio, high in the Leogra basin a
few kilometers from the Alpine splendour of the Pian delle Fugazze.
Tradition calls for the pigs used to make Soppressa to be fed on chestnuts
and potatoes, not neglecting the local water so rich in minerals.
PESCE - SEAFOOD
Creamed Cod Mousse
wooden kitchen mallet
Baccala' Manecato is a fish dish representative of Venice's cuisine. The
stockfish is dipped in boiling water, skinned, boned and minced, then
dressed with olive oil. It is then beaten with a wooden kitchen mallet. The
resulting paste is whipped into a kind of mousse which can be served on top
of toasted polenta or canap�s. This treat can be found in the Venice's
typical osterias, known as bacari, and in its most exclusive restaurants.
olive or vegetable oil
chopped garlic (very little)
cooking broth or hot milk
Dried cod, or more properly "stockfish", came from North in exchange for
spices and has always been a major part of Venetian cuisine. It can be
prepared in many ways besides the following, which is perhaps the most
popular. In a large container, cover dried cod with water; and leave to
soak for 48 hours, changing the water periodically. Boil for 2-3 minutes in
salted water. Divide into very smal� pieces, including the skin and the bit
of intestinal membrane found inside.
Put these pieces into a churn or food processor with appropriate attachment
and beat together with a quarter of their weight in olive oil or, if
preferred, vegetable oil - to be added very slowly, a littie bit at a time.
Churn until eveything is reduced to a sort of delicate cream, add salt and
pepper to taste and flavour with a very little finely chopped garlic. The
amount of oil can be increased if necessary. Some people add a bit of the
cooking broth and/or a bit of hot milk to make it creamier.
Seppie col Nero - Cuttlefish in their Ink
1kg of cuttlefish
2 cloves of garlic
a little white wine
2 spoons full of tomato sauce
a bowl of oil and broth mixture
salt and pepper
During the summer the lamp-lights of the fishermen catching cuttlefish are
easily visible along the shores. There are many ways to cook this very
popular fish, this is certainly the most traditional recipe.
Carefully clean a kilo of cuttlefish, removing the beak, the bone, the
outer skin and the bag of ink which you will put aside. If the cuttlefish
are smal�, leave them whole otherwise cut them into rather large strips.
Saut�e 2 cloves of garlic and a bayleaf in olive oil until golden. Add the
cuttlefish letting them brown slightly. Add a little white wine then let it
reduce completely. At this point add 2 spoons full of tomato sauce and the
little ink bags (previously diluted in a spoonful of oil and broth). Add
salt and pepper, cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes, checking
periodically to make sure it doesn'tget too dry.
Serve with hot soft polenta, and sprinkle with parsley.
Sardine in "Saor"- Sardines with onion marinade
A seafaring civilization always comes up with recipes whose main aim is to
conserve food for a long time. This is the case of the "saor", a small
Extra-virgin olive oil
sweet white onions - equal to one-half the weight of the fish
white wine vinegar
Fry the sardines in the normal way (eel and sole are also excellent). In
extra-virgin olive oil soften a quantity of sweet white onions equal to
half the weight of the fish. The onions must be cut very finely and end up
as sweet soft golden strips. If necessary, add a bit of fish stock or water
during cooking. Now add the vinegar to taste. Piace the fish on the bottom
of an earthenware bowl, cover with part of onion, oil and vinegar mixture,
make another layer of fish and another of the onion mixture. Cover with all
Leave in a cool piace for at least two days before serving.
Moleche Fritte - Fried Soft-shelled Crabs
2 - 3 eggs
Moleche is the name given to crabs when they are changing their shells
which, at this time, are so soft they can be eaten whole.
Beat 2-3 eggs and adda pinch of salt. Soak the moleche in the beaten eggs
(in Murano the claws are removed, in Venice they are eaten as well) and wait
until they have absorbed all the egg. Cover in flour and fry in an iron pan
filled with boiling (170� C) peanut or olive oil.
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3 1/2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
4 large egg yolks, beaten lightly
In a dry 3-quart heavy saucepan cook 1/4 cup sugar, undisturbed, over
moderate heat until it begins to melt and cook, stirring with a fork, until
melted completely and deep golden brown. Remove pan from heat and dip pan
briefly into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. (Caramel will harden.)
Cool pan about 5 minutes and return to heat. Add milk and cook over
moderate heat, whisking, until caramel is melted. Whisk in cocoa until
combined well and keep mixture warm.
In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water (or a double
boiler), melt chocolate, stirring, and remove from heat.
In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat egg yolks with remaining 3/4 cup
sugar until thick and pale. Whisk in caramel mixture and chocolate in
streams, whisking until combined. Pour custard into another 3-quart heavy
saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a
candy thermometer registers 140� F. Cook custard, stirring (do not let it
boil) 4 minutes more and remove pan from heat. Cool custard completely and
freeze in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturers instructions.
Gelato will keep in the freezer for one week.
Makes about 3 cups.
Golosessi - Assorted sweet biscuits
There is no better way to finish a typical Venetian dinner than with a good
plate of golosessi, delicious small biscuits to be dunked in malvasia or
in zabaglione - the Venetian zabaglione made with egg, white wine, sugar
and lemon -. Bussolai from Burano (the sweet ones, not the savory ones
which are typical of San Pietro in Volta), baicoli, zaeti made with
corn meal and, at Carnival, the frittelle (a sort of doughnut) which you
can make using this recipe.
Put 30g. of yeast in a cup, dissolve in tepid water and mix with a handful
of white flour. Cover with a serviette and leave in a warm place. When the
mixture starts to rise, add 100 g. of sultanas, 100 g. of mixed rinds, 100
g. of pine-nuts, a small glass of grappa, and stir well. Gradually add 800
g. of flour. Cover, leave in a warm place to rise for a few hours. Heat
plenty of vegetable oil and throw in spoonfuls of the mixture and cook
until golden. Sprinkle with sugar before serving.
Grappa Semifreddo Espresso Sauce
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fine-quality grappa
2 large egg whites at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
For espresso sauce:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
6 teaspoons fine-quality grappa, chilled
Special equipment: 6 tall (2 1/2-inch high; 1/2-cup capacity) metal baba au
rhum molds or 6 (1/2-cup) ramekins
Garnish: mocha coffee beans
Make semifreddo: Have ready a large bowl of ice and cold water.
Beat together yolks, sugar, and 1/3 cup grappa with an electric mixer in a
metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water 10 minutes, or until
thick and pale and mixture registers 170�F on an instant-read thermometer.
Put bowl in ice bath and beat mixture until cold.
Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until
they just hold stiff peaks. Beat cream in a separate bowl until it holds
soft peaks. Whisk one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten and fold
in remaining whites and then cream, gently but thoroughly.
Spoon into molds and freeze, covered with plastic wrap, until firm, about 2
Make espresso sauce while semifreddo is freezing: Cook sugar in a 2-quart
heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring slowly with a fork, until
melted and pale golden. Cook caramel without stirring, swirling pan, until
deep golden. Remove from heat.
Stir together boiling water, espresso powder, and lemon juice. Carefully
add to caramel (mixture will bubble up and vigorously steam), then cook
over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved and sauce is
Unmold semifreddo: 3Dip molds in hot water 5 seconds, then run a small thin
knife around edges and invert onto plates. Spoon a teaspoon of chilled
grappa on top of each and drizzle plates with warm or room-temperature
Semifreddo may be made 1 week ahead and kept frozen. Let soften 30
minutes in refrigerator before unmolding.
You can make espresso sauce 3 days ahead and chill, covered. Reheat to
warm before serving.
Pear Cake with Grappa Sauce
For pear cake:
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon grappa
1 firm-ripe Bose pears
1/2 cup raisins or chopped pitted prunes
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted lightly and cooled
For grappa sauce:
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon grappa
Make pear cake:
Preheat oven to 350�F and lightly butter and flour an 8 1/2-inch springform
pan, knocking out excess flour.
In a bowl whisk together flour, cinnamon, and baking powder. In another
bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar until
light and fluffy and beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each
addition. Beat in flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning
and ending with flour mixture and beating until just combined after each
addition, and stir in grappa. Peel and core pears and cut into 1/2-inch
dice. Fold pears int batter with raisins or prunes and pine nuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle top with remaining tablespoon
sugar. Bake cake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with crumbs
adhering to it, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack and remove side
Make grappa sauce:
In a bowl with an electric mixer beat together eggs, sugar, and cinnamon
until thick and pale. In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering
water melt butter and stir in egg mixture. Cook sauce, stirring constantly,
until thickened and it registers 165�F on a candy thermometer, about 7
minutes. Remove bowl from pan and stir in cream and grappa.
Serve cake with warm sauce.