The Flavors of Venice
Guest Post by Barry Frangipane
My gaze over the Grand Canal was interrupted by Debbie placing a steaming bowl of risotto with white asparagus and Parmigiano Reggiano on the table. “These came from the white asparagus festival today in Bassano del Grappa”, she said.
Throughout our year-long Venice experiment of leaving the rat race and living in this improbable city built on water, my wife and I enjoyed the local flavors of the Veneto and the surrounding areas. Positioned along the coastline of the Adriatic Sea, but yet close to the Dolomite Mountains, the Veneto region of Italy is home to a colorful mixture of seafood, vegetables, and meat.
Vitello Tonnato is a local dish which combines the best of the Dolomites and the Adriatic. A veal roast cooked in milk is sliced thin, and then layered on a platter – each layer topped with a sauce made from tuna, capers, and homemade mayonnaise. The mild flavor of the veal is a perfect complement to the tuna, while the mayonnaise acts as the liaison between the land and sea. Who would have thought that veal and tuna would go so well together?
Sarde in Saor also has its roots in Venice. This dish of sardines in a sweet and sour sauce is one which most all Venetians have in their home repertoire. The sardines are fried, and then marinated in a sauce of onions, vinegar and olive oil for roughly a week. Legend has it that this was a popular dish for sailors, since it kept well without refrigeration. Even today, Venetians frequently have this dish ready in the galley, when boating for the day. If you are visiting Venice, try it at Anice Stellato in Canareggio with the locals.
Since 1900, many of the small towns between Venice and Treviso have hosted winter festivals honoring the Radicchio di Treviso – a thin, mildly bitter form of chicory. In preparing Radicchio Rosso, simpler is usually better. It is traditionally sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then grilled. Look for the festivals in Martellago, Mogliano Veneto, Chioggia, and Treviso, or grill some at home in your backyard. It’s extra tasty when grilled with pancetta or bacon.
Treviso is also home to a dessert of questionable origin, Tiramisu. With my mother having grown up in Treviso, I had heard stories of how it came about, and went there to do a bit of investigation. While some Trevigiani claimed that this zabaglione and espresso based dessert was created at a local restaurant, quite a few people, young and old, repeated to me the story of a brothel in Treviso where a man came in and asked the proprietor for something to “pick me up” before his visit. Whatever the origin of Tiramisu (literally “pick me up” in English), it seems to taste best along a streamside café in this town just 30 minutes north of Venice.
And to finish off your meal, slip into a local bar for a Sgroppino. The word “groppo” translates to “knot” in English, and a Sgroppino is a drink designed to un-knot your stomach after your meal. Gazing out over a canal, enjoying this combination of Prosecco (the local sparkling wine), vodka, and lemon gelato is a delicious way to end an evening of dining in the Veneto. If you can’t make it to Venice, mix vodka and lemon gelato in a blender, then slowly stir in some Prosecco. Spoon the mixture into a champagne glass, sip it with your eyes closed, and dream.
Barry Frangipane is a travel writer, and author of The Venice Experiment: A Year of Trial and Error Living Abroad. For more information about the author, visit his website at VeniceExperiment.com.