Why Italy they asked? You’ve been before!
Yes, I have been several times, but I simply had to feel and ‘taste’ the exciting Italian vibe again! Our good friends, who also enjoy food and wine, John and Sue joined us on our 3 week holiday to Venice, Bologna, Tuscany and Rome. Over the next few weeks I will share my Italian food and wine adventures with you bite by bite!
Our first stop on our 3 week trip was Venice
We selected an Air B&B apartment right in the old city centre, 600 meters from St Mark’s square. We wanted to experience the City at night.
Venice by day and night
During the day this city is crowded with tourists, there are endless queues and it is noisy. They say that you can literally hear the city sigh as the sun sets and the day visitors are whisked off to their cruise ships or hotels away from the city.
In the evenings an air of tranquility set in as we strolled from square to square down narrow alleys, crossing the quaint bridges over the canals. Sometimes we were the only people present.
In the evening musicians are dotted in the nearly empty squares, restaurants spill into spaces. Chatter, laughter and music replace the constants hum of tourists.
Near the larger squares the restaurants are pricey and the menus are aimed at the dollar-bulging tourist wallet! We chose to steer away from these areas and to seek out the smaller place with a limited menu. And where the locals were eating. Other than one Osso Buco that was really not good, every meal inspired me.
Now to the food!
Our first “foodie” stop in Venice was the famous Rialto Market.
There are tourists like me snapping away but this is where the Venetians shop for their fresh produce and seafood. It is situated alongside the Grand Canal, where fresh produce is unloaded from boats. Part of the area, centuries old has a roof and beautiful arches, allowing a gentle breeze to waft through.
The seafood in the market is stunning. It’s the variety that intrigues me and of course freshness. Plump fresh scallops, octopus, shiny sardines, whole fish or fillets, all displayed on ice and no stale fishy smells.
The fresh fruit and vegetables are fresh, local and in season. Bouquets of red and yellow chillies, plump artichokes, crisp yellow zucchini flowers and of course fresh porcini mushrooms, always catch my eye. And by now you know I have a tomato fetish! Why, why, why can’t we buy plump ripe tomatoes that taste and smell like tomatoes? (You will read much more about tomatoes when I get to Tuscany!)
We all know Greek Meze and Spanish Tapas, but the Italians, especially the Venetians do this as well. Small bars, known as ‘bacari’, usually tucked away in a side street, offer Cicchetti (also spelt: cichetti or cicheti). These are small snacks ranging from a small bowl of olives to more substantial ‘mini’ main courses. A base of crusty toast, bruschetta, or on a round of fried polenta is topped with tasty morsels. A popular topping is a creamy codfish pâté, Baccala Mantecato .
We soon found a Bacari and enjoyed selecting our Cicheti. You either stand or sit at bar stools. Traditionally wine was served but you can choose any drink, sparkling Prosecco or Aperol Spritz!
The beautiful seafood dishes reflect what one sees in the market. Small sardines in a vinegary dressing with sweet onions, baby squid filled with rice, a mixture of seafood, Fritto Misto in a light tempura-like batter, all too delicious to describe in words!
Another Venetian Cicheti specialty is Baccala Mantecato. This is a very creamy cod fish ‘spread’ that is either served on crisp bruschetta or fried polenta rounds or squares. It was so delicious I decided to make it using smoked snoek! (recipe here). I think this may be one of my ‘go to’ snacks this summer, served on cucumber rounds or as a dip with fresh celery sticks, I know it’s not 100% Italian, but it cuts the carbs!
You can’t leave Italy without having Arancini. These are crumbed risotto balls, usually richly flavoured with Parmesan & sometimes containing mushroom (porcini of course!), prawns, Parma ham or just a knob of molten mozzarella!
This was just the ‘appetiser’, there’s more to come!