Venice – On the Menu
Bearing in mind that Venice grew from the settlements of salt producers and fishermen it is hardly surprising that sea food played, and even today still plays, a huge role in its cuisine. A visit to the fish stalls in the Rialto market is sight to behold with bright eyed, silvery fish lying on the slabs along with all sorts of other delicacies from the waters of the lagoon.
Look out for the wonderful variety of Venetian crustaceans from the tiny, tasty brown shrimp (Schie) through to larger langoustines (Scampi). Clams (Vongole veraci) when available are also highly prized. As indeed are the small soft shelled green crabs (Moleche) and cuttlefish cooked with their ink (Sepe al nero).
On menus look out for dishes like Sarde in soar – fried fresh sardine fillets marinated in gently cooked white onions, along with vinegar, raisins and pine nuts.
Rice grows well in the low lying Po/Adige region and it is frequently presented in Venetian restaurants as risotto often incorporating fish or the traditional rice and peas (risi e bisi). Whilst pasta is indeed served in Venice, rice and polenta traditionally are more popular, the latter cooked in a number of different ways and served as an accompaniment to fish or meat, or as a cake.
The region around Venice is also noted for its fruit and vegetables and one of their chief growing areas is the lagoon island of Sant’ Erasmo.
Venetian cuisine can sometimes be surprisingly spicy – a consequence of the days when the early sea farers brought back spices from the East. In those days the spices would have been used by the nobility to demonstrate their wealth as much as for adding an extra flavour dimension to a dish.
The words Cicheti and Ombra can often be seen on Bills of Fare. Cicheti indicates that small dishes are served – similar to tapas or meze. Ombra are the tiny glasses of wine that are often enjoyed alongside them.
Aperol Spritz – Aperol was created in Padua in 1919 but it would appear that it was the Venetians who had the idea of adding one of their favourite wines, Prosecco to it, along with a splash of soda water to make it into a spritz.
And for the sweet toothed there are Baicoli – a hard, dry biscuit, perfect for dunking into coffee or a glass of dessert wine.
To learn more about how to cook sea food Venetian style turn to our Book Review page and the review of the cookery book from the superb restaurant Osteria da Fiore.