Le Veneziane: How To Make Venetian Frittelles At Home

In the last few years, frittelles have taken the culinary stage of Carnival in Venice, and there’s a good reason why they were so successful 🙂 After all, le fritoe, as frittelles are called in Venetian, have been the Venetian National Sweet ever since the 13th century.

But then, frittelles, prepared in the Venetian manner, taste great and soft and so warming on a humid Venetian winter day. So last weekend, we sorted through our family recipe journals and the books in our library. There’s an incredible variety of frittelles and other pastries eaten during Carnival in Venice, and the good news is, you can still eat them today at some pastry stores and cafes in town. Read more in our article dedicated to the story of the Venetian Carnival cakes.

Every family in Venice have their own recipe for fritoa, and now we are sharing ours with you. Hope you’ll enjoy it! Do try it, frittelles can be prepared in less than 90 minutes and that means, they qualify for breakfast !

LE VENEZIANE – VENETIAN FRITTELLES

AN EASY RECIPE WHICH YOU WILL BE ABLE TO PREPARE IN UNDER 90 MINUTES !

INGREDIENTS

180 gr flour (universal type), 8 gr yeast, 1/16 liter of milk, 1 egg, 3 spoonfuls of grappa, vanilla sugar, 10 gr butter, a pinch of salt, 5 spoonfuls of granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder.

INSTRUCTIONS

In a bowl, carefully work the yeast and one spoonful granulated sugar into the warm milk. Add flour, grappa, vanilla sugar, butter and a hint of salt. Mix well and cover the bowl with a towel. Leave in a warm place until the the dough has doubled in size (it takes approximately one hour). With a spoon, form little heaps of dough and fry them in sun flower oil. Coat your fritole with a mixture of granulated sugar and cinnamon powder.

NOTES

Like in the cover picture, you could prepare ricotta all’acqua di rose – rose-flavored ricotta, to add an exotic flavor to your frittelles. And that’s no invention of ours – that was the original crema with which the frittelles were filled.

PS – My article, originally published on the Liquid Press, tells more about the history of Venetian sweet pastries. Click here to read it.

Download ten healthy cooking tips from Venice !

Roses and Spices_Preview

La Pinsa Venexiana – The Original Venetian Christmas Cake

When Grandmother was young – she grew up in the northern Lagoon – this was the cake her mother prepared on 24 December, but also on the morning of Epiphany Day – January 6. So to celebrate L’EPIFANIA, and LA BEFANA, of course, we are sharing this family recipe today.

This is substantial food, so badly needed when the nights are long in late December and in January. It’s a cake that was prepared early in the morning when it was still dark. Just like it is in the pictures in this blog post.  Read More

A Venetian Menu for New Year’s Eve

On 31 December 2017, the sky in Venice looked pale white. You felt inundated by a strangely weak light against the marble stones, so characteristic for the short days in December and January. On such a day, the sun isn’t strong enough to draw reflections on the water. The air is very moist and can be even sharp, depending on where you are going. Such a labyrinthic city as is Venice also has refreshing spots (which is good to know on a hot summer day, by the way 🙂 but they can be awfully wet in winter ).

While there can be cold and clear hours when the light isn’t strong enough to illuminate the facades of the building in town, in general, December and January is called la stagione senza colore – the season of invisible colors.  White and blue days like these call for red and yellow food, according to the tradition of the Venetian spice masters – speziĂ©ri.

You relax in a cozy environment at home or spend an hour in the afternoon with hot chocolate in one of the Grandi CaffĂ© on the Piazza. Then it’s back out on the Piazza again, and this time we have company. People are looking for protection from the cold and moist air under the arcades, and many have come here well before night falls, I think just to secure their spot and witness whatever happens on the Piazza tonight. They are enjoying le luminarie – the Christmas lights and a new view of the Christmas tree that in 2017 is poised in the midst of the Piazzetta.

According to the calendario contadino – the farmer’s moon calendar, it had to be a simple, yet warming meal, and just like Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve was a thoughtful day. In the 1990s, the New Year in Venice was welcomed with fuochi d’artificio.

Breakfast on 31 December is thus much like breakfast on 24 December – starting with a pinsa – a polenta cake, flavored with grappa and raisins.

La pinsa was prepared in the morning and eaten as hearty breakfast, lunch, enriched with home-made fig-cardamom jam. This is the food Nonna has been eating all her life, on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and also on the day Venice celebrates Christmas a second time, on 6 January.

In the campagna veneta, in the Veneto, so to say, four spices were used in winter and to prepare a traditional New Year’s Eve menu, Grandmother tells me. Spice ingredients meant to instil strength and health during the white and blue days of December and January. We will use this mixture for our menu this evening.

Miscela de spezie par 'e zornate blu

  • Servings: 3 portions
  • Difficulty: easy
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We use this spice mixture to flavor creamy soups- le velluate, but also meat, potato pies, vegetable pots … this is an invigorating spice mixture, chasing away any blues one might get due to cold and foggy weather: 

DSCN8314Ground lemon peel, black pepper corns, dried peperoncino, oregano and mustard seeds …

It’s very delicious, and we have added a home-made red curry mixture to flavor the crema di lenticchie – lentil soup garnished with baked slices of sweet potatoes and puntarelle salad.

The spice mixture also works well to make insalata calda speziata alle lenticchie, bietola, cicoria, puntarelle, pere e cipolle dolci – warm spicy salad made from lentils, bietola, cicoria and puntarelle salads, pears and sweet white onions – in case you have any of the lentils left. Or, use it to flavor fish, exceptionally. This is how we prepared the pesce di San Pietro fish.

So, this lentils soup is a traditional course of the Venetian New Year’s dinner, and the second is fish. Fish should also be eaten on the first day of the year, according to ancient proverbs eating fish will make good luck and riches swim towards you.

Menu del Cenone per il Capodanno

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Vellutata di lenticchie al forno con patate americane e puntarella (the lentil cream soup mentioned above)

IMG_3293Tacchino al forno al pepe verde, fernet branca e miscela di spezie – Turkey baked in the oven with green pepper corns, Fernet Branca (herbal liquor) and the spice mixture, garnished with puntarelle and radicchio salad flavored with a cream made from boiled eggs and sweet peppers.

Sorbetto al Campari e anice stellato – Star anise-and-Campari-flavored sorbet

Cioccolatini fatti in casa al profumo di bergamotto – Home-made chocolates flavored with bergamot juice. These chocolates are also heaven if you add a few drops of neroli essential oil.

Thank you for following La Venessiana in 2017, for your all your questions, comments and your support ! We wish you all a healthy and generous New Year, or Bon Ano, as we say in Venice !

Treating you to Venetian Hot Chocolate


It looks thick, brown and enticing. It tastes only slightly bitter and rich, velvety and dense. What’s the secret to preparing exactly this kind of cioccolata densa for which Venice has become famous in the world ? In my opinion, this is the best soul food ever invented in Venice 🙂 It has all the ingredients to get you up and about on a cold winter day.

Unlike coffee, cocoa powder arrived in Venice rather late, only in the 18th century. Yet it became hugely successful at once. It never went through the process of first being used as farmaco (medicine) and then for cooking. When Casanova was alive and Caffé Florian first opened in Piazza in 1720, hot spicy chocolate was the favorite of Venetian noblemen and the public alike. Venetians used to flavor it, adding vanilla sugar above all, to camouflage its bitter taste. And it must be the mix of sweet spices and bitter cocoa powder that won over Venetians. And we can safely say that Caffé Florian was the first cafe in Venice offering this sweet spicy chocolate variant.

Venetians became masters in creating edible works of art made from cocoa powder, both solid and liquid. If you want to see some of these masterpieces, visit Cioccolateria Vizio e VirtĂą, you will be marveling at their shop windows …

Flavoring hot chocolate with cardamom and cinnamon became standard in Venice in the 18th century, and a few of these recipes for spicy chocolate have survived to this day in town. One is flavoring hot chocolate with gianduia or even with pistachio paste or amaretto liquor. By the way, you can taste this amaretto-flavored chocolate at Caffé Lavena in Piazza San Marco.

Our family recipe uses milk flavored with star anise. Always for Christmas, we add home-made chocolate-cinnamon liquor.

  • Difficulty: easy
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CiocciolataCaldaSpezia’

1. To prepare two cups of hot chocolate, slowly heat, in a pan, four tablespoons of milk, three heaped teaspoons of cocoa powder and two teaspoons of corn flour (amido di mais).

2. In a second pan, heat 1/4 liter milk, one tablespoon of brown granulated cane sugar and one piece of star anise. Boil at low heat for about 10 minutes.

3. Add the cocoa mix and slowly bring all the ingredients to the boil, stirring constantly.

4. Before serving, either flavor with a few drops of essential bergamot oil or a teaspoon of chocolate liquor for each cup.

We use Majani chocolate liquor. My grandfather used to make chocolate-cinnamon liquor for Christmas, and I will share this recipe in our e-book Venice and the Moon – Befana and Epiphany Traditions – online soon 🙂


La Dosa Calda – The Winter Drink Venetians Loved 300 Years ago, Celebrating La Festa della Salute

There’s one ancient Venetian winter drink almost never mentioned in cookbooks. It seems it has disappeared at all, and yet it was so popular in Venice until 100 years ago. Dosa calda. Literally, this is a spice and fruit drink popular in Venice before vin brule became popular in town. In Venetian, vin brule means vino caldo spezia’. Vino spezia’ has a predecessor, if you will, and that’s the version not flavored with alcohol, or just a tiny bit with grappa.
Before Venetians went to celebrate the Mass at the Basilica della Salute, they kept themselves warm with a drink called dosa calda, whose recipe dates back to the 14th century. It was also a favorite during the Venetian winter fairs, for the end of November and early December were dedicated to fairs and exhibitions at the Rialto and other campi in town.
Treasures, garments, artefacts, carpets, curtains and the latest spice trends and boxes the Merchants of Venice had shipped to the Lagoon just before winter were exposed during these fairs. The Merchants conceded themselves a winter break and usually, no cogs left the Lagoon until 01 March, the day on which the Venetian New Year was celebrated.
Dosa Calda is the drink you would have enjoyed at the Rialto Market and during the Festa della Salute. You would have bought it on Campo della Salute just where today stalls are located next to the Grand Canal, selling sweets and the long white candles called ceri. Dosa Calda was also sold in the bacari and at the stalls which popped up along the Erbaria in winter. Here, you could buy fritelles, arancini di riso and dosa calda. And later, hot chocolate !
Retracing this recipe wasn’t easy but I found a mention of it in the book A tola co i nostri veci, and I discovered a recipe for a similar drink which had survived in the northern Lagoon where Grandmother lived as a child. We are now sharing this family recipe with you.
Our variant of dosa calda survived in a corner of the northern Lagoon, in Iesolo to be precise, in a family cooking journal written around 1880. Iesolo isn’t just the pine-fringed beaches looking south onto the Adriatic shores. Part of it is the Lagoon and looks west, onto the area now called L’Orto del Doge, the Doge’s Garden, comprising Lio Piccolo, Lio Mazor and Le Vignole. Many fine yet simple Venetian recipes were created in this area of the northern Lagoon.
Dosa Calda – Venetian Fig and Citrus Winter Drink
Cut three dried or fresh figs into thin slices, put them into a pan and add two tablespoons uva passa (raisins) and half a teaspoon liquorice root. Instead of liquorice root, you could also use a teaspoon aniseed. Bring the ingredients to the boil with two cups of water. Leave to simmer for five minutes, then take the pan off the heat. Leave to stand for five minutes in a warm place and stir in one teaspoon honey (we use miele di acacia) and another teaspoon grated lemon peel. Cover the pan with a lid, add a hint of cinnamon and 1-2 cloves and leave the ingredients to infuse for another five minutes. Now, your Venetian winter drink, la dosa calda, is ready, taking you right back to the early years of the 17th century when La Festa della Salute was first celebrated in Venice.
 Dosa calda not only restores warmth after being exposed to the humidity of late November in Venice (or anywhere in the world!) but has also got all the natural benefits to strengthen your immune system. Figs and citrus fruit, coming in small doses provide Vitamin C, and the spices do the rest.
During the days preceding and following La Festa della Salute, people ate a special menu, and it wasn’t just all castradina. Castradina, a mutton stew cooked with cabbage, was the main dish amongst other autumn food made from ingredients easily retrieved in orchards. Join and travel to Venice virtually when she celebrates La Festa della Madonna della Salute on 21 November in this article on our Venice Lifestyle Blog, La Venessiana. Subscribers to our Monthly Postcard from Venice will receive the ancient Menu of La Festa della Salute via email on 21 November. Would you like to receive this gift ? Click here and subsribe to our Postcard + Welcome Kit !
 

Oca in Onto & Insalata Bizantina – A Traditional Venetian Menu For San Martino

In Venice these days, children celebrate Il santo che divise il mantello e fece tornare il bel tempo … the Saint who by sharing a piece of his coat with a beggar made the sun return to Earth. In Venice, there’s a special tradition reminding us of this Legend, enacted on 11 November every year …

Late autumn is a time for Feasts in Venice. Venetians traditionally have been celebrating with poultry dishes. Some eat faraona and anara (duck). The tradition of eating bigoĂ­ co’l anara (thick Venetian pasta with duck sauce) belongs to this season.

While children walk around and look for the Sanmartin de Pastafrolla, a sweet cake, in the pastry stores and bakeries, adults also have a favorite dish eaten on 11 November. Oca in onto is very much en vogue these days. It’s rather heavy, based on an ancient recipe from the Venetian countryside. But then, in Venice, dishes were usually enriched with spices.

In the Veneto, you can find a special goose breed, l’oca del Mondragon, raised around Treviso. There’s even a Facebook Page dedicated to these geese.

A dinner on San Martino Night would start with crema de suca (squash cream soup) or even, minestra de oca, a spicy vegetable soup flavored with pieces of goose. The soup could be followed by a starter plate of warm and cold antipasti, like crema di baccala’, polenta, oven-baked slices of persimmons and potatoes flavored with rosemary, raisins and lots of black pepper.

My grandparents celebrated San Martino with goose, grilled polenta and vegetables enriched with spicy and fruity flavors. So here we share our recipe for Oca in onto alle erbe, pera speziata e castagne con amarene – Herb-flavored goose, spicy pears and chestnuts cooked with amarena cherries.

Grandmother prepares traditional Venetian goose, oca in onto, based on a recipe from her family cooking journal. She cuts off the fatty parts of the goose into tiny cubes and melts them in a pan. Then she adds mortadella sausage cut in dices and herbs such as parsely, rosemary, laurel leaves, and spices (cloves, coriander seeds and juniper), salt and black pepper. She bakes the goose in the oven until it turns golden brown, adding olive oil when required.

We have adapted this recipe and here is a less fattening alternative if you must eat goose.  Cut cut off the fat entirely, it could be used it for any other purpose like flavoring bread soup or to eat with polenta. Fry the goose in a little olive oil instead, add the herbs and spices mentioned above, a hint of red curry or a berbere spice mixture. Then bake the goose in the oven until golden brown. We’ll cover the berbere spice mixture in our next blog post.

To complete this special day’s menu, serve the goose with pears cooked in water or red wine with spices like cinnamon, cloves and mustard seeds. Serve the goose with castagne arrostite (cook chestnuts in a pan for about 10 minutes, then roast them in olive oil with salt, mustard seeds and pepper and garnish with canned amarena cherries).

Our vegetarian menu, which is also a fine contorno (side dish) is insalata bizantina! This is a warm spinach salad, flavored with a topping made from figs, raisins, pinoli, lots of black pepper and grapes. Fry spinach leaves in olive oil, add the toppings which consists of dried figs in dices, grapes, pinoli and the spices, fried in another pan in olive oil.

As dessert, we would eat a piece of the Sanmartin de Pastafrolla. Take a look at how Pasticceria Majer bake theirs:

Join us and discover Venice on the Night of San Martino in this blog post in our Venice Travel Section.

 

Pan del Doge al Pistacchio – Taste & Bake the Doge’s Autumn Cake

 

The Doges of Venice seemed to love dishes with a green touch. Even their signature dish, risi e bisi, which the Doge’s family and their entourage ate on 25 April, was green.  Risi e bisi is a rather liquid risotto (all’onda) in which the baccelli (pods) of the bisi (green peas) were cooked with the peas and rice. The Doges, just like Venetians in general, have always loved green sauces, le salse verdi. And in autumn, in particular during late October and early November, elaborate pistachio cakes were created for them and their guests.

In winter, Venetian cakes, or pan dolse (sweet breads) as they were called in the past, would be flavored with lemon or orange juice. In autumn, pomegranates and pistachios were used to flavor and color cakes. Colorful food, tinted naturally, was an essential ingredient to create a cuisine that Venice was proud of. And in spring, pink syrup made from rose petals and spices was used to flavor cakes.

Autumn is the season of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios in Italy, and Venice is no exception. Mele cotogne (quinces) and melograni (pomegranates) were essential ingredients in former times and still are here in Venice. Not just for cakes …

Combining these ingredients with spices when baking a cake means you will get something typical Venetian on your table. Just like in the past, the Rialto Market is still the hub where you can load up on fine produce, herbs and spices. There is also pistachio liquor and crema di pistachio, the delicious sweet pistachio cream made from Sicilian pistachios (i pistacchi di Bronte).

When you look at the vetrina (store window) of pastry stores in Venice, you often find the so-called Doge’s Cake – Pan del Doge. I can definitely say that the names cakes are given in Venice aren’t inventions of creative patissiers. On the contrary, based on family recipes and ancient recipe booklets available at the Venetian State Archive and at Biblioteca Marciana, the cakes we bake today are VERY similar to those of the past.

Which are the ingredients of pan di pistacchio? It’s rather easy to prepare, made from same dough you would use to make zaleti cookies. Substitute one third of the flour with farina di pistachio (ground pistachios), add 3 tablespoons crema di pistacchio to make the dough more soft and perhaps 2-3 tablespoons pistachio liquor.

If you are in Venice, look out for pistachio bread in Strada Nova. Pasticceria Giovanni Pitteri is an expert in making delicious pistachio cakes and zaleti, like the ones you can see in the cover page of this post. I also love the pistachio heart-shaped cookies, cuoricini al pistacchio which I discovered at Pasticceria Marchini Time. In addition to cakes and cookies, you also find torroncini and praline al pistacchio, pistachio-flavored sweet balls in Venice, enhanced with chocolate drops.

And there are the zaleti al pistacchio. Zaleti are the famous Venetian “yellow” cookies enhanced with chocolate drops and grappa-flavored raisins. Sometimes, part of the maize flour they are made from is substituted with pistachio flour and pistachio cream.

Click here to download Nonna Lina’s recipe for zaleti, including the variant zaleti al pistachio – pistachio-flavored zaleti.

You can buy the ingredients to make pan pistacchio and all the other cookies, like farina di mandorle (almond flour) and crema di pistacchio di Bronte at Drogheria Mascari, my favorite gourmet store. I discovered the torroncini al pistacchio at Pasticceria Dolce Vita at the Rialto Market.

Celebrating Samhain with Risotto del Contadino

Like elsewhere, Halloween in Venice couldn’t work properly without la zucca – pumpkins decorations and dishes. But then, when my grandmother was young and the notion of Halloween wasn’t generally known in the Veneto, squashes were a staple food in late October.  Especially, pumpkins were used to make delicious risotto.

It seems that squashes arrived via the Levant in Venice. Venetians had their own home-grown varieties long before Halloween was taken up in the Veneto. For there were other things to celebrate and look forward to …

When my grandmother was young and lived in the countryside in the northern Lagoon, autumn meant a busy time … and it wasn’t all about harvesting. For November 1st marked a special period in the Venetian calendar, the beginning of the new agricultural year ! We’ll write about all that in one of our first posts in November.

So first, after the Remembrance Days had been solemnly celebrated on 1 and 2 November, this month actually became very festive, but with a purpose. For it’s one of the two months when Venice celebrates her very existence (the other is July).

First, in November you already harvested wonderful food and fruit. A bounty to choose from little known or forgotten varieties I don’t see in many other places. I mean, mulberries, pomegranates, figs, quinces and persimmons. Apples, pears and olives.

Venetians loved, and still love, eating pheasant, faraona, and goose in November. They eat goose to recall the tradition of Saint Martin being saved by geese, on 11 November. Then, November is a transition month: After we celebrate La Festa della Salute on 21 November, it is more quiet and Venetians are getting ready for Christmas time.

Yes, you read that correct. Getting ready for Christmas used to be a quiet time. My grandmother tells that people spent it baking, cooking risotti, hunting (fowl) and fishing (pesce di San Pietro, mostly) in the Lagoon. Only a few days before Christmas were pine twigs cut to decorate the house. But that’s another story we will tell when Christmas is around the corner.

In our family, the beginning of November / end of October was celebrated with squash. Zucca, and now, the variety with the hard emerald-colored skin, zucca marina di Chioggia, una zucca rugosa, was available at the markets. You can see it in all the images of this post 🙂 We cut it in small dices and use it as main ingredient to make Risotto del Contadino.

This risotto consists of two parts, so I think it’s very luxurious 🙂 Part one is the risotto itself, consisting of diced pumpkins, red onions, Arborio risotto rice, red wine (we use a little glass of vino raboso, by the way), and wine cheese (formaggio al vino – we use Fienotto, or any soft, wine-flavored cheese we can get). Lots of pepper and chili flakes go into the risotto broth (all’onda) as well..

 

We prepare part 1 of this dish as we usually cook risotto. That means, adding water in little bits and stirring the rice, diced pumpkins, apples, grapes and onions a lot. Then we add salt and spices (the warm mixture: black pepper, cinnamon, a tiny hint of yellow curry powder and dried chili flakes). Finally, we garnish with tiny dices of the cheese and wait a few minutes until they melt into the risotto.

Part 2 of our dish consists of a special, warming, seasonal topping. In a pan, we fry raisins, pinoli (pine nuts) and a few slices of persimmon. I cachi (persimmons) are the most ancient variety of apple that came to Europe via the spice route during Roman times. And they do taste like a warming exotic apple and vanilla mix.

In Venice, you can often find neglected persimmon trees in the tiny garden courtyards. We pick all our persimmons and they are used to make jam, syrups and to flavor spicy dishes like piatti unici and this risotto. They also look nice if you want to garnish a special dish …

Then, the end of October can be considered a “second spring” as I mentioned above. For example, the herbs in the courtyard garden still look nice and love the sun. Above, you can see our erba cola (artemisia abrotanum marittima) and our olmaria.

By the way, we pick a leaf of olmaria and use it to make a cup of herbal infusion in case anyone in the family suffers from a headache due to autumn weather swings.. It has a rather neutral taste, very greenish, and is often a fine alternative to taking aspirina