Lent Food at the Rialto Market

Neatly arranged. Pale green ones next to those with a glowing yellow hue. Ruby red and soft, speckled red, linden green. Vegetables in Venice come in many facets in the early spring, their color reflecting what we can expect in the days to come.  Read More

Gnocchi Mimosa Early Spring Soul Food from Venice

2018 started on a rather strange note in Venice. While January was so dry and sunny, February was humid and now seems to end on a very cold note. In fact, the cold weather during the last weekend reached far south, and snow fell in Naples and on the Amalfi Coast ! Read More

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 !
 

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

Three Famous Venetian Rice Dishes & our Favorite Autumn Risotto

Writing about soul food can’t be complete with our beloved risotto. It’s a staple dish in our family 🙂 Rice dishes have always been a favorite in the Veneto. Rice arrived in the Veneto region in the 9th century AD, when Venetian merchants bought it via Amalfi from the Arabs that had introduced rice to Sicily. Today, most rice grown in the Veneto either comes from the Rovigo area or from the flatlands around and south of Verona.

Soon, rice became THE staple food for the Venetians. Just think of their signature dish, or national dish so to say, which is risi e bisi. The Doge and his guests ate risi e bisi (rice and green peas) on St. Mark’s Day (25 April). This is one of the recipes which arrived in our times. Others still wait to be re-discovered … and there are so many family recipes for risotto here, for every season. Often enriched with dried fruit, savoury or even sweet.

The other well-known Venetian rice dishes are risotto al radicchio and riso al nero di seppia. We’ll talk about these when their season has arrived !

In Venice, I buy rice either at Drogheria Mascari’s or at Casa del Parmigiano which I mentioned a few times in this blog series. You can see their fine selection above. You even get riso alla zucca e mela, which is rice enriched with squash and apples.

Venetians are quite strict about which rice to choose. and for risotto, riso arborio is di rigore ( a must-have !). But then, there are a number of other rice varieties on sale too, flavored and natural.

Here’s the family recipe I announced above. You can taste the Venetian September in it, from grapes to herbs and a hint of warming spices.

This is our Riso al curcuma, Asiago, funghi porcini e uva nera – Risotto flavored with turmeric and cinnamon, Asiago cheese, cepes and black grapes.

Fry cepes (fresh or dried) in olive oil, add grapes and blueberries if you like. At the same time, prepare your risotto in the Venetian way, which is stirring a lot, adding a bit of water, then stirring again … when your rice is almost al dente, add the cepes and grapes, plus tiny cubes of Asiago cheese (or Mozzarella if you like). Serve with chives, black pepper, lemon-flavored olive oil and another handful of grated parmesan cheese.

Making spring soup in Venice

Venetian grandmothers only use dadi di brodo (soup cubes) when there’s some sort of “culinary” emergency (all of their parsley and winter herbs died during particularly cold weather – it just happened once …). Usually, we have garden and wild herbs thriving on a sunny window sill and there’s a more protected, moist and quiet place for those herbs that dislike sun (such as sorrel and wild garlic) downstairs in the garden that you can see below. Read More