Simple and Luxurious Autumn Recipes – Cooking with Truffles in the Veneto

In Part 5 of our Sapori d’Autunno Blog series, we talk about tartufo: I think there’s no better flavor than tartufi (truffles) conveying the earthen scent of autumn in your kitchen 🙂 And to reach this purpose in an effective and economical manner, we’ve got a few tips for you.

First, we use truffles very sparingly, and not always truffles themselves. They taste incredibly intense and must be used in the right manner by all means. For example, we often use high-quality olive oil flavored with tartufo and it conveys just the right amount of earthen taste to risotto or a pasta dish.

While the Apennines are best known for truffles in Italy, you find both tartufo nero (black truffles) and tartufo bianco (white truffles) in various areas (zone tartufigene) in the Veneto as well. For example, black truffles come from the Colli Euganei and Colli Berici hills. White truffles can be found in the southern parts, around the Po River Delta, Polesine and Rovigo.

Flavoring risotto with truffles

When cooking risi in bianco, plain risotto rice (take a look at this post to learn more about risotto rice), we add neutral flavors like a few cubes of zucca gialla (yellow butternut squash) and/or wood berries to enhance the truffle taste. You could also add a spoonful of dry white wine while stirring your risotto, and/or a tiny amount of dried tomatoes.

Serve your risotto with scaglie di parmigiano (parmesan slices, or even better, with cubes of Asiago cheese like I did in the picture below) and sprinkle with olio aromatizzato al tartufo. This is the most economical way to get that flavor as often as you like and the right amount of this flavor, neither too weak nor too intense.

With regard to spices, it’s cinnamon and black pepper that best enhance the flavor of tartufo. Use herbs sparingly, but chives, parsley, and above all, tarragon, will work just fine. Also, dried fruit, used sparingly, can enhance your truffle pasta or rice dish, such as uva passa (raisins) or even pinoli (pine nuts).

 

Cooking pasta sauce with truffles flavor

Here we can prepare a creamier variant than with risotto. For example, I cooked this pasta corta alla salicornia e tartufo – short pasta with salicornia herbs and truffles.

Salicornia is a herb growing on the island swamps of the Lagoon, and sometimes alongside the cultivations and the little canals criss-crossing vegetable gardens on the Lagoon islands, such as Mazzorbo, Sant’Erasmo or Le Vignole.

To prepare your pasta sauce, cook the salicornia herbs in a little bit of water until soft. Fry them in a pan for a few minutes, add cream, a hint of cinnamon, sea salt and black pepper. Add the pasta and flavor your dish with olive oil flavored with truffles. In case you use “real” truffles, use a tiny bit of them (grated) while you heat the sauce with the cream. Garnish with Asiago cheese and flavor with black pepper. I also added a few slices of fried courgettes 🙂

By the way – if you would like to know more about Lagoon herbs, I recommend you make a visit to the Serra dei Giardini ! This is a hothouse where you can buy plants, seeds, and also enjoy afternoon tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In 2012, during the Biennale, I went to attend the Festival della Laguna, part of which also took place at the Serra dei Giardini.  There’s also a blog dedicated to the 2012 Edition of the Festival della Laguna, click here to view it.

 

I was an avid visitor at this Festival della Laguna five years ago. While visiting the exhibition hosted by Serra dei Giardini, I first thought about starting a blog on Venice dedicated to its Secret World of Herbs and Spices 🙂 Take a look at this website, even though it’s five years old. You will find a lot of useful information on the Lagoon islands, their vocation, and of course, farms, orchards and vegetables !

The History of Venetian Polenta and a Sweet Market Breakfast

The first products distributed at the Rialto Market, in the 6th century AD, were bread and water. Perhaps it’s no co-incidence that on Campiello dei Meloni, in the San Polo Market area, there’s a street food bar called Acqua e Mais. The “bread” baked with maize flour was called polenta, and it comes sweet and savoury. Easy to prepare, with a thousand possibilities, just a perfect kind of cibo di strada – street food in particular in the winter.

Water and maize have been the main ingredients for bread in Venice. Every location has developed its own bread, after all. At first, I found it surprising that maize wasn’t imported in big quantities to Venice after Columbus had returned from his trip to the Americas. In fact, Venetian merchants did import a certain amount, they were too curious not to do that. They had had, however, an endemic grain variety called “grano turco” ever since … If you take a look at the ancient cookbooks, or others that I go to, such as La Cucina Tradizionale Veneta, you will find that granoturco was introduced from the Levant, probably from northern Persia, alongside with a host of other luxurious ingredients Venetians loved trading with.

So there were “yellow varieties of grain” growing in the Veneto ever since. In fact, they are still here and have been used to bake the Venetian biscuits called zaleti (yellow biscuit breads) for the explorers and merchants to remain healthy during their sea voyages.

My favorite zaléti at the Rialto Market were made by Franco Carlon, who also offered incredibly soft and tasty polenta-coconut cakelets called cestoni al cocco … but by now, these are childhood memories.

I buy Venetian farina di polenta, polenta flour, which is now produced outside Rovigo, around Treviso and Vicenza, at the Casa del Parmigiano, a deli located at the Rialto Market on Campo Bella Vienna.

As announced, a favorite autumn breakfast in my family is made from polenta. As we still get summer fruit like peaches, plums and nectarines, and also wood berries, these could become the sweet ingredient to garnish our polenta cake. Or, we also love home-made fruit gels and jam.

The other ingredient is home-made lavender syrup, from which we will make lavender icing, and to bring back summer vibes, I used some red currant gel to bake, and a few leaves of water mint and lemon balm

To prepare the pancakes, just substitute half the amount of flour with farina di polenta, polenta flour, prepare the dough with sparkling mineral water (!). Flavor with coconut sugar, cinnamon, lemon balm and water mint leaves. Pour the mixture into a pan, place a tiny spoonful of marmellata al ribes rosso, or your favorite fruit gel or jam in the center. Fry on both sides in olive oil, then garnish with cinnamon, sugar flakes, honey and a teaspoon lavender icing or syrup. Here you go 🙂

Tomorrow, we are going to take a look at our market lunch menu … we’ll start with a special creamy fall soup, based on patate americane, herbs, spices and of course, squash !

Cooking for Amatrice, the Town of the 100 Bell Towers

Today’s blog post doesn’t cover Venice but is about a little town in central Italy, located 323 km to the south. Amatrice is a little culinary capital, not just for their pasta dish that became world-renowned. It is also one of the three towns hit by a bout of earthquakes in the early morning of 24 August 2016.

Italy is the most wonderful country, but we’ve got a terrible natural enemy in agguato – earthquakes that are devastating sometimes. Amatrice counted 2,650 inhabitants but nobody knows how many have survived.

amatriciana (1)Italy is good at helping in a quick manner. A strain of resilience – now we are cooking for Amatrice. Un Futuro per Amatrice was started by Slow Food Italy founder, Carlo Petrini (link is here). This initiative crossed borders and continents in just a few days and was even promoted in American TV by a Positano-born chef. As I’m writing, 400 restaurants all over Italy are adhering and many more joining, including the sagre (Italian summer food fairs).

http://video.repubblica.it/embed/rubriche/reptv-news/terremoto-croce-rossa-ad-amatrice-al-bar-di-patrizia-un-caffe-e-un-sorriso-per-tutti/250053/250199&width=570&height=321

If you would like to join, we’ve included the Recipe of Pasta all’amatriciana below for you (just click on the picture), a list on how to make a donation and a video showing Amatrice nestling in its mountains.

Pasta

In 1860, the recipe for Spaghetti all’Amatriciana spread to Rome and was first cooked in a restaurant near Piazza Navona. It’s been a favorite since then … In Amatrice, Hotel Roma was a shrine of local mountain dishes originating from the surrounding National Parks such as the Gran Sasso.

grazie di cuore

PS: Today and tomorrow, 27-28 August 2016, Amatrice’s own food sagra would have taken place – La Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

How to help Amatrice via donations: