I personally benefit from Nicoletta's expertise when I want a special ingredient for a fancy meal, to visit a new restaurant, and, especially, when she just sends me an early morning message: "The first pumpkins from Vignole are at the market!" That got me thinking. Why is the food here in Venice, and in Italy overall, really so good? Italian recipes are mostly comparatively simple to prepare and the number of ingredients are usually comparatively few. Nicoletta and I discussed it. (We do often talk about food!) And we agreed that it is the quality, seasonality and proximity of the ingredient's origin that makes all the difference.
Then we thought: This is really the first thing that people should know about Venetian food! Armed with this basic knowledge, even traveller's who haven't got a kitchen to work in can focus on seasonal menus and local products and thus get a taste of the best of Venetian foods during their limited time in Venice.
Nicoletta being significantly more expert than I, I asked if she'd be willing to write a post introducing the concept of shopping for seasonal ingredients here in Venice. Below, she gives us not only that, but also an introduction to and some background about the Rialto Market, tips on what's in season right now, plus a great recipe to try at home. Enjoy!
Seasonal Shopping in Rialto
But if one wants to do all the shopping in one go, there is no place like Rialto and, anyway, for fish this is the best place. Those who live on the other bank use the so-called gondolino (meaning small gondola, a two-man smaller version of the famous boat) to cross the Grand Canal, which costs 0,70 cents for residents and 2,00 euros for non-residents.
As everywhere else in Venice, it is the trade and function that gave the name to the different streets and campi, in fact we have: Erbaria, name that derives from the word herbs and used to host the closest warehouses, Sotoportego del Bancogiro, where between 1524 and 1806 there was a public bank (now a fancy restaurant), the Pescaria from the word pesce (fish), the Casaria from caseario (dairy),Calle dello Spezier, literally meaning spice street, and so on. In Calle dello Spezier and in Ruga Rialto, take the time to notice the beautiful marble signs over the entrance door where there were once a butcher and a grocer’s.
Going back to food shopping, the most important thing is to buy local and seasonal whenever possible. Italian cuisine is renown for its simplicity and the secret really all lies in the ingredients! Right now it's summer and it's the moment of nightshades. Most stalls have local produce, read the sign specifying the origin, from different islands of the lagoon and areas of the nearby countryside. When herbs are an essential element of my recipe, I always go to the Fratelli Moro stall, at the corner in front of the Pescaria. The quality of the vegetable is excellent and the price for value even better.
I am planning to prepare stuffed aubergines and I am going to use cheese, so I head to La Baita, the tiny corner shop at the crossing between the Sotto portico degli Oresi and Ruga Rialto. This place may not look fancy, but believe me it has some excellent products at very good prices. I am buying a piece of Sardinian pecorino and fresh ricotta, but since you have come all the way to Venice, you must also try their baccalà mantecato (creamed stockfish, ask them to make you a sandwhich), one of my favorites in town.
The last ingredient I need are pistachios, so the final destination is Mascari, one of the most respected delicacy shops in Venice. Mascari really has a great offer and I believe that for certain products, like wine, liquors, dry fruit, nuts and spices, they have the best value for money.
INGREDIENTS (Serves 2)
3 long aubergines
1 big potato
30 gr grated pecorino
1 spoon ricotta
½ garlic clove (optional)
1 organic lemon
half a batch of mint
- Put one potato in a pot with cold water, bring to boil, cook for 30/35 minutes, let cool and peel the skin.
- Preheat oven at 200°.
- Rinse the aubergines, remove top and, with a spoon, empty them of their inside and chop it roughly. Put the emptied aubergines and the chopped pieces on a baking tray and leave in the oven for about 10 minutes
- In the meantime, squeeze the juice of half a lemon, grate some zests, smash the potato, grate the pecorino, crunch the pistachios and combine in a bowl adding the ricotta. Mix well, add a pinch of salt and the finely chopped mint.
- Remove the aubergines from the oven. Put the chopped slices of the aubergine in a metal bowl, add a few drops of olive oil and water and mix with a hand blender. Finally combine with the potato, cheese, lemon, pistachio and mint mixture (optional: if you like, add half a clove of crushed fresh garlic)
- With a spoon, fill the aubergines with the stuffing, put them on a baking tray and add more grated pecorino and a few drops of extra virgin oil.
- Set the oven at 180° and cook for about 20/25 minutes depending on your oven. Turn the oven in grill mode for the final 8/10 minutes.
I suggest serving with a salad aside and a glass of dry white wine.
To learn more about real gourmet food in Venice check out: www.naturallyepicurean.org