A Venetian Shadow

venice canaletto-veduta-del-canal-grande-

Just returned from from Venice whose fatal charm is still as strong as ever despite the crowded vaporetti and tourist hype. The reflected light off the water still shines as unique and beautiful reflecting onto the colors of the buildings and still magically morphs into shadows. The light of Venice is legendary. Canaletto’s 18th century scenes of  Venice’s Grand Canal play on the reflections of light and shadow. In Venice the Italian phrase bere un’ombra means “to drink a shadow” and un’ombra, “the shadow”, they are referring to is a glass of wine.

venice san marco

In the past, Piazza San Marco was filled with vendors of all kinds. At the foot of the massive Campanile across the square was a wine seller. During the day, he used to adjust his stand to stay in the shadow of the bell tower and soon “let’s go in the shade” became an in-the-know way of saying “let’s go have a glass of wine”.

The movable wine shop is no more but “drinking a shadow” remains the traditional phrase for drinking a glass of wine in the seductive city of Venice.


wine and venice

However un’ombra is not a typical bicchiere di vino, (glass of wine) drunk with a meal but a small glass typically ordered with *cicchetti, an assortment of appetizers or tiny snacks served at a Venetian bàcaro, a tavern or wine bar unique to Venice. Un ombra typically is an inexpensive, young wine ( vino sfuso)  sold for around 1 euro a glass in bars  served with a delicious cicchetti it is an essential Venetian ritual for a person’s health and well-being.

Small Bites in the Shade

crostini and pesto

Pesto Genovese & Sun-Dried Tomato Crostini

8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup La Bella Angiolina Ligurian Basil Pesto
1 jar Italian Sun-Dried Tomatoes packed in extra virgin olive oil
1 loaf of rustic Italian bread
In a mixer or with wooden spoon, blend softened cheeses until smooth. Gently fold in pesto or place a dollop on top. Spread on bread slices and top with a piece of  roasted or sun-dried tomato.

polenta and cod

Grilled Polenta with Cod Fish Mousse

10 oz. dried salt cod
4 cups milk
1 medium yellow onion, halved
1 rib celery, halved
1 clove garlic, crushed
1⁄2 cup olive oil, plus more
1 1⁄3 cups Biancoperla white corn polenta
24 small radicchio leaves
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Place cod in a 2-qt. saucepan, and cover by 2″ with cold water; boil for 20 minutes. Drain cod, return to saucepan, and repeat process twice more. Transfer cod to a 6-qt. saucepan and add milk, onion, celery, garlic, and 10 cups water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until cod is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain cod, reserving 1⁄4 cup cooking liquid; discard vegetables and skin and bones from cod. Process cod and cooking liquid in a food processor until smooth. While processor is running, drizzle in 1⁄2 cup oil; continue mixing until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper; chill cod mousse.

Cook polenta according to package instructions. Transfer to a greased 12″ x 9″ rimmed baking sheet; smooth top and chill until set. Cut polenta into 2″ x 3″ rectangles; brush with extra virgin olive oil. Grill polenta, turning once, until slightly charred, about 4 minutes. Top each rectangle with radicchio leaf and a dollop of cod mousse; sprinkle with parsley. (adapted from a recipe at Saveur Magazine)

*the word cicchetti is derived from the Latin ciccus meaning very small

Meet Hugo – The Alpine Spritz


A recent trip to Ikea for a bottle of elderflower syrup was needed to complete my reminiscence of Hugo.  If you’ve traveled in the Trentino- Alto Adige region of Northern Italy you’ve probably met up with him at an aperitivo bar where he can always be found making everyone happy.  He is refreshing and light, popular and charming. Hugo is a palate pleasing aperitivo from Italy’s Sudtirol, a cousin of the edgy Venetian Spritz. Both are made with prosecco or white wine, sparkling mineral water (soda) and a flavor variant. In Venice that would a bitter aperitif like Aperol, variations made with Campari or Cynar.


But Hugo (pronounced Ugo in Italian) comes from the Italian Alps that border on Austria and Switzerland where cultures collide in a tri-lingual mix of German, Italian and  Ladino, an ancient language spoken by about 30,000 residents. Alpine valleys are sprinkled with elderflower blossoms and made into a syrup used as the main ingredient for a Hugo, the Alpine Spritz.

Add ice cubes to a tall wine or water glass. Mix in 1 part sciroppo di sambuco (Elderflower syrup) with two parts sparkling mineral water and three parts prosecco . Stir gently and serve. Garnish with mint.

You might also want to try a new version of this Italian classic trending the internet this summer.

Elderflower Cordial Cocktail
1 ounce elderberry flower syrup
1 ounce Citadel gin
2 thick lemon slices – one to squeeze and one to garnish
6-8 ounces chilled soda water

Pack a 10 or 12 ounce glass with ice. Pour in the syrup and gin and squeeze one lemon slice over. Stir and top off with chilled soda water. Sip through a straw and godete – enjoy!


Il Regno del Tiramisu

pompi tiramisuWe’re traveling to the Rome, the Kingdom of Tiramisu. Known as such because of Bar Gelateria POMPI (Via Albalonga 7B/9/11-00183 Rome) – said to make the most delicious authentic tiramisu you will find during your travels in Italy. This iconic Italian confection made from layers of espresso soaked savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers) slathered with custardy mascarpone cheese, sprinkled with cocoa is said to have originated in Venice based upon a classic zabaglione custard. Perfected in Treviso, where you can still  enjoy the classic tiramisu recipe at Ristorante Le Beccherie, it took Giuliano Pompi and Rome to make it eternal.

The name, tiramisu comes from the local dialect of “tirarse su“,  the action of pulling yourself together, of recovering your energy. Listen to Bar Gelateria Pompi explain  the origin of the name, why their tiramisu is so good and the three most important ingredients in the making of this memorable Italian dolce.

The Vocabulary of Venice

Venice Eric streetsMost cities in Italy reflect the food, wine, art and design of a particular region and then there is Venice. A stand alone city of palaces and churches built on 117 islands linked by nearly 400 bridges with canals instead of streets and boats rather than cars and buses. Unique unto its own, dependent on the sea, Venice went well beyond Italy’s borders looking across the Adriatic to the East rather than Western Europe for her power and prestige. A cosmopolitan city for her time, Venice was different. Her ruler was called the Doge. He wore a funny hat called a corno ducale  and was elected from the ranks of the aristocracy and could only rule with the support of the aristocrats and the common man. The influence of the East brought a certain exotic elegance to Venice as seafaring merchants and traders brought their goods and services to Venetian ports. In Venice artists and painters, printers, ceramists, glassworkers, woodworkers, lace makers, goldsmiths and sculptors were considered professional artisans and unlike many other parts of Italy where artists were funded in part by the Church or commissioned merely for the honor (without remuneration), the artisans of Venice were paid for their work and produced prolifically.

A city with such a lineage merits a vocabulary of its own to describe all the nuances of living in La Serenissima, beginning with the Italian word for house casa.

ca‘ — the abbreviated form of the word “casa” used for the noble palazzi of Venice, once private residences now museums that line the Grand Canal.

calle – (pronounced ca-lay), the most commonly used word for street, known as via or strada elsewhere in Italy. There are numerous variations.

stretto – a narrow passageway.

campo – everywhere else in Italy a square is called a piazza while in Venice the only piazza is Piazza San Marco ; all other squares are campi from the Italian word for field or meadow. Almost every one of Venice’s campi carries the name of the church that is or was associated with it.

androni – ground floor of a palazzo, often flooded during periods of aque alte (high waters).

piano nobilethe reception floor of a palazzo above the androne.

canale — there are three principal canals in Venice; Canale Grande (the Grand Canal), Canale della Giudecca, and Canale di Cannaregio.

rio – each of the other 160 or so smaller canals.

rio terrà – a filled-in canal now used as a street.

fondamenta – a walkway along the side of a rio.

riva – promenades along the Grand Canal near the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto (one of the four bridges across the Grand Canal and the oldest.

ramo – meaning “branch,” a small side street.

salizzada – meaning “laid with cobblestones,” so any street you see in Venice prefaced with salizzada was one of the first streets in Venice to be paved.

sottoportego – a passage under a building. sottoportego and venice

It is well know that the foods of Italy are local reflections of the culture and traditions of the region and all have their own regional names. Long thick strands of pasta are called stringozzi in Umbria, pici in Tuscany and bigoli in Venice. The exotic spices of Byzantium and the East flavored, colored and named the food of Venice with dishes like baccalà mantecato (creamed cod), risi e bisi (rice and peas), sardee in saor ( sweet and sour sardines with onions, pine nuts and raisins) and fegato alla Veneziana (liver and onions ). All but preludes to the notorious Venetian pastries that like the arabesque architecture and gilded mosaics reflect the sweet, serene, stunningly beautiful life of Venice.

pan di gogi best

What Happens in Venice Stays in Venice?

You might think I’m talking about the pursuits of the masqued Venetian party-goers of Carnevale but what I’m referring to is indulging my uncontrollable desire for Venetian pastries. Frittellezaletti (Venetian cornmeal diamonds) tiramisu and decadent tortas, where does it end? If you happen to be in Venice, never; Venice a city where sugar seems to be in the air. The seemingly endless Venetian pastry shops (pasticcerria) that line the narrow streets and spill out into each campo from the Dorsoduro to San Polo tempt you with all manner of confectionary delights.

Who can resist pallone di casanova (Casanova’s Balls) or not be intrigued by lingue di suocera (“mother-in-law’s tongues”)? Or the classic pastries of Café Florian with a romantic view of St. Mark’s Cathedral and canals that have enchanted visitors for generations. Although Baci in Gondola (kisses in a gondola), speckled white meringues bound together by a stripe of dark chocolate are appealing, my favorite Venetian sweets

pan di gogi best are the Doge’s Cookies (Pan dei Doge). Being partial to Doges in general (see my blog on Descended from the Doge) these cookies are amazingly good. I am enamored of the pistachio version and if that weren’t enough to tempt my latent sweet tooth there is the exotic and elegant Torta del Doge, a small buttery cake filled with raisins topped with pine nuts and flavored with rum and I haven’t even mentioned the zabaglione  cream puffs.

The Red Passion Collection – What does an Italian Sourceress conjure up for Valentine’s Day?

moon 2

What does an Italian Sourceress conjure up for Valentine’s Day to See and Savor Italy?

Traveling in Italy, sourcing products for CosituttiMarketPlace , brings me to artisan producers and generational families who have a passion for the cultural and culinary history of regional Italian food and la bella vita . Here is a collection of some of our favorite food, wine, art and design for the Red Passion of an Italian inspired Valentine’s Day.  A desirable collection that shares the color Red and the Romance of Italy.

Francis Francis X7.1

I could have begun the Red Passion Collection with an iconic red Ferrari but I was looking for something a little more attainable and Illy’s Francis Francis X7.1 iperEspresso machine may be it. The signature lipstick red curved design by Italian architect Luca Trazzi makes brewing a cup of espresso a work of art and a whole lot of fun.

Campari and Red Wine

Campari has always been my favorite Italian aperitivo. This bitter-sweet, bright red herbal liqueur is made from over 80 different herbs whose recipe remains an everlasting family secret. Among the Brunello, Chianti and Super Tuscans that get most of the wine media’s attention there are a whole group of bold, full-bodied Italian red wines and pale rosy sparklers that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day. Here are a few to consider.

  • Brick-red or garnet Barolo and Barbaresco – the King and Queen of Italian wines from Piemonte
  • Ruby colored Barbera d’Asti another Piemontese wine with aromas of juicy black cherry, ripened blackberry and plum
  • Rose-red Brachetto d’Acqui – a semi-sparkling frizzante with a natural sweetness reminiscent of rose petals, strawberries and raspberries with a low alcohol content (5.5%)

Aceto Balsamico

In the pantheon of Italian food products one type of vinegar stands above all others, Aceto Balsamico from Modena. Rich, glossy, a deep red-brown, a true balsamic vinegar gets its color from the skillful cooking of the grape must and the aging in wooden barrels and its complexity of flavor from the passion of those who make this unique Italian condiment. It is a tonic, digestivo, a gastronomic treasure of Italy with a depth of flavor that enlivens a variety of foods. Our favorite-drizzled over flakes of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Chianti Red Wine Jelly

The passion and color of Chianti red wine combines with organic apples from the Arno Valley to create a chutney-style jelly, a unique condimento or perfected glaze with a sharp yet sweet flavor that complements grilled meats, pork, lamb, roasted chicken and more like this deliciously different for Chianti Cranberry Sauce.

Amarena Sour Cherry Jam

You’re almost tempted to drink this jam made from the viscola cherry of the Marche by Morella Austera as the aroma of wild cherries and deep ruby color reminds you of a wild cherry wine which they also make! We use it in a variety of ways on muffins, toast, as a topping for ice cream, yogurt or panna cotta and as a filling for our Italian thumbprint cookies.
Italian Red Sauce

Botanically related to the mandrake, or “love plant”, the tomato was once believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, said to be able to “lead a man like a dog”. It certainly has led a lot of men to the table as a sauce, seasoning and ingredient. Cooked tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant making Italian red sauces ideal for a heart healthy Valentine’s Day like this Tuscan Red Sauce made with Sangiovese Wine.

Venice and Verona

Venice “La Serenissima” is perhaps the most evocative and romantic of all Italian cities and Verona a city so famous for love that it gets thousands of letters simply addressed to “Juliet. Two of our favorite cities in Italy and the setting for two of our favorite movies about Italy. Against the evocative background of Venice, Casanova (played by Heath Ledger) finds the true meaning of love all while avoiding the Inquisition and in Verona Club di Giulietta, a group of volunteers keep the romance of Juliet alive by answering letters that have been left for her in Verona for over 70 years. One letter inspired the movie Letters to Juliet. Listen to one of Shakespeare’s most beautifully sung sonnets.

A Picture is Worth a 360 Degree View

San Gimignano

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. A moment in time, an idea that becomes an unspoken memory.  Whether a sepia toned picture of the past or a digital image of the present each picture brings with it a reality faded or vivid. Smart phone photography with fotos on demand means that you can create and share those memories in a nano second with unprecedented picture quality and detail so that you almost feel like you were there.

The website 360 Cities takes this experience once step further with extraordinary panoramic fotos that give a 360 degree view with an incredible level of detail so that visually you are there. You literally step into the photograph by moving your cursor up, down, sideways, 360 degrees to get a virtual tour of over 90 countries from  photographers all over the world. Whether your researching archival fotos, curious about a sight or want to re-live a travel moment you can so with extraordinary detail.  I like to use this website for pre-trip planning to take a virtual full-screen 360 degree walk-about of what I plan to see. It’s like a virtual guidebook and with 360 Cities mobile app you can view hundreds of thousands of the world’s finest panoramas on the go.

Here are a few of my favorite 360 Cities Italian panoramas that make make me feel like I’m there.