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

Trick of Treat What Do Italians Eat (Drink, Buy and Do)

Let’s play a game of “Trick or Treat!”

Here’s the idea: We’ll present you with a few commonly held ideas about Italian culture and living to see whether you know if it’s true (treat!) or a false view of the way Italians eat, drink and live (trick!). And if you have any tricks in your pasta pot let us know and we’ll see if we know how to see and savor Italy.

 

 

Italians Eat Pizza with a Thick Crust

TRICK -Pizza with a thick crust and deep dish pizza are American inventions.  The classic Neopolitan pizza, considered by all Italians to be the benchmark for all pizza, is made from a thin disc of dough cooked in a wood-fired oven according to guidelines outlined by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, based in Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza. According to their rules, an authentic Neapolitan pizza must be . . . Read more

Italians Favor Wine from Chianti

TRICK -Although the wines of the Chianti region in Tuscany are highly regarded there are other regions in Italy that produce outstanding wines. Quite frankly Italians generally favor the wine from the region they come from defending their territorial appellations with as much passion as an AC Milan vs. Inter rivalry (unless it’s prosecco which everyone agrees that the best is from the Valdobbiadene). Some of my favorite regional Italian wines come from Piedmonte (like a Langhe Nebbiolo) and a Valpolicella from the Veneto if I am drinking a Chianti, a Colli Senesi  from the hills of Siena suits me just fine.

Italian Gold is some of the Finest in the World

TREAT – Italian goldsmiths have been shaping jewelry out of gold from the time of the Etruscans. The  Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s bridge of bling, is lined with jewerly shops selling hand crafted gold necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets but many smaller studios and workshops throughout Italy carry on the ancient tradtions of Italian gold.

Shops in Italy are Generally Closed Between 1 and 4 o’clock in the Afternoon   

TREAT – Although not all of the shops in Italy are closed between the hours of 1 to 4pm  it is still quite frequent to find Italians taking a pausa  (the break after lunch when shops close in many Italian towns) during the afternoon. Italians believe that there is a benefit to taking things slowly, savoring the food, the company and the passing of the day. Each business owner’s siesta will vary so don’t be disappointed when you arrive in the afternoon to discover CHIUSO (closed ) posted on the door.  Americans may find the idea of an extended lunch break frustrating at first, but if you’re traveling like an Italian it can be a welcome riposo for a nap or an afternoon stroll in the park – a well-deserved treat.

Italians Are What They Eat

You’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat”. This slightly overused mantra has made its way into the vocabulary of food from proselytizing nutritionists to the voice over introduction on one of the Food Network’s most popular shows.  The Italians were eating healthy, nutritious regional food long before the term “locavore”, sustainability and week- end farmer’s markets became chic. So it follows that Italians are very concerned about the ingredients they use and most Italians I know would be the first to say that great ingredients make great recipes.

                                                                                                

Here are 7 ingredients that no self-respecting Italian would be without.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Italians know that being extra virgin is better. For flavor, taste, aroma and health benefits extra virgin olive oil is absolutely better. It is the freshest oil you can buy, high in polyphenols and protective antioxidants beneficial to heart health. A wide variety of medical studies also document the benefits of extra virgin olive oil in controlling blood glucose levels and strengthening the immune system.

 Oregano and Rosemary – Oregano is a source of natural antioxidants and has as many antioxidants as 3 cups of fresh spinach and rosemary is known as an anti-inflammatory.  Both carry loads of flavor. Whether fresh or dried, rosemary’s sweet pungent piney scent and the herbal spiciness of oregano are the herbs of choice in Italian cooking.

 Tomatoes – Eaten fresh or made into a sauce, tomatoes are an essential ingredient in the Italian pantry. In the summer they are layered between slices of buffalo mozzarella, anointed with extra virgin olive oil and scented with fresh basil or used to make a panzanella, Tuscany’s simple yet sublime bread salad.  At all times tomatoes are the base for the Italian red sauce giving depth to hundreds of regional Italian recipes that have made Italian food recognized all over the world.   

Garlic – Garlic is the godfather of Italian cooking. Chop it, crush it, then, let it sit to release the aroma, enzymatic and cardio-protective benefits found in fresh garlic. Respect this ingredient; use it well and it will never fail to add just what you need to perfect your dish.  

Pasta – Confused about pasta, don’t be. The most flavorful pasta is artisan pasta, roughly textured to allow the sauce to better adhere giving a more uniform and consistently delicious flavor to each bite. Quality pasta ia a “good carbohydrate” made from semolina flour, which is ground from durum wheat with a low glycemic index (41).  Italians eat pasta as a small introductory course (primo piatto) to the meal rather than in Mount Vesuvius proportions typical of American style dining.

Grapes and Wine – The pivotal role of grapes and red wine in the maintenance of health is well documented.  In Italy wine is considered to be a natural resource, a companion to food, a link to the past, a tradition to be preserved and a respected ingredient in cooking.

Cheese – The soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses of Italy are not easily translated in the US. Americanized versions of Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), Mozzarella and Ricotta are not the same as what you will find in Italy.  Regional cheese making in Italy is government regulated with strict guidelines for manufacturing with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law. Cheese in Italy is eaten as an accompaniment to a meal and enjoyed as an artisan product. It is often eaten as a dessert course with fruit.