Bruscandoli, or wild hop shoots, are one of those foraged foods that mark the start of spring in Veneto. And although their fleeting season is coming to an end now that the cool rainfalls of April have given way to days of warm May sun, there is still a little chance to find them.
I had no hope of finding them this week, on my usual walk along the canal. It’s been too hot, I thought. And yet there they were – pale green leaves and curly stems and delicate tops reaching up towards the sky. There they were, growing through the insidious blackberry shrubs that haven’t yet bloomed, and around the rows of rushes swinging in the feeble breeze. Fragile they are, but also vital, and powerful as they propel themselves higher than anything around them like a stretched arm as if to say: “Pick me.”
We entered the deli in via Marmorata, in the bustling Roman neighbourhood of Testaccio, short after noon. A well-nourished crowd of locals was populating the tiny space, raising their voices to make themselves heard by the people serving behind the counter. All were waiting, more or less impatiently, to be served their daily dose of pecorino, guanciale, ricotta, and pizza bianca. We joined the crowd, famished after an early rise and a long train journey.
Testaccio is a great place to be for food, as good traditional trattorias, street food branches, delis, markets and bars aren’t short in the neighbourhood. From our previous Roman trip, we vaguely remembered there was a good deli on the main road linking the river to the Pyramid. Our well-seasoned plan was to just walk until we stumbled upon it. We eventually did and recognised it immediately for the bountiful displays of preserves, hams and whole cheeses in the window. And so, we joined the not-so-orderly queue and started to think about what we wanted for lunch.
We are going to Venice for Christmas this year, the first Christmas with my family in three years. I am excited and happy beyond words. We are flying on Christmas Eve and landing just in time for dinner. The plan is to get a gin tonic as we fly high up in the sky while watching an episode or two of Boardwalk Empire, just to kick off the holiday season with the right foot.
I am ready to be covered in hugs and fed well and copiously. There will be bigoli in salsa for dinner on the 24th, I am sure, and lots of panettone. There might be cantucci too – now an official threat to my first ever tooth filling as of this week (not proud of that). We’ll take small day trips here and there – perhaps Venice and Padova, or who knows Bologna, or even Milan, or just some small villages in the beautiful Veneto hills. I’ll make sure to report back about any of these, but more about them in a few weeks.
If I have to visualise the best scenario for an aperitivo, I see a Venetian square bathed in the warmth of a summer evening light. The square is not crowded, but lively with people gathering and forming small, chatty groups standing at the doorsteps of the most popular bars. I see a handful of friends around me, each of them with their drink in hand, all of us cheering, suddenly relaxed by the simple presence of each other as we chat the evening away. I see someone going back for a refill and some nibbles – perhaps some crostini or cicchetti. And one of them will certainly be eggs and anchovies.
Eggs and anchovies (meso ovo, in the local dialect) is a traditional Venetian cicchetto, which can be found in almost all the respectable bàcari in town. A poor dish, aimed at satisfying some serious peckishness with simple, easy-to-get ingredients, it has for long been one of the most democratic snacks to go with the glass of wine. they are as good consumed in a Venetian alley as they are at home, perhaps with a glass of
Now, if you don’t find yourself any close to a Venetian square, rest assured that they will be as good at home, better still with a spritz to keep the Venetian theme.