My Venice Food Guide (New Edition)

Venice October 2015

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Venice is one of those cities that will never cease to amaze. Its beauty – so elusive, always on the verge of fading away – moves crowds. Its charm never comes amiss, and yet so much of it is invisible to those who don’t dare to explore a little further. For them, Venice will always just be a just handful of gorgeous landmarks that are, alas, often too crowded to be truly enjoyable. But for those who take the time to adventure beyond the beaten track reward awaits, in the form of suggestive alleys, stunning palettes, picturesque canal views, and glimpses of daily life in this charming city.


In this sense, one could think of Venice as a city with many faces. It has a shiny facade made of glittering palazzi and luxury hotels, fancy cafés and chic restaurants. On the other side of the spectrum is a backdrop of crass vendors selling cheap merchandise. In the middle is its true soul – its most enjoyable side, made of residents, students, workers, normal people. This is the side of Venice I encourage people to go and find, far beyond the crowds. That’s the side of Venice I wished everybody would see.


Venice’s food scene reflects this multifaceted soul. On the one hand, you’ll find the finest dining catered to the global elite. On the other, dodgy eateries dispatching rubbery pizza by the slice or microwaved lasagna. But once again, the truth is in the middle, which means that Venice’s truest, most exciting cuisine is to be found in neither places, but rather in a handful of osterie, restaurants and wine bars (especially the wine bars! no one does wine bars better than Venice) where history and atmosphere meet an active engagement in preserving an aspect of the Venetian food culture (being this a ritual, a recipe, or some rare local ingredient) and a continuous commitment to serve good, honest food. This is where I like eating; where I like taking friends; and where I like showing visitors for a deeply Venetian experience.


With this in mind, I gathered a few of my favourite places to eat and drink in Venice and put them together into this Venice Food Guide. The premise is, I don’t believe there’s still such a thing as Venice’s best-kept secret. When it comes to good spots to eat in Venice, rest assured that every restaurant, every hole in the wall in the city has been written about, reviewed, critiqued, rated, found. You’ll find tourists, few or many, wise or clueless, pretty much wherever you go. And yet neither is this a bad sign nor does it lessen a place’s worth. I’m all for sharing the experience with whoever is interested in discovering part of Venice’s culture through its food. This, after all, is the ultimate scope of this guide, which I hope you’ll find useful, reliable and, most of all, enjoyable.

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Pumpkin Olive Oil Chocolate Cake

Pumpkin Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

I’m writing about this lovely pumpkin olive oil chocolate cake from my new kitchen in London. Now, if I lift my head from the computer screen and glimpse at the little back garden just outside the kitchen door I see a quintessentially English photogram. The weather is cloudy, a bit gloomy, chilly but not cold. There’s a mild wind that makes the vine growing along the wooden fence bounce and dance – a slow waltz, maybe. Earlier I saw a squirrel jumping over onto our portion of pebbles. I suspect it’s hiding its acorns in our yard, but I might need to investigate further.

It feels good to be here. This autumn feeling has a soothing effect on me – it slows my pace, makes me more focused. I have skipped this season twice this year. Now I realise that I missed wishing for the comfort of a woollen blanket, of a pot of stew bubbling on the stove for the good part of an afternoon. I now have many such days to look forward to here. Which is why, so as not to arrive unprepared, with me I brought a few recipes to match the spirit of the upcoming season. Long braises and spiced cakes I am eager to try.

But first, this cake.

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Fig Tart with Pine Nuts & Rosemary

This is a tart that came to happen by means of foraged fruits. For figs aren’t the kind of fruits a Venetian countryman or woman would ever buy. You’ll either pick them from the tree in your yard or go out on in the fields and find some there. I have been doing both, reverting to the second option as soon as our young tree was spent.  Even now that the season for figs is coming to an end, I managed to gather enough fruits to try this fig tart twice. After the second attempt, having grown quite fond of its aromatic flair, I was keen to share my impressions (and the recipe) here. I hope I’m not too late, and that you can still find figs where you are, no matter whether in the wild or at the market.

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Black Locust Flower Fritters (Frittelle di Acacia)

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I had almost forgotten how glorious springtime in Veneto can be. How warm the May sun can shine, and how pleasant it is to eat lunch outside with the white roses intertwined around the wooden pergola. How early strawberries ripen here, and how late the sun sets. I had almost forgotten how much I yearned for some proper spring weather in the past four years, despite the blooming magnolias and the dangling wisteria. I am reminded now, here, sitting at my old desk, the window wide open and a sweet scent of orange blossoms blowing from the garden.

Two weeks in my homeland and I’ve already fallen into some good old habits: munching on pan biscotto (some local sort of crunchy bread) while waiting for lunch; circling the house and the garden multiple times throughout the day in search for ideas; going for long walks turned into foraging expeditions; and drinking too much espresso, sometimes with a dash of grappa, too, usually on Sundays.

Whenever we go for walks together, Dad joins me in my foraging efforts, mostly because he loves weeds as much as I do. On our last trip, for instance, we found dandelion, nettle, and bruscandoli (wild hops), the holy trinity of Venetian wild edible plants. We picked two bagfuls in total, then proceeded to wash them and turn them into a huge skillet of stir-fried greens with pancetta, a nettle frittata, and a risotto with wild hops, which were still surprisingly tender and reminiscent of rosemary.

And now that the last of the young shoots and leaves have morphed into tough grown-ups, it’s time to pick edible wildflowers. Late spring is their moment. Florid bushy trees of elderflower (sambuco) and black locust (faux acacia or robinia) grow between parcels of land. Their branches have been heavy with flowers for weeks now – one can smell them before even seeing them. Black locust flowers – dangling clusters of tiny, intensely perfumed white flowers – are slowly coming to an end, though many trees are still in bloom. We have been picking basketfuls of flowers to fill every vase in the house, their beauty and sweetness a fleeting bliss before they fade and wither and bend, spent.

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