I am coming to you today as an old friend you don’t see for a while would: I’m full of things to tell you. The excitement is such that I might speak quickly and jump from one thing to the next without much of a connection. But I’d rather be overflowing than forgetful. So please stick with me, and we’ll get to the recipe before you know it.
First and foremost, I meant to tell you about Veneto, my cookbook, which will be released this Thursday. I feel like I’ve talked about it for so long now, that I’m struggling to fathom how fast time has passed. One week and those of you who preordered it in Europe will have a copy at their doorstep. I’m excited and terrified. Most of all, though, I just can’t wait for you to see it. It’s time.
Then, the book trailers.
A couple of months ago, I spent a day in my homeland with talented Lenny Pellico filming two teaser videos for the book. For the first, we biked around the countryside foraging for wild hops; picked peas from the garden and fresh eggs from the coop; and then cooked some of the recipes from the book. I wanted this first trailer to set the tone for the book, and to offer a glimpse into what the Venetian countryside (and my home) really looks like. You can see it here. The second, on the other hand, is set in Padova. It’s a city I feel particularly attached to and that well represents the other soul of the book – the more modern part of it. You can see the second video here. Hope you like them.
What else? Oh, yes, I have a few surprises in the pipeline for the next few weeks. For now, though, I just wanted to share another glimpse into the book. Serendipitously, the recipe is linked to a sagra (a local food festival) that will kick start next week in my home region, and which I’m looking forward to very much.
Spaghetti alla Busara
An extract from Veneto by Valeria Necchio (Guardian Faber)
Every year in July the charming maritime city of Chioggia (often referred to as ‘la piccola Venezia’, The Little Venice) hosts a big festival, the sagra del pesce, celebrating its long-held fishing tradition and wonderful seafood cuisine. It has recently become an unmissable event for my parents — a sort of new family tradition, which I am happy to honour whenever I happen to be around (you’ll never see me bailing out from the prospect of a seafood feast).
Along the main pedestrian street, arrays of stalls offer a series of seafoodbased piatti tipici at reasonable prices: from fritto misto to risotto di pesce, from peoci in cassopipa (steamed mussels in parsley sauce) to baccalà. The dynamics — well — those resemble any other food festival in Italy. Patrons form scattered queues in front of the cashier, yell their order to the overwhelmed lady at the till, wait (impatiently) for a table to clear, sit down — not without pestering the tables nearby, finish a first jug of prosecco (rigorously on tap), go for a second round (hear their name, pick up their order), sit down bothering everybody once more, and finally tuck in with gusto, leaving behind a trail of emptied bivalve shells. It’s a fun, folkloristic experience; a full immersion in the atmosphere of the place, and an occasion to eat some very delicious fish.
It was at this sagra del pesce that I first tasted spaghetti alla busara. I had never come across it before (a sign of how many facets regional Italian cuisine can have, and of how different food can be even between two neighbouring towns); I was intrigued. Needless to say, I was pretty pleased to see some fat scampi coming my way as my order reached the table. The sauce itself turned out to be of the simplest kind (just tomato, parsley and a hint of chilli, all brought together by olive oil and wine) but impeccable in its basic nature; no need to mess about with good scampi after all.
Since then, spaghetti alla busara has become the sort of pasta I like making for friends when cooking Venetian. It’s impressive and yet unfussy, refined but a bit messy, and it asks for licking your fingers like there’s no tomorrow. I like to think of it as a feast in itself.
60ml extra virgin olive oil
1 golden onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, whole but lightly crushed
2 dried chillies (or ¼ teaspoon chilli flakes)
180ml dry white wine
700g (about 5–6) fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
1 tablespoon very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Start by cleaning the scampi. Wash them thoroughly under cold running water, then slit the back and remove the black thread (intestine). Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion over a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and the chillies and stir. Let them infuse the oil for a couple of minutes (reduce the heat if they look like burning), then throw in the scampi and increase the heat to high. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside. Pour in the wine; allow it to reduce over a very high heat and then add the chopped tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 15–20 minutes, until the tomatoes appear saucy. If during this time the sauce dries out excessively, add a drop of water. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the spaghetti very al dente — about 3 minutes short of the suggested cooking time — reserving about 250ml of cooking water. Drain and transfer to the pan with the tomato sauce and add the scampi, too. Place over a medium-high heat and pour in the reserved cooking water. Toss until the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid and is nicely coated in sauce.
Sprinkle with parsley and toss some more to combine. Serve right away.
Find out more and buy your copy of Veneto here.