Ah la Serenissima………romantic, serene and effortlessly chic. Venice, my dear Reader. Venice. This week I have allowed myself just a little time to reminisce about times past before Poppy’s birthday and then finally Christmas descends. A life before being woken at the crack of dawn to two sets of huge blue eyes leaning over me asking for breakfast or a wee. A time when Jerry and I could jet off for the weekend with only our passports and a small overnight bag.
When Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s beautiful Venice – Recipes Lost and Found cookbook landed on my doorstep (thanks to publishers Hardie Grant), I was allowed a brief travel back in time to a past life to indulge in some very happy memories of Jerry whisking me off to Venice, with a teeny wee Primrose in my tummy, for a ‘babymoon’ before she arrived. I adored Venice from the moment we set foot on the vaporetti and although we didn’t manage a gondola ride and I couldn’t indulge in any sumptuous seafood, it was bliss for a few days. As most poor pregnant ladies are, I was awfully ill with morning sickness with Primrose and at 20 weeks, I had hoped that it would pass. Jerry had a cunning plan. A few days in Venice would be the perfect tonic and he told me emphatically that I would stop being sick as soon as I had spent my first night there. At the time, in truth I thought that he was a bit of a nutter. What could be worse for a sicky lady with a bun in the oven than the sound of sloshing water at every turn and numerous journeys by water taxi…..? However, by some miracle and much to my horror of Jerry ALWAYS being right, I did stop being sick on my first morning in Venice!
Diving into the pages of Katie and Giancarlo’s beautiful book, I remembered the delicious Venetian cichetti (fabulous little bitesize bar snacks served in most bacari) – certainly some of the best food we had on our little trip. Polpettine, tiny squares of fried polenta topped with olives, fritto misto…..heaven in tiny morsels. The cookbook delivers a wonderful assortment of quintessential Venetian recipes from cichetti to glorious ragus and stews as well as the classic saor (a sweet and sour recipe used with fish), with some divine puddings thrown in too. Perhaps one of the loveliest parts of the book are the stories behind the recipes and inspiration drawn from some truly vintage and historical Venetian cookery books including a 14th century work, Libro per Cuoco, a rare delight dedicated to the richness of Venice at a time when the air would have been heady with spices and it was an important trading post from East to West. For me, Katie and Giancarlo’s book celebrates the diversity of flavours to be found in this floating city.
Knocking up a batch of Polpette de melanzane from Katie and Giancarlo’s cookbook as a pre-dinner nibble, I was reminded of how these breadcrumbed balls of aubergine delicately flavoured with mint, garlic and chilli make the perfect canapé. They can be made quickly in advance and reheated in a warm oven – giving you enough time to chat before heading out to the kitchen again. I love that the book also offers a variety of classic polpette options: polpettine di carne and polpettine di tonno – ideal with a glass of Prosecco or in our case, a large glass of Barolo.
The cichetti I remember in Venice were to die for and I would happily have lived off those rather than having a proper meal. Especially as Jerry and I had a hilariously bad supper one evening when we decided to try a Time Out recommendation. Dear Reader, it was truly vile. I am not sure we have ever laughed so much though. We left hastily after the primi piatti and Jerry still describes his meal as looking rather like cuckoo spit! It could explain why the restaurant was practically empty at 8:30pm on a Friday night…. Top tip, dear Reader – if you are planning a trip to Venice, do take a look at Katie and Giancarlo’s recommendations at the back of the book to avoid any culinary catastrophes!
So with a belly full of homemade cichetti this time (instead of baby) and obligatory glass of Italian red, I thank you Kate and Giancarlo for transporting me back to a time before I had to referee two small children intent on bashing each other round the head with Lego. Thank you for whisking me away to one of my favourite places in the world, the glorious Venezia, reminding me that it may be a plane journey away but I can still shut the doors on a cold evening, make myself a bellini or two (thank you Harry’s Bar), knock up a batch of polpette and imagine I am sitting listening to the water and watching a floating world go by. Your cookbook is a Venetian triumph!
Venice by Giancarlo & Katie Caldesi (Hardie Grant, £25.00) Photography: Helen Cathcart