If you have seen the news lately you’ve probably noticed the stories about historic flooding in Venice. Our hearts go out to people who have lost and endured much in this flooding and will have a lot of work to do to restore, reopen and try to, quite literally, stay afloat.
A city that has stolen the hearts of many, including myself, Venice is famous for incredible crafts like blown glass, masks, and lace, and unique local cuisine including cicchetti, meals of risotto, pasta with squid ink or seafood, and soups made Venetian style.
While “made in china” replicas compete with the authentic artisans, a few talented and passionate Venetians still hang on, still make and offer their products the traditional way, and are passionate enough about their city to endure the challenges that come with living there.
Mia Emilia shares this passion for authenticity, and in honor of Venice, this week we want to focus on this stunning city; the people and flavors that make it unique.
Venice was my first love in Italy. Nothing can prepare you for the first glimpse of St. Mark’s Square as it emerges on the horizon. Even having seen thousands of pictures, seeing it for the first time it’s hard to believe your eyes. As it comes into view, it takes my breath away. Every time.
We stayed on the Lido that first visit, a nearby island with a beach and pretty architecture. A group of us went to walk on the beach and walking along blissfully the sand beneath me gave way. I found myself waist-deep in a hole and wrapped in a towel. Grace here had fallen into the local boys’ trap. A hole, covered by a towel, covered by sand. Nice trick, actually! They were kind enough to check on me through their laughter.
I laughed too, it’s impossible not to be jovial there. This was the first time I’d known real joy and fun in my life. It took Italy to introduce me to happiness. You never know what will wake your soul.
Later that evening we were heading into the city and on the way, I smelled something that surely comes from Heaven itself, jasmine. A piece of my heart fell there among the star-shaped white flowers.
Walking into St. Mark’s Square on a Summer evening means music and magic. Music from the cafes, all playing at once. Music in the laughter of locals and tourists combined. Music in the bells. Magic in all of it together.
As night falls on the city, stars twinkle, water glistens, and the Basilica lit up in the darkness could melt the coldest heart. Couples dance to dueling orchestras, and people fall in love. In love with each other. In love with the city. And for me at least, that first evening in Venice meant falling in love with life.
What a joy it is to discover. We watched a glass master create a beautiful vase of blown glass, ladies with fingers much more graceful than mine hand stitching lace, a gondolier pointing out the home of Marco Polo amid stories of learning to row as a child, and a proud waiter serving his personal recommendations, fresh today.
Food in Venice is special if you go somewhere authentic. Its position on the water means fresh seafood galore. Chefs head to the market early each morning to select what looks best for their restaurants that day.
Its northern location means excellent risottos and polenta appear plentifully on menus, and Venetians figure out things to do with pasta that can at once frighten and delight. Squid-ink pasta, black as night, is a true Venetian delicacy.
Some of their dishes are simpler, like the soup often served this time of year when the weather turns cold. Pasta e Fasioi may sound vaguely familiar “when the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool…” any Dean Martin fans are probably already singing!
The Italian word for beans is fagioli, but different areas and dialects have variations, and in Venice it’s fasioi.
Typically, the soup consists of soffritto, which by now you know (carrots, celery and onions), the local Borlotti beans Lamon IGP, a pork like pancetta or simply pork rind, extra virgin olive oil, and pasta, but what kind?
The type of pasta varies region to region, but in Venice it is traditional to use a wider noodle pasta, broken by hand into small, irregular pieces. Mia Emilia’s Tagliatelle, Pappardelle, or for a great in-between, the Tagliatelle Amalfitane will be perfect.
You will find many variations of this recipe if you search, and you can make it your own. The high-quality olive oil and pasta really make a difference. When you get those little, perfectly textured pieces mixed into the soup, it enhances flavor and experience. For an extra Venetian splash of color and flavor, throw in some radicchio!
If you want something on the lighter side, Venetians are also known for cicchetti, little snacks usually enjoyed in the late afternoon and served with a small glass of wine called, “ombra”, or shadow as it’s only a small glass. Wines from the Veneto region where Venice is located are splendid and celebrated throughout the world for their quality.
Cicchetti are often served on top of a small piece of bread like crostino or bruschetta, so a great EVOO like Marini Giuseppe’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil Toscano IGP will really stand out here. Then, they are topped with different things, often fish based, but they can also be a mix of vegetables. Many chefs like to get creative and show off a bit! This is a fun tradition we can easily replicate at home for friends, based on what they like.
As we find so often in Italy, when you mix great ingredients with great people, something magical happens. And that, in a nutshell is Venice.
If you get lured into the tourist traps, you will not enjoy it, but if you seek out the authentic, it will completely steal your heart. Today the city is hurting, but it will always be magically beautiful. As Lord Byron described so eloquently in a poem about Venice,
“Although I found her thus, we did not part,
Perchance even dearer in her day of woe
Than when she was a boast, a marvel, and a show.”