Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 415: Foodies Trips to Italy 2000 - 2002
By Gavin Crawford from Australia, Summer 2002
Page 14 of 14: Venice and the Veneto
BARBARANO South of Vincenze.
The last 20 km from Monselece to Barbarano, is a fairly flat and wide valley, but there are hills to the west and east, which we were to drive later in the week. The villa is on top of the hill that backs into the Monti Berici, and has fantastic views over the farmland (with the odd factory here and there) to the west. The Colli and Euganei hills hide Padua, which is only 30 km away to the east, and the Monti Berici, which run north, hide Vicenza, which is only 15 km to the north, and Verona, 40 km to the west.
Now, this makes it sound as though it is nice and central to cover the entire Veneto, which it is, but it doesnít reveal that the whole area is so heavily settled, with villages no more than 2km to 3 km apart in the entire Veneto, that travel is extremely slow. As an example, the drive of 15 km to Vicenza, during the day took 30 minutes. One morning at 7.30, when we thught we would make good time, it turned out to be peek hour, and took over 45 minutes.
Our apartment was on the first floor of a square building that has four apartments. We had plenty of windows opening into the gardens between the working buildings and the Villa itself. The gardens arenít particularly stunning, but very pleasant with large shade trees, and Olianders in pots, and expanses of lawns. They also cater for functions such as weddings, and there was a small party for perhaps twenty people the evening we arrived.
Around the apartments are white gravel areas with tables, chairs and umbrellas for outdoor dining or relaxing. Not as smart as Assisi, Firenze and Vellano, but large and comfortable. At 5.30pm we went in to town (barely a kilometre), where there was a supermarketo. Bought some basic supplies, and for dinner we cooked pasta with a sauce of tomatoes, sausage, garlic, asparagus and parsley.
BASSANO DEL GRAPPA All the country people from the surrounding district had come to town. It seems to be a great opportunity for people to meet once a week. Many of the middle-aged and older men gathered in clusters around the front of bars and cafes to talk. Some of their clothing was amazing. Mismatched shorts and shirts, braces and boots. Battered hats, and some down right funny.
On the left hand corner of the piazza, coming up from the bridge, was a shop selling slices of focaccia from huge baking trays, fresh from the oven. It was doing a roaring trade, and we discovred why. We bought a very large slice, simply topped with cherry tomatoes halved and baked into the top. So simple, but so fantastic. We also had a custard doughnut, or Italian equivalent.
In the spring, Bassano is the center of the universe when it comes to white asparagus. The story of the vegetable is accidental; in the 1500's Bassano was hit with a hailstorm destoying the asparagus crop, forcing the farmers to harvest the part underground. Upon tasting the asparagus, its white colour due to the lack of sunlight, the farmer was astounded to find how tasty and tender it was, and began to cultivate it underground. Bassano has been famous for its asparagus at least since the mid 1500's: a receipt from from 1534 lists asparagus among the delicacies purchased for a banquet. Asparagus tasting is almost a religion in Bassano, everyone has something to say about the correct way to serve it.
Recipe: The Mother of all White Asparagus How to eat asparagus "the Bassano way": Boil the asparagus standing up in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes, not letting the tips touch the boiling water. The asparagus is served with eggs, boiled 6 to 8 minutes so that the yolk is still creamy. The eggs (2 per person) are then peeled and mashed with a fork, adding extra virgin olive oil (from Bassano) and vinegar, salt and pepper. The asparagus are then dipped in the sauce starting at the tip.
Recipe: Cheesecake with "Ubriaco al Torcolato" (raspberry gelatin and vanilla sauce) Mauro Poggo, the Chef at the Ristorante Ca' 7, Bassano del Grappa It is a cheesecake made with a cheese called Ubriaco al Torcolato, literally translated, "Torcolato Drunken cheese" a cheese that is submerged in Torcolato, a sweet wine from Veneto region, for many months until the cheese gets "drunk" and takes on the flavor of the wine.
For the base: 210 g. butter, 1 egg yolk, 120 g. confectioner's sugar Mix all ingredients well, roll and put in molds and bake in 150įC oven for 15 minutes
For the cheesecake: 300 g. Torcolato Drunken Cheese (formaggio Ubriaco al Torcolato), 100 g. fresh (not aged) Asiago cheese, 1/4 liter milk boiled, 200 g. sugar, 4 egg yolks, 6 g. gelatin, 1/2 liter whipping cream whipped slightly.
Whip the egg yolks and add sugar, add the boiled milk, next add the fish paste previously melted. Add the cheese then the semi whipped cream. Pur mixture on top of the biscuits still in the forms and place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
For the gelatin: 200 gm fresh raspberries, 75 gm confectioner's sugar, 30 gm gelatin (leaf gelatin if available).
Dissolve gelatin in tepid water. In a separate bowl, mix raspberries and sugar until it becomes a paste. Add gelatin mixture. Spoon over the cheesecake forms and place in refrigerator to set (aprox 1 hour).
Vanilla Sauce: 6 egg yolks, Ĺ l. fresh milk, 10 gm granulated sugar.
Cut sticks of vanilla lengthwise and place in milk to boil. Mix egg yolks and sugar, gradually add milk and vanilla mixture, removing vanilla sticks and cook mixture in a double boiler (bain-marie) until thick.
Remove cheesecakes from molds and drizzle sauce over individual cheesecakes.
MONTAGNANA South of Vicenza.
How wonderful the unexpected can be. Such was the case with a visit to Montagnana, a town south of Padua, which bears witness to Venetian rule, when it was changed from a military outpost to an important trading center. In the thirteenth century, the Da Carrara ruling family built the exquisite and beautifully preserved medieval walls that wrap around the town. The remains of the ancient moat that also afforded protection are still visible as well.
Ches and I had fallen in love with this little walled town, so we revisited late in the afternoon. We arrived around 6.00pm, parked in the vast piazza, and just strolled the streets. Unfortunately, we couldnít find a restaurant to justify staying for dinner. We did discover one of the best Gelataria in Italy, right on the Piazza, and sat in the loggia, (with teenagers everywhere around us, just hanging out), and enjoyed the best gelato yet. We wish we had stumbled across Pasticerria Cuccato, Via Porta 64.
Steeped in tradition, Montagnana is known for its palio, a horse race held since the fourteenth century, and for its delicate prosciutto, along with a very special bread. Legend states that one Ezzelino III da Romano, who was the emperor's vicar in Italy and a skillful soldier, saved the town from a great fire but in doing so was badly injured. A country woman make a dough with leva, a natural yeast, to which she added lots of honey, walnuts, and hazelnuts from her orchard, and made a sweet bread that restored the health and strength of Ezzelino.
The recipe that follows is an adaptation of pandolce di Ezzelino, the sweet bread that is synonymous with Montagnana. Today it is made and sold by Giorgio Cuccato, owner of Pasticerria Cuccato, Via Porta 64. With his father, Bruno, Giorgio has researched the history of this recipe for which the citizens of Montagnana are deeply grateful.
Recipe: Pandolce di Ezzeline (Ezzelino's Sweet Bread) Makes two 1 1/2-lb. loaves. The life of this bread begins with a sponge or starter made from a little yeast, flour, and honey that is left to rise for 3 hours. The sponge helps the dough to rise beautifully.
Sponge: 1/2 cup warm water 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon honey
Dough: 1 cup warm water (110ļF) 1 teaspoon dry active yeast 1/3 cup honey 3 large eggs 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled 2 teaspoons salt 5 1/2 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts 1/4 cup chopped walnuts 2 tablespoons coarse brown sugar (turbinado or Demerara)
Early on the day you plan to make the bread, combine the sponge ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Stir well. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside for 3 hours. When the sponge is ready it will have increased three times in volume and look fluffy, with lots of small holes on the surface like the holes of a sponge.
To make the dough, in a heavy-duty mixer or food processor, combine the water, yeast, and honey and allow to proof for 5 minutes. The mixture will look chalky.
On low speed, blend in all of the sponge mixture.
In a small bowl, lightly beat 2 of the eggs and add them to the yeast-sponge mixture.
On low speed, mix in the butter, salt, and 1 cup of the flour. Increase the speed to medium and mix well. Continue adding the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing each addition in well before adding the next. You may not need all the flour. When the dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to high and beat for 4 minutes. Feel the dough. It should feel soft but not stick to your hands. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour until it reaches the right consistency.
Remove the dough from the mixer or processor and knead it a few times on a work surface. Spray a large bowl with vegetable or butter spray, place the dough in the bowl, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise for 3 hours.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a work surface. Stretch it out with your hands. Scatter the nuts over the dough, then fold the dough over several times to enclose the nuts. Cut the dough in half with a knife and knead each piece into a tight ball about 5 inches in diameter. Some of the nuts should be visible on the outside of the loaf.
Place each round on a lightly greased cookie sheet; cover each with a clean towel and allow the breads to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until nearly doubled in size.
Preheat the over to 375ļF.
Lightly beat the remaining egg in a small bowl. Brush each loaf with the beaten egg. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the coarse sugar over each loaf.
With a clean razor blade make an X incision about 3 inches long in the top of each loaf and fold back the four cuts. This will allow for air to escape and prevent the loaves from splitting.
Bake the loaves until nicely browned on top and bottom, about 40 to 45 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 200ļF when inserted in the center of the loaf.
Remove the loaves to a cooling rack.
Note: These loaves freeze well if wrapped tightly in aluminum foil and then in heavy-duty plastic bags.
Variation: Make four smaller loaves to give as kitchen gifts. Wrap each loaf in clear cellophane and tie with a ribbon.
PADUA Review: Ristorante Antico Brolo Next stop was to check out Ristorante Antico Brolo, a "plate" restaurant for lunch. At L20,000 for prima piati, and L37,000 for secondo, it would have been a L150,000+ exercise, and the "plate" dish was Testina di Vitello AllíAceto Cotto E Cipolla. Now, Vitello is a calf, so it is something from a calf called Testina. Our electronic translater always wants to correct, so it insisted that I had meant "destina", and translated to "fate". Iím pretty certain that the restaurant isnít serving either "fated calves" or "fatted calves". I decided to give the translator one last chance, and in English keyed in "testicles". It responded, "canít help". I would have been prepared to give it a go, but not at those prices.
Review: Caffe Pedrocchi Back into the heart of the old city, we stopped for lunch at Caffe Pedrocchi. Well, not quite lunch. They only serve drinks and cakes. The menu is 10 pages long. It has only recently been renovated. I mean renovated, not restored. It was first opened in 1831 and became famous as the caffe that never closed, open 24 hours a day, and the haunt of intellectuals and students.
L30,000 for a coffee, mineral water and two slices of cake. Thatís a caffe. It was doing a roaring trade up until we arrived, as there were large groups of people celebrating graduation.
VENEGAZZU Between Treviso and Bassano del Grappa.
Review: Trattoria da Celeste Lunch at Trattoria da Celeste didnít get off to a good start in that we arrived at close to 2.00, having made three passes through the town, before discovering it off a side road. Most people were nearing the end of their meal, and they were a pretty well dressed and well healed lot. I was wearing shorts and sandles. The waiter wore a bowtie.
It was very, very hot, and not much cooler inside. The waiter had no English at all. Not that great a problem in that it is a fixed price, fixed menu restaurant. Really not entitled to call itself a trattoria, depite the fixed menu concept, in that it is pricey, and at a Trat. you are supposed to retain your cutlery from one course to the next, and it is all about inexpensive dining through reducing the overheads of service etc.
Never mind, the meal was enjoyable. Proseco to cool down. But how do we explain that we require the "plate" dish to qualify for the plate, when it is a fixed menu. The waiter and I adjourned to the kitchen and foyer to mime to each other. He started by pointing at a range of bowls of foods layed out in the kitchen, while slabs of pork rotated on a rotisserie over an open fire. I pointed to the "plate" in the catalogue advertising the Boun Ricordo restaurants. We eventually determined that, the special dish was actually a primo rather than secondo. Now thatís realy different. Back at the table, in answer to Cherylís question, I could only advise that food would be coming but I wasnít sure what or when.
Four small fried patties were delivered as the antipasti. While I went to the car to get a koala to give the waiter as a gift, the primo was delivered. Cheryl immediatly latched on to the Tortelini stuffed and sauced with a chicken liver and mushroom pate. It was the plate dish. I was satisfied with a cold pasta salad. Very similar to the Farro salad we had had at La Ceragetta near Isola Santa, with pasta substituted for the farro.
Our secondo was the roast pork, with a huge platter of roast potatoes, spinach and small stuffed squash/pumpkin. Very orange puree. Cheryl notes in her diary that she had a fit of the giggles toward the end of the meal, and doesnít record the desert. This is because by this stage she had poured her glass of wine onto the table, and we were eating out of a large red puddle. Creme caramel. Ches was having trouble identifying birds in paintings on the wall. We fled in embarasment.
VENICE Our apartment building is an ancient pallazo in Campo San Angelo, that features in the Walking Venice Guidebook. It is said to be one of the few palazzo actually facing the land rather than a canal, and therefore the fascade is easy to see and admire. Primarily white stone, with pink used around the "piano" floor windows and arches, and the door offset to one side. The "piano" floor, is usually either the second or third floor of a building, and are the floors on which the main living rooms were built-ballrooms, dining rooms etc.
We were delighted when we entered out apartment. A very large loungeroom with dining table, and antique furniture. The bathroom was tiled in "lush" burgundy tiles with the heavy beams exposed on the ceiling, and the bedroom large with built in robes etc.
As the days past, we were less happy. The restaurant set up outdoor tables in the piazza, too close to our bedroom windows. Closing the windows cut out most of the noise, but that's not how we like to sleep. The kitchen had two electric rings only and the bare minimum pans and pots etc. A real challenge to cook in a tight alcove with the bare minimum equipment. Not even a teatowel. The light blew in the kitchen alcove on the first day.
Following my lack of success in finding the fish markets yeaterday, I decided to try the Piazza Santa Margherita. Success. There were just two stands, each with a very small and limited range of seafood. I suspect that there isnít a lot of locally caught seafood still available in the Veneto. There were perhaps three or so types of fish, which I couldnít identify, some trout (that had to be shipped in!), some octopus, squid, and prawns that appeared to be cooked and semi frozen. I bought a whole octopus, which he then weighed first, and then cleaned (removed the eyes). At L16,000 per kg, he was a L12,000 ockie. Squid was L21,000 per kg, so seafood isnít cheap. Again leading me to suspect it isnít in great supply. I also suspect that the hotels and restaurants probably buy in their seafood from providores, and consequently there are no longer big seafood markets for the locals.
I then head down to the Zattere supermarket. Here was a surprise. A Billa (thatís the name of the supermarketo chain) semitrailer, was backed up to the front of the supermarketo, and they were unloading. It was sitting on a motorised barge/pontoon, and had been brought out from the mainland. Even more of a sight when a massive Meditteranean Cruise Ship passed it.
Recipe: Octopus Cacciatore GC - Gavin Crawford Cut the octopus (1-1.2 kg.) into large pieces or leave small, baby octopus whole. Thickly slice a large onion into semicircles and when brown, add the pieces of octopus and sautť them. Add a glass of white wine. After the wine has evaporated, mix in 2 or 3 peeled, chopped tomatoes and a piece of peperoncino. Cover the pot, and leave to cook slowly for 30 minutes. Check the salt as octopus needs very little. Add a little hot water if necessary. The tomato sauce should be thick.
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