At the bar

At the bar

By
Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi
Contains
19 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742707730
Photographer
Helen Cathcart

On a hot sunny day, centuries ago, Venetians would gather beneath the shade of the campanile located in St Mark’s Square and drink wine together. The wine was served on top of a barrel acting as a portable table that could be moved as the sun moved. Since the glass of wine was always kept out of direct sunlight it became known as an ombra, meaning a ‘shade’ of wine, and this term still exists today. Small bites known as cicchetti, were served with the wine, and when the barmen and barrels moved into permanent establishments the bars became known as bacari.

Bacari are usually attended for an aperitif before dinner; it is said a Venetian drinks a spritz, between 6 and 8 pm and a tourist at any other time. It marks of the end of the working day.

Antipasti dishes served in restaurants are often wonderful plates of the freshest seafood or crispy, salty fritto misto, and are irresistible with a chilled glass of Prosecco.

Cloudy Prosecco

I watched with pleasant surprise as workmen from a nearby building came into a locals’ bar in one of the backstreets of Venice and drank a Prosecco at around 11.30 am from a delicate flute held in their scarred and dusty builders’ hands. As they get older, I was told, they progress on to a coffee with sambuca to kick-start the day!

Venice is the homeland of Prosecco and it is served as an aperitif, with fish or fried foods when it cuts through the fat beautifully. Typically the Prosecco here is made in the Veneto region; my favourite version is very dry and is bottled ‘on the lees’ meaning the dead yeast is retained inside the bottle. This can make it cloudy if the sediment is disturbed. It is light at 11% so great for a midday tipple, available by the glass or carafe. Ask for Prosecco col fondo for the cloudy version, or simply 'Prosecco' for the clear, traditional sparkling wine.

Spritz

You wont be able to travel far in Venice without seeing someone enjoying a bright orange cocktail known as a spritz. It is the most typical Venetian aperitif. Born in Venice at the time of Austrian domination, it is a blend of a quarter Aperol or Campari (or occasionally a similar drier drink known as Select) and three quarters Prosecco topped up with a splash of soda water. Serve it over ice and a slice of orange.

Madeira

This toffee-like aromatic sweet wine is no longer common in the bars of Venice but it was a popular and important trading commodity in the past. England bought tons of it from the Venetians, often swapping it for wool. The Venetian merchants had in turn bought it from the island of Madeira. It travelled well and survived long journeys on galley ships. In fact it was discovered that the wine actually improved after being rocked about for months on a hot ship and thus did its value. Madeira is made from the malvasia grape and at one point any sweet wine was known as malvasia and wine shops were known as malvasie. Apparently the Duke of Clarence died in a barrel of malmsey Madeira after being tried for treason against his brother. We’ve included it in the book as it was so significant in the past and we feel it deserves further popularity. Drink it on its own, with ice, a slice of orange and some raspberries, or use it to soak prunes or figs in.

Cherry wine

A glass of sweet, spiced wine was thought to encourage an appetite in 15th and 16th century Venice and was often served as an aperitif. According to 17th century writer Giovanni Del Turco, cherry-flavoured wine could be made by soaking cherries with wine for 8 days, and in the 14th century cookbook written by the Anonimo Veneziano – the anonymous Venetian – wine was often flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and honey. We have made our version of cherry wine to work in just a day if the cherries are good. You can strain off the wine and drink this as an aperitif as the Venetians did and then eat the heavenly combination of boozy cherries with almond ice cream after or make cherry coulis for the almond filled doughnuts.

Saor

Saor is Venetian dialect from sapore meaning ‘flavour’, in this sense a sweet and sour flavour. This is one of the oldest cooking techniques dating back at least to the 1300s if not before and is still popular in Venice today. Since the dish contains a fair amount of vinegar it was originally used as a method of preserving fish to take on sea voyages. A base of slow-cooked onions (usually double the quantity of onions to fish) and vinegar is used, and various ingredients can be added to this such as sardines, aubergines, pumpkin and beans such as borlotti or cannellini. During the Renaissance, a winter version was developed with the addition of sultanas and pine nuts to add sweetness.

Fritto misto and the art of deep-frying

Crisp just-fried fish or chicken, vegetables or a mixture of the two make up fritto misto. They are served all over the coastline of Italy throughout the year depending on the local catch and fresh produce. As well as the typical calamari, a misto might include prawns, tiny brown shrimps, soft white fish, chicken, artichokes, batons of red pepper, carrot, courgette, aubergine and cauliflower to name but a few. In early summer courgette flowers are popular and twice a year Venetians go mad for deep-fried soft shell crabs called moeche. They are farmed in the lagoons of Venice and harvested into buckets when they are about to shed their shells and grow the next one. Here they have a blissful end feeding on egg and milk (and I have heard some add Parmesan) before being deep-fried so that they come ready stuffed with a tasty layer of frittata. They are not easy to get abroad so I leave that particular delicacy to my visits to Venice.

Cesare Benelli at the restaurant Al Covo in Venice explained to me the various types of frying. Sardines for example can be sarde impanate, which means they are coated in flour, egg and fine breadcrumbs then fried, or indorate meaning ‘golden’ as they are dipped in flour and/or egg only before being fried. Cesare keeps the fresh fish and seafood in very cold seawater, before coating them in flour and and frying them briefly. He thinks the secret is to keep the fish very cold until the moment before they are fried. If he uses a batter for frying, sometimes for vegetables, he uses sparkling water for lightness.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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