Botteghe ai Promessi Sposi

Fine and festive. Young but not too; warm, intimate yet lively…and, the food is delicious. The revised and rejuvenated Promessi Sposi: try it, you’ll like it.

Remember Spritz the cat? Well, this is Spritz’s owner’s place, my former vicino and across-the-hall, Tom Waits-loving neighbor, Claudio. He joined forces with Nicola and Cristiano just over a year ago and the three of them have managed to open a wonderful bàcaro cum trattoria, that could be just the thing for you’re up for either a cichetto and an ombra, or a satisfying meal.

I would say I was prejudiced, since Claudio was a perfect neighbor with a great cat, but actually it’s just the opposite. I know how passionate he is about cooking, but what if I’d gone to his new place and found it mediocre, what then? Maybe that’s why it took me six months to get there, but thankfully I didn’t have to face that touchy situation, because the meal my friend and I had was delightful. Delicious. Delectable. And more.

ravioli_rapi_rossi.jpgThe hand-written menu was a good sign; it meant that the evening’s dishes were based only on what quality ingredients were available. (This was also confirmed during a after-meal discussion between Claudio and my friend about where to obtain decent meat at an honest price; he has settled on a macellaio di fiducia from the Piedmont, but Federica promised to e-mail him about another butcher he might like to try, just up the road in Mogliano.)

We went for the beef tartare and fresh grilled canestrelli; the clam-lettes were sumptuous and the tartare was topped with bean sprouts and served with ceramic spoonfuls of minced red online, capers, mustard, and paprika, which when mixed together with bit of olive oil was equally sumptuous. Fede opted for the fegato alla Veneziano and pronounced it excellent, I went for the ravioli stuffed with saffroned rapi rossi (red turnips) topped with grated ricotta salata. Heaven.

The nice thing about the new Sposi is that it’s the best of many worlds: you can cichettare in the midst of a lively crowd, or sit down one room over (or in the garden in the summer) for a more tranquil ambience, and all at an ottimo rapporto qualità – prezzo: at a fair price for a quality meal.

Please tell Claudio to tell give Spritz my love – I do miss that big, orange guy.

  • Bottega ai Promessi Sposi
  • Calle de l’Oca 4367
  • Cannaregio, just off Campo Santi Apostoli
  • tel: 041 241 2747
  • open from 11.30 to 15 and nightly 18 to 23; closed Wednesday lunch.
  • €€

Casta Diva? No…castradina.

salute4.JPGAfter a group from our remiera rowed three caorline and one sandolo to the Basilica della Salute last Friday morning, we gathered for lunch at the trattoria Palazzina, located at the foot fo the Guglie Bridge. The owner is a member of our rowing club, and had the idea to offer a traditional dish associated with the Festa della Madonna della Salute, the castradina.

There were several of us — Venetian and otherwise — who’d never tasted a castradina, which made it all the more attractive, of course; I’ll try anything once. The description is daunting: a stew that’s days in preparation, consisting of a rich meat, normally obtained from Dalmatia, from an adult castrato, usually beef, in this case mutton, that’s been smoked, salted, and dried in the sun, and verze (a type of cabbage), and maybe potatoes. Sounds more German than Italian…

salutec.JPGIt was a chilly day, and the caorlina is not a light boat to propel from the north side of the city, down the Cannaregio and Grande canals to the Salute, and back. So when we arrived at the Palazzina, we brought plenty of hunger with us. A hearty meat antipasto was served up in short order: salami feline (from near Parma, all pork, few spices, no cats), sopressa (the fattier, longer-aged Veneto salame), prosciutto, and mortadella con pistacchi…just what the doctor ordered, and frankly, what would have been enough for me.

The antipasto interchange was lively, fueled by the requisite prosecco. Once relieved of its consumed contents, the large wooden platter was whisked away, and the bowls of castradina began to appear. We peered at the first ones, and a German (married to an Italian and here for 28 years ormai) rowing companion and I made a pact that we’d take a stab at it, but if it wasn’t to our liking, say we had overdone the antipasto and leave it there. Oh, please let me like it…

My terra cotta bowl of castradina arrived, along with a basket of buttered crocanti for crunching over the top. Encouraged by the positive reactions issuing from those who’d already dug in, I did the same. The rich aroma belied nothing about the marvelous flavor: che bon! No trace of stringy, salty, smokey meat, just a flavorful stew with the vegetable and meat flavors that just hit the spot. I felt my toes warm as the rich concoction began to take effect, like some nutritious banned substance. No reactions to fake here…whew. I glanced just in time to my rowing companion polishing off the last spoonful of hers.

A grappa for the more robust among us, a caffè topped off this Salute lunch, and we all headed off back to work, restored and renewed.

Another successful research project completed.

_____________

salute5c.jpgThe glorious Basilica is never more luminous than during the annual Festa della Madonna della Salute (salute means health in Italian), celebrated every November 21. Hourly masses are held, and long, white candles a blaze as prayers for health are offered. The ropes that protect the center area of the church are removed, and the front doors are open for the only time during the year.

A votive bridge is constructed across the Grand Canal at San Giglio from the night of the 20th til when it’s taken down on the following Monday. (The bridge was once supported by lashing large boats together, as the Ponte Accademia was not in place until the mid-1800s.) There are also booths with fritelle and balloons for kids, adding to the festival atmosphere.

Venice was hit by a devastating plague in 1630 that ended in 1631, following an equally devastating one just over fifty years prior (which corresponds to the Redentore festival). The Longhena Salute basilica was built in thanks to the Madonna of Good Health for ending the plague in 1631. Read Alvise Zen’s historic recount on the Comune site.

 

Market, Marcà. Mercato, Mercà. Va là!

Uno spritz al Marcà

Once you’ve spent any amount of time here, you’ll learn it’s best never to say that anything is assolutamente così, undeniably so. That’s because it’s probably only that way most, but not all of the time; or it’s changed since it was true (yesterday); or will have changed by the time someone experiences whatever it is you’re talking about; or you didn’t get the straight story to begin with. Take Al Marcà, the popular bàcaro in Campo San Giacometto near the Rialto Market that offers a wide variety of both tasty cicchetto novello, wine by the glass, and uno Spritz abbondante.

How long has it been there? Forever. Who knows about it, who goes there? Everybody. What’s its real name? Al Mercà, as a friend noticed recently when she reviewed her scontrino (receipt). Ma come mai, what’s up with that? (In a world of incessantly shifting truths, I like to pin down certainty whenever possible, especially on trivial details. Makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.)

You might assume “market” in Venetian is marcà. It isn’t. Mercà is the Venetian word for the Italian mercato, and this makes sense: we can see the relationship in the two words, we are at ease. So, why then, is Al Marcà printed so blatantly on the tenda? Is it wrong? A mistake? Some hip, VenInglese word? The answer is the one that often applies to so many questions concerning Italy, and certainly to Venice: dipende. Yes…and no.

Marcà, it turns out, is mercato (market), in the version of the Veneto dialect spoken in Noale, where the original owners are from. Noale is a whole 35 km up the road, so of course, they have a different word for market. And the word ended up printed on the awning. And the actual business is named differently. And no one ever bothered to change it. And it doesn’t matter to anyone but us, supplied with another topic for discussion as we bob beneath the awning, munching a polpetto and sipping a teroldego or an (exceptionally potent) Spritz.

There you have it. I knew this was a burning question for everyone, and I think, from our intense research, we have found the answer. But then again, I would never say it was assolutamente così…

Baccalà Mantecato

When I first encountered baccalà  mantecato decades ago at Bottegon già Schiavi on rio San Trovaso, I refused it, because in my ignorance, I thought the white, fluffy, creamy stuff had to have been made with mayonnaise, and I just didn’t find that appealing. It’s not, of course; as I discovered not long after. It is instead the rehydrated, pulverized codfish that becomes white and creamy from the frusta whipping it receives … and it tastes not like mayonaise, but like buh-dah.

Of course, if you’re already a Venezia-phile, this is not news to you. It’s an common delicacy served throughout the bàcari and eateries of Venice, as cicchetti and antipasti, but far too easy to overlook if you’re not adventurous, or tuned-in. If you haven’t tried it, do partake, you will not regret it.

Baccalà is stoccafisso, stockfish. It is normally codfish that’s boiled, skinned, and literally beaten to a pulp, as olive oil is drizzled al filo, and seasoned with a little salt and fresh pepper. Some recipes stop there, others add garlic and Italian parsley. Don’t ask me to explain who serves it how; every time I ask anyone from expert on down I get a different story, leading me think that as in so many things Italian, there is no one, specific answer. Anyway, it’s awfully good, spread on fresh bread, or over grilled polenta, another staple of the Veneto diet.

If, after partaking of this very common but highly-satisfying delicacy you’d like to try it on your own, here’s a recipe that I translated from a little book called Il Pesce: Come si cucina a Venezia, that’s pretty much an amalgamation of the many recounted to me…although my sense is the recipe is far less important than the technique. I tried it myself, and although I’m not ready to open up my own cicchetteria (lucky for you)…non ghe xè mal, not too bad! I did not conduct a Venetian Taste Test however — maybe on the next attempt…

Bacaeà  Mantecà  (Baccalà  Mantecato)

This is not a difficult recipe, but it is the traditional one, and so is fairly labor intensive and requires a bit of finesse, not to mention sheer brute strength. It’s one of those recipes where you’ll develop your own particular process to arrive a the tasty, frothy, result. You may bail on tradition and choose to use an electric mixer of course…that’s up to you.

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 1.25 lbs (600 gr.) of fresh, whole, cleaned cod or stock fish (or rehydrated fro air-dried cod)
  • Italian olive oil (fruitty, extra-virgin)

Optional:

  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • a handful of Italian parsley, stems removed, chopped

Bring the fish (whole) to a medium boil in a large pot of water (some add milk when cooking) for about 40 minutes (don’t overcook, however). Remove the skin, head, tail, and de-bone.

Place the fish meat in a heavy mixing bowl, and beat/whip with a wooden mallet or other heavy utensil into small mince-sized pieces. Continue to whip/beat energetically, drizzling the oil “a filo,” that is, “by thread,” little by little, until it becomes a whipped, white paste. (Some small pieces of fish are likely to remain, however; this is normal.)

(Add parsley, minced garlic, salt, and fresh pepper to taste.)

Garnish with remaining parsley. Serve on fresh bread, or grilled polenta; excellent accompanied by a fresh Friulano Tocai.

Buon appetito!