Tag Archives: Bellini

Who sat on my peaches?

“Snuffbox” peaches: make the Bellini cocktail’s perfect puree…

…or eat them one by one (warning: have plenty of napkins handy).

These white tabacchiere (named for their snuffbox shape) dell’Etna, also known as saturnine peaches begin to show up at markets here mid-to-late July. They’re cultivated in Sicily, at various locations that circle the Etna volcano, where the climate and the soil are perfectly adapted to their needs: warm and dry, with well-drained soil. According to Slow Food, they’ve only been around since WWII, when estate agricultural laws changed to permit perennial cultivation (as opposed to only annual), which would fortunately include peach trees.

While the snuffbox name might not be an appetizing association, these are some of the sweetest and juiciest to be had, and due to their soft pulp make an excellent choice for the puree required to whip up the famous Bellini on a summer’s eve.

Recipe from Harry’s Bar:

Made with Prosecco instead of Champagne, it is nevertheless widely regarded as the best Champagne cocktail in the world.

When making a Bellini, everything (the glasses, Prosecco and white peach puree) should be as cold as possible.

The general rule is to use one part white peach puree to three parts Prosecco. Use fresh frozen white peach puree when you can, but when making your own puree, never use a food processor because it aerates the fruit. (Maurice Graham Henry often uses a cheese shredder, shredding the peaches and using a strainer to collect the maximum amount of juice.) Add a bit of sugar or some simple syrup if the puree is too tart or a tad sour.

And absolutely never use yellow peaches.

In recent times, Bellini recipes have begun to include a touch of raspberry juice — evidently the white peach color isn’t lively enough. Some use a two-to-one ratio of puree to Prosecco; Mario Batali uses goes one-to-one in Simple Italian Cooking, and has adapted the recipe for other fresh fruit, including pomegranate. Now that would be a color the maestro Bellini (after whom the cocktail was named) might have found truly appealing!

In order not to diminish the peaches’ sweetness, a dry Prosecco is probably preferable to a brut. I love the idea of using a cheese shredder for the puree — but I keep consuming the peaches by themselves so that I don’t have enough left over for the cocktail. Markets are open again on Tuesday, I’ll give it another try then…


Frari Sacristy: Bellini Rediscovered

Titian's AssumptionMost people who arrive in Venice and make the time to get beyond Piazza San Marco also know to visit the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the magnificent basilica in San Polo filled with works of some of the city’s most famous masters. The soaring altarpiece of Titian’s Assumption is certainly one of them; there’s even a non-Venetian John the Baptist by Donatello. The scholarly to the mildly curious will appreciate many of the fine opere found within the Frari‘s 13th century walls.

I hadn’t paid a personal visit in ages, but had the chance just the other evening when I attended a meeting of a 40xVenezia committee that organizes cultural excursions. Prior to the meeting, we were escorted on a partial but sumptuous tour of the basilica. Fra Nicola was gracious and informative, recounting how the Frari came to be, pointing out various works and the story behind them, even occasionally calling on one of the official guides that happened to be part of the group for a date or name that escaped him.

passaggiata_frari10.jpgBut once again, it was the Bellini in the Sacristy that got me. Again. Every time. I have been repeatedly over the years, and on each visit I never expect to be so…taken. And I always am. (That makes it a bit like the city itself, then.)

As Fra Nicola explained that evening, the Sacristy was originally the Pesaro family chapel. When these, the Frari’s most generous benefactors were in search of an artist to create a work for family member’s tomb and Titian wasn’t available, they had to “settle” for an aging master, Giovanni Bellini.

Poor them.

The result is a masterful, luminous, three-paneled Virgin and Child that takes my breath away each time I see it.

This painting’s presence is certainly no secret, but with the size of the basilica and the schedule some travelers attempt, it’s easy to abandon the Sacristy and thus the painting for the next “must see” on their list. Instead, if you can manage it, do spend a little time with Bellini’s Virgin. Even if you don’t find it as rewarding as I do, you won’t regret it. (If you do enjoy it, you may also want to visit a similar work of his in the church of San Zaccaria, and even the Bellini “family portrait” in the Querini Stampalia…).

passaggiata_frari08.jpg passaggiata_frari09.jpg

(To get the most of it and the rest of the Frari story, look into taking a private guide along with you, or find a small group tour – see Friends and Favorites in the sidebar for some recommendations. And don’t forget: The Frari is part of the Chorus, a wide variety of superbly maintained museum churches sprinkled throughout the city. €8 gets you a pass and a map to all of them, and is available at any of them).

One last note: these are photos taken with with permission but unfortunately only with cell phone, so obviously their quality is, um, marginal. However, please remember never to use a flash when taking any photo, and also to make sure that whereever you are, that photos are allowed. The longevity of the artwork thanks you!