The Treasures of the Lagoon — a Guest Post

When my neighbors, Chris and Glennis, told me they were renting a flat in Venice next to the Rialto bridge — and more importantly, the famous Rialto fish market — it was all I could do to contain my envy and jealousy joy for them. I’ve always wanted to have a kitchen in Venice so I could cook the wonderful and exotic things at the Rialto market. Glennis has one of my favorite blogs, Doves Today. So I made her promise to take lots of photos and do a guest post on my blog. Without further ado, here is her richly documented contribution. Enjoy!

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The Treasures of the Lagoon

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“In Venice even ordinary sole and ugly great skate are striped with delicate lilac lights, the sardines shine like newly-minted silver coins, pink Venetian scampi are fat and fresh, infinitely enticing in the early dawn.” – Elizabeth David

In Venice, our flat faced the Grand Canal at the Calle di Boteri, just down from the Rialto Mercado. Here, the great mercantile center of Venice has operated since the 16th century, with the Erberia, the produce market, and the Pescheria, the Fish Market next to one another beside the canal.

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Early morning in the Pescheria, the steel tables are laid out inside two open-arched gothic pavilions, the stone floors puddled with water as the workers in their rubber boots hose fish blood and scales down the drains. The pavilions look as ancient as the rest of the city, yet they were built in 1907 as historic imitations. Still charming, their columns are crowned with capitals carved with fantastical sea creatures.

Boats pull up at the docks, and workers unload crates and bins while hungry seagulls wheel and turn overhead, hoping for a scrap. On the steel tables, pyramids and heaps of fish are piled in abundance on the ice – gleaming silver eels and pink-shelled prawns and sleek-skinned branzino laid tail-to-tail.

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Behind the tables, aproned men hack at huge rounded carcasses of halibut or turbot, cutting them into filets and steaks. Here families shop and tourists with our ever-present cameras snap away, amazed at the bounty laid before us.

In Venice the distance between lagoon and table is short. Our every meal each evening may well have appeared here earlier that morning.

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At a Dorsoduro trattoria, the spider crab was served in its lettuce-lined shell, with nothing more to adorn it than lemon.

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The claws of the brown crab, or granchi, made another good salad.

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Our favorite restaurant, Antiche Carampane, served scallops and razor clams grilled in their shells.

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Langoustines were prepared the traditional in saor method at Antiche Carampane. The shellfish were battered and fried, then marinated with sauted onions, raisins and pine nuts in vinegar. Here, a bit of pomegranate syrup added to the sweet-and-sour tang.

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Or you could try them with pumpkin gnocchi, squash blossoms and red endive at Osteria Antica Giardinetta in Santa Croce.

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Nothing is better than a simple grilled whole fish – the delicate flesh of this sea bream or dorade is simply drizzled with olive oil and served with roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes.

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As we sat by the canal, cooling the hot afternoon sun with a spritz, we were served cichetti of tiny pink shrimp from the lagoon, fried and sauced with curry-tinged mayonnaise atop grilled, squid-ink polenta.

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Some of the seafood is unique to Venice – creatures pulled from the lagoon like these baby octopus, marinated overnight at the little wine bar, or bacaro, All’ Arco.

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Or here, fried and served with piquillo peppers, zucchini, olives and polenta sticks, as served at Antiche Carampane.

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If you want to try everything at once,  a mixed seafood fry is the way to go. Here  mussels, calamari, shrimp, chunks of fish and summer vegetables make a glorious feast for two to share.

There were other delights on display at the market that we were unable to sample – this time around.

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I was curious how to prepare these little snails, which are called bovoletti, so I asked the fishmonger. They’re simmered gently in water just shy of a boil; when they float to the top, prise them out of their shells and toss with garlic, olive oil and parsley on pasta. Here in the market, you have to be careful to contain them, or they’ll make a run for it, like the little guy on the scoop.

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How about eels?  A traditional dish from the glass-making island of Murano is bisato su l’ ara, or eels roasted with bay leaves. As the story goes, at the end of the workday, glassmakers would roast the eels on the ara, or the brick front of the hot furnace.

It’s now been five months since we were in Venice. Bisato su l’ara is a traditional dish for the Christmas holidays. So, isn’t it time to start planning our next trip to Venice?

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Ed. note: Like I said, envy…

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26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 00:56:36

    Wow! Lovely! I can’t believe I didn’t have one good meal in Italy.

    Reply

  2. glennis
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 05:24:26

    Thanks so much, Sean, for posting this! I’m hungry all over again! And I want a Spritz!

    Reply

  3. Jessamine in PDX
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 05:53:32

    So much awesomeness!! I am fighting back back serious food (and travel!) envy. Gorgeous photos, especially the spider crab in the shell and that pumpkin gnocchi. I want to eat it all. *sigh* I miss Italy.

    Reply

  4. rachelocal
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 15:52:10

    Dang. Envy isn’t even a strong enough word for what I’m feeling right now.

    Reply

  5. Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 15:53:47

    I’m visiting from Doves Today and may have just fallen out of my chair with food and travel envy. Looking forward to exploring the rest of your blog.

    Reply

  6. glennis
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 17:01:38

    Don’t krill me, Sean!

    Reply

  7. The Kat and The Falling Leaves
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 20:01:22

    I would so eat that spider crab dish. I am a little envious of your friends 🙂

    Reply

  8. Smalltown Me
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 20:46:29

    Oh my oh my oh my, what would I eat first? I want all of it.

    Reply

  9. Jenn @ Juggling Life
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 04:01:50

    You should lead food tours for your next act!

    Reply

  10. jennatjugglinglife
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 04:02:46

    Glennis, in your next act, you should lead food tours!

    Reply

  11. Karen (formerly kcinnova)
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 03:51:55

    I would love traveling just about anywhere with Glennis. She knows how to explore new places and makes me want to try all sorts of new foods! (As someone who grew up as a terribly picky eater, that is a really impressive accomplishment.)
    All that, and Spritz too! 😀

    Reply

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