The Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Venice — The Rialto Fish Market

I first came to Venice, the most magical city on earth, more than two decades ago. And every time I have returned, I’ve always wandered through the spectacular Rialto fish market with one thought in my head: “I wish I had a kitchen.”

This time, I have a kitchen.

The Rialto fish market

The Rialto fish market

We met up with our friends, the Schneiders, at the fish market to get stuff for dinner. As much as I wanted to purchase everything I saw, I nearly had to physically restrain my pal, Donnie, from cleaning the market out.

There were cephalopods galore — octopi, squid, cuttlefish of every size — sizes and varieties of shrimp beyond imagination, crabs and lobsters, and fish, fish and more fish.

We bought too much. More than we could eat, more than we could cook. I purchased a wide swath of butcher paper covered with tiny butterflied sardine filets, a pile of pale orange scampi, several fistsful of tiny pink gambetti shrimp, and half a kilo of the gorgeous cigale spotted mantis shrimp. Donnie snagged a dozen big scallops in the shell and a different species of shrimp. We managed to resist a big rust-colored crab we had our eyes on.

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp

From the nearby vegetable vendors I bought a beautiful large porcini mushroom, a bag of artichoke hearts and some fresh San Marzano tomatoes. And we were off.

Leaving the market, we passed another fish-themed store front — a spa-like joint called Doctor Kiss Fish where an American couple sat with their feet in clear cubes of water and nervous smiles on their faces. In the water were tiny fish, who were swimming about their feet, eating away dead skin cells. A living aquatic pedicure! This, the children had to try. While they screamed and giggled (it tickled, apparently), Donnie and I repaired to a nearby vinaie wine cellar to sample the young vino sfuso from the barrel, and purchase a plastic liter bottle for two euros.

 

*    *    *

Back at the apartment with our fresh catch and our liter bottle of cheap wine, I set to work.

The first matter of business was to eat the sardines, which we spritzed with lemon, drizzled with olive oil and gobbled down raw. Next I dredged the tiny shrimp in flour and crisped them up in olive oil, tossed them in salt and lemon, and piled them on a plate. The girls had stepped out with the kids, so Donnie and I poured ourselves tall glasses of sfuso and gobbled shrimp out on the balcony as water taxis zipped by on the canal below.

Donnie enjoys gambetti

Donnie enjoys gambetti and sfuso

Stage three of our progressive dinner was perhaps the best: Venice’s famous scampi, small lobster-like crustaceans most famously cooked in garlic and butter. I chose the more expensive, presumably freshest scampi, labeled “crudo” — those which are to be eaten raw.

We deprived the animals of their protective shell, and spread the thinly sliced tail meat out on a large plate. Drizzled with a delicious extra virgin olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and topped with shaved parmesan, it was one of the best dishes I’ve had in the course of some ten days of delicious dishes.

Scampi crudo

Scampi crudo

The scampi shells and claws found their way into a pot with a tomato and some water, boiled into a stock for the main course — spaghetti nero with mantis shrimp and artichoke hearts. My mistake was in not understanding how mantis shrimp cook. I had my sous chef Donnie de-shell the crustaceans. At the last minute, hoping to lightly cook them, I dropped them into the scampi artichoke reduction. And they immediately and shockingly dissolved into nothingness. Next time, I would cook them in the shell I suppose. Nonetheless, the dish was exceptional.

We finished dinner with a few glasses of a superb prune grappa we had sampled in a grappa shop that had caught Donnie and my attention in our earlier wanderings, a perfect finale to the meal.

Spaghetti nero with mantis shrimp and artichoke hearts

Spaghetti nero with mantis shrimp and artichoke hearts

We awoke in the morning to the most putrid smelling bag of trash imaginable. Fortunately, trash pick up was only an hour away. So I brought the bag down and dropped it by the door in front of our building, as instructed on the house rules sheet. But between the drop and the pick up, the gulls discovered the remains of our dinner and had their own morning gala. And I relived the night’s meal as I knelt on my hands and knees on the piazza, scooping shells, lemon rinds and other stinking bits back into a bag.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. timoirish34
    Jul 08, 2016 @ 06:22:42

    My first rule of every day cooking is to save the dinner cleanup for the following morning. BTW–the photos with this entry are outstanding, SC!

    Reply

  2. Dshore
    Jul 08, 2016 @ 20:08:54

    You go guys. There with you in spirit!

    Reply

  3. Amanda
    Jul 11, 2016 @ 13:47:21

    Venice! Beautiful! And the food too!

    Reply

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