ANYONE FOR VENICE?

Pasta and rissotto on the Rialto
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
A friend, meeting me from Australia, via Spain, had said: "Let's go to Venice this time (we meet once or twice a year for remarkably good, short holidays) and drink Martinis at Harry's." "Can't think of anything nicer," I replied greedily, thinking of those little ice-cold glasses of Martini cocktail. And at Harry's Bar in Venice, it is the quintessential Martini, served in short, fat little tumblers which have been previously frozen, and the drink itself is made in a huge and bulbous glass vessel filled with ice.It arrives very cold, very strongand is stunningly good. Also, the food at Harry's is arguably some of the best in Venice, simply served without the fuss and drop-dead classy.An astonishing amount of lira changes hands after a visit there, but food and drink such as this is never goingto b e cheap. Carpaccio was created at Harry's,so was the Bellini (champagne and frefh peach juice).These days,the former is hardly ever served in its original form, as it still is here:thinly sliced raw and very red beef, dressed with criss-cross smears of what is co mmonly referred to as salsa universale - a sort of thin salad cream. That is all. No rocket leaves, no extra virgin olive oil smeared around and, most definitely, no lurking slithers of shaved parmesan. The venetto is rich in crustacea and fish generally. Ristorantes in the city serve spider crabs, dressed desirably with olive oil and lemon, from crabs so recently boiled that the flesh may still be warm from the pot. Cappi lunghi, razor clams, are slapp ed under grill,slicked with olive oil and garlic, until bouncy with heat and are wondrously juicy and sweet.(Does anybody collect and sell the razor clams from our beaches?) Cappe sante scallops, are given similar treatment. By the way ristorante DaFior e does the best cappi lunghi in Venive.

The market by the side of the Rialto bridge is possibly more famous for fish, but I was taken with several tin dishes of freshly prepared artichoke hearts, floating in water with halves of lemon bobbing about, to prevent discoloration. All the work is do ne for you, the outer leaves torn away and pared down right to the core; the best bit.It must be very nice for Venetian cooks to be able to just hop out and buy a few of these artichokes for their risotti and pasta dishes. We ate quite a lot of pasta and risotti in Venice. More often than not the pasta was tagliolini, fashioned into the very thinnest strands of yellow ribbon. And one of the finest plates of it came with some of these artichokes. If you can find the tender, small summer artichokes they only need the minimum of trimming up and can be sliced as they are. Older and larger artichokes need all the leaves and the central hair "choke" removed and the heart trimmed up with a small sharp knife until it resembles a sort of shallow cup.Allow five or six of the small artichokes per serving.

Pasta with fresh artichokes, garlic and lemon serves 4

8 large globe artichokes, trimmed of all leaves and choke, pared down to the hearts and thinly sliced salt and pepper 4 tbs olive oil 4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced juice of a lemon 250g/9oz dried tagliolini 2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil black pepper

a little chopped mint grated rind of 1 lemon (grate the rind from this lemon, before you use it for the juice needed above) freshly grated Parmesan

Have a large pan of salted water at a simmer.Fry the artichoke slices in the olive oil until golden. Season, add the garlic and continue cooking for a minute or two. Squeeze in the lemon juice and keep warm on one side (or in a low oven with the door aja r). Turn up the heat under the simmering water until boiling fast. Put in the pasta, cook until al dente and drain well. Tip into a pre-heated large bowl, add the extra virgin olive oil and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and dividebetw een four hot plates. Top each serving with the artichokes, sprinkle over the mint and grated lemon rind and serve immediately. Hand the Parmesan separately.

Risotto with Shellfish serves 4

Risotto seems more synonymous with Venice than anywhere else in Italy, save perhaps Milan. But a risotto combined with shellfish is Venetian to a T.

Use whatever shellfish looks best when you go shopping. Or rather, when you see some good shellfish, buy it and then decide to make a risotto; being a caring cook, you will, naturally, always have some risotto rice in the kitchen cupboard. If the your sh ellfish is not shell-rich for making the broth, it is possible to use a jar of ready-made fish soup instead. But sieve before use as it can often be quite muddy textured.

For the broth

1 700g/1 1/2lb cooked lobster 700g/1 1/2lb cooked shell-on prawns (these have usually been frozen but the quality is fine). The size to buy will give you 20-25 prawns per pound 1/2 bottle dry white wine 1.8 kilos/4lbs fresh mussels, cleaned and de-bearded 1 can [400g/14oz] chopped tomatoes bouquet garni

For the risotto

3-4 tbs olive oil 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped 8 very ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled, de-cored, seeded and chopped 200g/7oz best Arborio rice 900mls/1 1/2 pints shellfish broth - or the bottled soup 4 large fresh scallops, removed from the shell, trimmed and cut into small chunks 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped 3 heaped tbs coarsely chopped flat-leafed parsley salt and pepper

First make the broth.Shell the lobster and prawns,keeping the heads and shells for later. Cut the lobster flesh into small chunks, put on a plate with the prawn tails and keep cool.Boil the white wine in a large pan for three to four minutes. Tip inthe mussels and cook for 30 seconds to one minute with the lid on.Drain into a colander reserving the juices. Shell the mussels when cooler discarding any that have not opened, and put with the lobster and the prawns. Strain the mussel juices through a fine sieve back into the cleaned pan. Add about a pint of water, the can of chopped tomatoes and the bouquet garni. Break up the lobster head and shell with a heavy knife and drop that in too. Simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes, skimming off any scum thatform s. Strain through a colander into another pan Put the prawn heads and shells into a blender, add about 1/2 pint of the cooking liquor and process for 30 seconds. Tip back into the remaining liquor, bring back to a simmer and cook for five minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. Measure the liquid. You need approximately 900mls/1 1/2 pints.

Have the broth nearby, at the merest simmer. Fry the onions in the olive oil until lightly golden and tip in the fresh tomatoes. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the tomatoes have reduced somewhat and are no longer wet. Add the rice and gently cook with t he onions and tomatoes until well coated. Add a ladle - about 3 fl oz - of the stock to the rice. Allow to seethe, turn the heat down low and stir gently but purposefully, until the liquid has been absorbed into the rice. Only now add some more stock and repeat the process until the stock is used up. Taste some of the rice from time to time as you go. When it is coming close to being ready - still with the slightest hardness at the centre of the grain - add a final splash of broth and the scallops. Gent ly cook them in the rice before adding the cooked shellfish, garlic and parsley... Heat through thoroughly once more, check for seasoning and serve immediately.

If the rice is cooked before you finish off the stock, don't worry. Conversely, if you think you need more liquid, add a little hot water. A good risotto should be one of lava-like consistency; oozing, and should take a good few seconds before it finally settles on the plate. Never, ever, serve Parmesan with a risotto involving fish, it is disgusting and particularly indigestible.

Comments