26 September 2023

Venetian Seafood Salad

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By Christine Salins.


Venice, the lagoon city, once the grandest and wealthiest city in Europe, is still beguiling and still eye-wateringly expensive.

But if you’re willing to pop into one of the many backstreet bars and enjoy cicchetti, you’ll discover surprisingly cheap, unpretentious and delicious food.

In her latest book, Emiko Davies invites you to experience Venice and its beloved cicchetti (pronounced chi-ke-tee) – literally, little morsels.

Cinnamon and Salt: Cicchetti in Venice: Small Bites from the Lagoon City (Hardie Grant, $40) delves into the rich, multicultural history of Venice and its cuisine, along with a selection of classic and modern recipes, from fried to sweet and from small plates to drinks.

You can think of cicchetti as appetisers, aperitivo or hors d’oeuvres, says Davies, but they are distinctly Venetian and a way of life in Venice, where for centuries people have wandered the backstreets and canals, stopping for a glass of wine or a bite to eat while meeting friends, exchanging news, or doing business.

Living in Florence with her husband and two daughters, Davies has called Tuscany home for more than 14 years, but she finds any excuse to visit Venice and, whenever she does, she almost always indulges in cicchetti rather than dining in a restaurant.

Among recipes she presents in the book are creamy whipped cod on squares of polenta, fried meatballs, soft-shell crabs, and sweet and sour radicchio. Indulge before moving on to rose petal jam and sugar-coated fritters, perhaps with a spritz, Bellini and thick hot chocolate.

Davies offers a snapshot of Venetian history, back to the days when it was a powerful maritime nation and the spice emporium of Europe. As well as an important early salt trade, wealthy merchants traded in cinnamon and other spices, initially for use as medicines but eventually part of the cuisine.

Davies quotes the Slow Food organization as saying that “as recently as the 1970s, every Venetian pantry had a precious collection of finely ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and it was not out of place to find cinnamon and sugar on trattoria tables as condiments.”

Even today, Venetian-style gnocchi is seasoned with cinnamon, sugar, and parmesan cheese, a recipe dating back to at least the 16th century.

The classic seafood recipe here is much loved all along the Italian coast. It’s a good one to prepare in advance and keeps well chilled in the fridge. You can use any type of seafood, even just one type if you wish.

Insalata di Mare (Seafood Salad)

Serves 4

150 g cherry tomatoes

80 ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

150 g calamari (about 1 medium-sized one)

500 g mussels

1 potato, peeled and diced

150 g prawns (about 12)

½ celery stalk, preferably the top half with leaves still attached

handful of parsley leaves

1 garlic clove

juice of 1 lemon

Halve the cherry tomatoes and drizzle over some olive oil and a pinch of salt and let them marinate in a bowl while you prepare the other ingredients.

Clean the calamari and scrub the mussels with a metal scourer – pull the beards from the mussels if they haven’t already been cleaned by the fishmonger (if you are buying them vacuum-packed they are usually already cleaned).

Place the potato in a pot of cold water and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to fi sh out the potato pieces and set them aside to cool, then add them to the tomatoes. Keep the water in the pot boiling for cooking the seafood.

Poach the calamari for 1–1½ minutes and remove with a slotted spoon, setting aside with the potato.

Poach the prawns whole for 1 minute and drain, then add them to the calamari.

In a separate pan, place the mussels over a medium heat and steam them open. Give the pan a shake to make sure any underneath have the chance to open. It should take about 2 minutes. Remove some of their shells if you like and add the mussels to the rest of the seafood along with the celery and its leaves.

Make a dressing by finely mincing the parsley, garlic and a pinch of salt together on a chopping board. Place in a bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil, along with some freshly ground pepper. Toss together with the salad ingredients and serve. This is quite nice when it has had a little bit of time for the flavours to mingle, for example, prepared in the morning for lunch.

Recipe and image from Cinnamon and Salt: Cicchetti in Venice: Small Bites from the Lagoon City, by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant, RRP $40. Photography: ©Emiko Davies

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