In her previous books we have met Tessa Kiros' unique sensibility, one that sees food as a part of life's poetry, and we waited eagerly for Venezia. When the book arrived we worried that expectations were too high, but tore open the wrapper to discover that Kiros had exceeded our expectations. Kiros is at home in the watery byways of Venice where she finds, not only poetry, but the dreams evoked by that magical city, and some of the best food that one can encounter in a country rich in its varied foods. Venezia is as sumptuous as the city that inspired it. With gilt edged pages, a velvet bookmark to save a favorite page, and photography that captures the life of the city and its food, this is sure to be the perfect gift for any lover of Italy and its food.
Venezia is a cookbook with a difference. The work is about food, but is laced with comments from Kiros' diary about Venice, the Venetians, the particular spell that Venice casts on a visitor. The side comments are poetic, but it is the recipes with their brief introductions giving a bit of history, an insight to culture and the daily life of the Venetians that makes the work glow.
Kiros is sensitive to the small pleasures of daily life, and her sensibility is a refined one. Her work is authentic: these are the foods that Venetians enjoy daily in their own kitchens, as well as in the cafes and restaurants of Venice. Kiros is meticulous, not flamboyant, and the recipes, less well known than the foods of the south, are easily followed at home to produce the tastes of Venice. Dominated by water, Venice offers the freshest seafood, but with the proximity of its inland breadbasket, the Venetians have developed a taste for risotto and polenta, as well as the great Italian staple - the ubiquitous pasta. In Venezia Kiros explores this rich cuisine to the fullest. In an interview with Kiros, she stated, "Travel is still the thing that inspires me so much. I love what people do in their countries; love their stories that hold it all together. Going to a market in a foreign country is a chance to see culture in action, the life of the people. If you have even a smattering of the language, you can even get recipes from friendly people shopping for foodstuffs. The credit beyond all goes to the country. It is with their geography and history that they have collected their ingredients and colored them through their language and stories onto their plates." click to read full interview
Venezia begins with an introduction to eating in Venice. Kiros mentions the aperitif, (oh, that lovely prosecco) accompanied by cicchetti which are tiny bites of food, distinguished from antipasti which are eaten before a meal as these tiny bites of food are intended to be snacks. They are so delicious, Kiros tells us, that they can end up as a meal itself, and she devotes one chapter to recipes for cicchetti, such as Scampi in Saor (Scampi Sour), Tramezzini, Italian sandwiches which are made of white bread and "stuffed to bursting with fillings, often served with a glass of wine," or Mozzarella in Carrozza, possibly Polpette di Carne, tiny meatballs.
Cicchetti do not replace antipasti and among the recipes for antipasti are many seafood dishes such as Clams & Mussels, Scallops, Mini Shrimp, Spider Crab, Marinated Bass. Carpaccio found its beginnings in Venice and she includes both a fish and a meat carpaccio.
Once the appetite is warmed up, Kiros moves on to soups, pasta, gnocchi, and there are recipes such as a Venetian Pasta & Fagioli, Crab Linguini, Spaghetti with Clams & Calamari, all easy to make, and then gives a more challenging Spaghetti with Squid Ink. The beloved gnocchi can be made with winter squash, a popular ingredient, not only in Venezia, but all over the Veneto, and with scampi, of course.
Risotto is beloved by the Venetians, and Kiros does service to this comforting and delicious food. Entitling her chapter "Patience and Risotto" she offers eleven recipes ranging from seafood risotto to vegetable risotto, including the classic Risi e bisi which the Venetians consume so avidly.
For what the Italians call "Secondi" or the main course, there are recipes that speak of Venice's position on the water where fishermen were joined by hunters, as well as vessels filled with spices. From inland came merchants selling meats and vegetables. Reflecting this wide variety there are recipes from the heavenly, classic Liver & Onions, or Osso Buco to Braised Beef with Amarone, Fish Fillets with Artichokes, Sausages and Polenta, Chicken in Tomato, Pork in Milk, Venetian Sausage with Beans and Mixed Boiled Meats. No two nights of the week need be the same for the Venetians.
The inland farms offer vegetables, among the most loved are radicchio, artichoke, wild asparagus, and cabbage. Venezia has recipes for all and will open new horizons with recipes such as Tiny Whole Artichokes, Artichoke bottoms, Radicchio with Anchovies, Radicchio in Lemon. The popular winter squash is represented as well, served with mushrooms.
To satisfy the sweet tooth at the end of the meal are recipes that range from Polenta Cookies, Tiramisu (done two ways and with Kiros suggestions for making it more or less sweet), Lemon Ice Cream or Lemon Chill for hot days, Cooked Apples with Amaretti in the chilly weather, and a recipe for Bussola, the classic cookie know as "S" cookies for their shape.
As with her other cookbooks, this is a work with a difference, one that respects the efforts of the home cook and celebrates the tiny steps that are taken to put a meal on the table. With the glorious photography by Manos Chatzikonstantis, it is as much a book to read and savor as well as one that will fill the table with taste.
Please read: International Cooking, an interview with tessa kiros
the history of food and cooking in Venice and the Veneto