BELLA SERENISSIMA

Francesco’s Kitchen: Flavours of Venice

For more than a thousand years, the da Mosto family have called Venice home. Lucky da Mostos! So who better than the delightful, amusing, chatty and intelligent fifty-something Francesco to tell us secrets about the Serenissima?

No matter how often you visit her, Venice remains a mystery, Mediterranean masquerading as Byzantium (or vice versa), which few ‘foreigners,’(defined in ancient Venice as anyone from outside the city,) can fathom. Francesco gives us hints about his gorgeous enigma, describing it with all the joy, enthusiasm, and blind rapture of a woman he loved from first sight.

In Francesco’s Kitchen, this delightful architect, historian and film-maker brings the smells and tastes of his family’s kitchen to our senses and explains the history and customs of his birthplace, so that we fall in love with Venice all over again…and again and again.

Francesco has an impish face which makes him irresistible, a mane of pre-maturely white hair, and a rebellious but self-effacing nature. In his television series, he won our hearts by hugging his mother, “Every Italian son loves his mama!” This one declaration guaranteed his world wide success. He makes the perfect Venetian ‘rebel without a cause.’ His speedboat on the Lagoon becomes a classy version of James Dean’s motorbike. Except that Francesco has a cause: a ‘Cause Celebre.’ He wants us to understand and embrace his city, his lover.

He reveals the complex culture of this most mysterious of places as a sophisticated, elegant, dangerous romp through time, explaining the curious conventions of the city of luxurious ‘palazzi’ and its masked inhabitants through its banquets, its’ sumptuous celebrations, its’ folklore, its’ family feasts and peasant festivals and dishes. No dish is too humble or too grand for Francesco to regale us with.

The book is a visual treat. We see Francesco drinking coffee with his father in the morning light through the delicate leaded windows of the grand salon of Palazzo Mosto on the Grand Canal. We see him with his beautiful wife and son and daughter buying mussels and crabs in the sumptuous fish market at the Rialto We see a painting of Giacomo da Mosto, Governor of the Peleponnese, 1689, regally dressed in cardinal red. We see baccari, taverns and bars, cheese shops, shooting parties, lagoon fish, and mountains of shrimps being hauled out of the lagoon.

This is a book to read in bed when you’re missing excitement, adventure and Venice. You will learn about places and customs, feast days and traditions, not just recipies. For example, few of us Venetian aficionados know about Sagra della Renga (Herring Feast) which is still held on Ash Wednesday at Ponte Albano deep in the countryside. In the Veneto since time eternal herrings are the most popular Lenten dish. Herrings are carried in procession on the tip of bamboo canes to signal the end of Carnival and the start of fasting. Cleaned and grilled herrings are hung above the kitchen table. During Lent polenta is rubbed against the hanging fish to give a bit of flavour to the abstenitous meal.

The Venetian gastronomic calender follows the seasons and high days and holidays. The tradition for Christmas Eve was to serve botarga for dinner. Botarga (dried fish eggs) was followed bisato (eel), clam risotto, salmon, savoy cabbage and sweet mustard, followed by a nougat for dessert. On the first day of Lent one ate chick peas. Throughout Lent dessert was always roasted almonds. Easter meant lamb and focaccio, a cake made into the shape of a chicken or dove. The Feast of La Salute (November 21) is a celebration of the end of the Plagues when castradina (dried, smoked mutton) is served. Il Rendentore (third weekend in July) sees stuffed duck as the menu, and for the Feast of Santa Marta you find fried sole. The history and locally sourced logic for all these seasonal menus has for centuries accompanied Venetian hospitality.

The complex history of Venice comes alive through its eating habits of all classes of Venetian society. Francesco invites us to indulge in the authentic flavours and the unique life of Venice told through stories passed down through his family and folklore for generations.

— Mrs M


Francesco’s Kitchen
, Ebury Press, 2007 is available at www.amazon.co.uk .

 

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  • Gastronomy, Francesco