Venice…and then Murano!

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We became tourists; Cara enlisted as guide a midget Venetian nobleman to whom all doors were open and with him at her side and a guide book in her hand, she came with us, flagging sometimes but never giving up, a neat, prosaic figure amid the immense splendors of the place.

The fortnight at Venice passed quickly and sweetly—perhaps too sweetly; I was drowning in honey, stingless. On some days life kept pace with the gondola, as we nosed through the side-canals and the boatman uttered his plaintive musical bird-cry of warning; on other days with the speed-boat bouncing over the lagoon in a stream of sunlit foam; it left a confused memory of fierce sunlight on the sands and cool, marble interiors; of water everywhere, lapping on smooth stone, reflected in a dapple of light on painted ceilings; of a night at the Corombona palace such as Byron might have known, and another Byronic night fishing for scampi in the shallows of Chioggia, the phosphorescent wake of the little ship, the lantern swinging in the prow, and the net coming up full of weed and sand and floundering fishes; of melon and prosciutto on the balcony in the cool of the morning; of hot cheese sandwiches and champagne cocktails at Harry’s bar. [Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited]

We were in Venice a month or so ago. It is a magical and mysterious place to visit with all the seemingly endless canals and a labyrinth of narrow streets. This with a intriguing  mix of Byzantine influenced architecture and Renaissance palaces are a heady combination.
St.Marks Square

It can also be maddeningly crowded.  But there are the other lagoons to visit and I highly recommend this.  We opted for Murano as Geno Seguso, had invited us for a private tour of his family’s glass workshop, Seguso Archimede, http://www.aseguso.com. The tour  included a  museum of sorts with examples of the workshop’s early works as well as current production items.  Everything from tableware, mirrors, chandeliers, to figurines and bathroom accessories were on display.  The visit ended with a brief visit to the hot ovens to experience first hand the fabrication process.
MuranoglasschandelierI

After the tour we decided to stay on the lagoon for lunch. We had already spotted, what looked to be, an interesting Osteria on a brief walk through the center of town before our tour.  Osteria Acqua Stanca, http://www.acquastanca.it mainly specializes in freshly prepared seafood dishes.  There desserts are also made in house and are well known for a delicious lemon tart which was unavailable the day we visited.
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We started with Shrimp that had been wrapped in shredded phylo and fried until crispy. Served with a mildly spicy mayonnaise they were crisp, fresh and flavorful.

Other dishes included seared tuna with a zucchini cream to which a drizzle of very flavorful olive oil was added. Italians love the combination of oil drizzled into creamed vegetables and so do I.  The combination of textures, oily and at the same time creamy offers a much welcomed complexity to what could otherwise be flat and unappealing.

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One dish that stood out was the spaghetti served with prawns.  This was a simply prepared dish; fresh prawns, house made spaghetti, all dressed with a light broth and a high quality olive oil. The scampi were sweet and tender while the pasta, sturdy and the sauce slick on the palate.

DessertMuarno

For dessert we ordered an apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. Not a bad way to end our excursion to Murano.

This dish recalled one we used to order from a trattoria which was dangerously located only a few doors down from our apartment in New York.  Their version included radicchio along with the prawns. Radicchio is a variety of chicory that is quite popular here in Italy.  I used this as an opportunity to combine Osteria Acqua Stanca’s version with what I remembered from the trattoria in New York.   I  have also included a small amount of home made tomato sauce to feather out or transition flavors from sweet to bitter. So basically the dish is built around the sweetness of the prawns and tied together with a small amount of acidity in the form of tomato sauce and then delicately laced with the bitterness of the radicchio.

The procedure for this dish may seem like a lot of work and prep for a pasta dish. Really, I think it is worth the effort.  The flavors are more complex than your typical run of the mill pasta with seafood dish.  Feel free to replace the prawns with shrimp; rock shrimp would be a great option.  You can certainly use dried pasta that will cut down on some of the prep time. The rest is just preparing a quick tomato sauce and broth that will be used to bind the scampi with the pasta.

Prawns with Spaghetti and Radicchio

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1 dozen whole fresh prawns

1/4 head of radicchio roughly chopped

1/2 -3/4 cup of tomato sauce, preferably homemade

spaghetti, fresh or dried

For the Scampi Broth

1 dozen heads and shells from fresh prawns

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1/2 stalk of celery, roughly chopped

1/2 carrot, roughly chopped

2 stems and leaves of parsley, roughly chopped

salt and pepper

Instructions:

For the Scamp Broth

1). Remove the heads and shells from the flesh of the prawns.  Keep the meat of the prawns in a bowl covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator until needed.  Reserve the heads and outer shells in a medium size pot filled with cold water.

2). Add the chopped vegetables, salt and pepper and more water to sufficiently cover the shells and vegetables, bring to a medium boil.  Once it reaches a medium boil reduce the heat to keep the pot between a simmer and low boil for 25-30 minutes.

3) Strain the broth and discard the solids. DO NOT try to press the solids in an attempt to extract more liquid or flavor.  With fish and shellfish stocks or broth this will result in a cloudy and murky broth in both appearance and flavor.

Prawn and Radicchio Assembly

1).  In a medium sauté pan sauté the prawns in olive oil until opaque and reserve in another bowl.

2).  Deglaze the pan with a few splashes of white wine and then gradually add about 1/2 cup of the prepared broth.  Bring to a boil and allow to reduce slightly.

3).  Add the chopped radicchio and allow to wilt on medium heat.  It will turn quite dark which is normal.

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4).  Gradually add about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and reduce slightly.  Add 1/2 the sautéd prawns and allow to simmer and reduce slightly.  The prawns will break down but will also start to intensify the flavor of the sauce. From this point on work back and forth between the broth and tomato sauce until you reach the desired thickness. Note in the photo that in my version the tomato sauce is barely present on the pasta.  You may only need the 1/4 cup of tomato sauce depending on how much broth you add in the intervals. Check and rectify the seasoning with salt.

5). Meanwhile prepare the spaghetti keeping it al dente to taste.

6). When the spaghetti is done add it to the sauce in the pan and toss to coat the pasta.  Serve and garnish with remaining prawns.

Sauced

Tomato Sauce

Following is a recipe for a very basic tomato sauce that was inspired by some strange torpedo shaped tomatoes I found earlier in the week at the market in Campo di Fiori. The vendor explained that these tomatoes were from Naples and  ideal for making tomato sauce.  If you feel that basic tomato sauce is not worth your time you should really reconsider and give it a shot. The wonderful thing about this sauce is that like all basic sauces it is really the foundation for whatever additional ingredients you would like to add depending on the final dish you are preparing.  One further note is that I did not peel the tomatoes as I used a food mill to process the cooked tomatoes which pretty much eliminates the peel. If you are using a blender, which is perfectly acceptable, you may want to peel the tomatoes first. Otherwise just puree and pass the final puree through a china cap strainer or fine mesh strainer.

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Neapolitan Tomatoes

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