"A Table in Venice"
a chat with Skye Mcalpine
It’s impossible to grow up in Italy and not love food. I grew up in Venice - my family moved there when I was six years old with a plan to stay for a year. Somehow, we’ve never quite left - and now I divide my time between London, where my husband works, and Venice, where my heart lies.
We all know and love Italian food - but Venetian food remains still one of Italy’s best kept secrets. It’s easy to come to Venice and lose yourself among the Titians and the Carpaccios, be swept away by the dreamy canal views and leave having eaten pasta and pizza, but not having eaten particularly well. In part, this is because the very best food in Venice is the food you find in homes, which the locals guard ferociously for their own gratification.
My book ‘A Table in Venice’ is a celebration of Venetian home cooking, of those dishes which I grew up eating and the ones I still love now.
It’s simple, fresh and often seasonal flavours; there’s a lot of seafood - Venice is poised on the Adriatic after all; and there are quite a few sweets - I have a sweet tooth, and Venetians do ‘dolci’ exceptionally well.
But unlike most other Italian food, the dishes are laced with spice - saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, pink peppercorns, bay leaves - a legacy of Venice’s history as a merchant city at the top of the Spice Route.
The book is ‘a table in Venice’ because it’s about more than just recipes: it’s about how when friends and family gather around a table a certain indescribable magic occurs. Of course, that’s the food - but it’s also the little details: proper cutlery that feels heavy to hold, nice crockery that brightens the table, a jug of flowers to set the scene, and good linens.
It is impossible to grow up in Italy and not love linen too: there is nothing quite so pleasing as opening a nice, pressed linen napkin onto your knees before dinner; just as a nice linen tablecloth has the power to transform the most mundane and hardworking kitchen tables into the scene for a feast. Good linen will last a lifetime: my mother still has linens from her wedding, a little worn and darned in places but all the more charming for it - and if anything, they take on character and the linen softens as you use them and wash them.
Pizzette di Zucchine
Pizzette with a buttery puff pastry base are a ‘thing’ in Venice, and they are beyond delicious. You will find pizzette with a dough base and ones made with puff pastry on offer in most bars, but I always prefer the puff pastry version. So, although this recipe is wonderfully easy to make, you needn’t think of it as a cheat’s pizza – unless, of course, you count cooking with ready-rolled puff pastry as cheating.
I have topped these with grilled courgette and fresh thyme, but baby artichokes, blue cheese, black olives and anchovies are all equally scrumptious alternatives – or leave them plain like a margherita.
1 small courgette, cut into rounds 3–5mm thick
320g ready-rolled puff pastry sheet
400g tin of peeled plum tomatoes, drained, chopped, then drained again
25g mozzarella, chopped
50g pecorino, grated
a small bunch of thyme
Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Heat a griddle pan. Arrange the courgette slices on it and cook over a medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, until chargrilled and blistered on both sides. Season with a little salt. Remove from the griddle and set aside. Lay out the puff pastry on a work surface and use a pastry cutter to cut out 7–8cm rounds (roughly the size of the base of the tomato tin, if you don’t have a cutter the right size).
Arrange them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, leaving plenty of space between each one. Using a sharp knife, score a circle on each pastry round to make a 1cm border – be careful not to cut right through. Bake for 10–15 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove the pizzette bases from the oven and gently push down the pastry if it has puffed up at the centre – you need to create a hollow. Spoon a heaped teaspoon of drained tomatoes into the hollow of each one. Combine the mozzarella and pecorino in a bowl, then put a generous spoonful on the tomato, so that it is almost completely hidden under a snow-white layer of cheese. Top with a couple of slices of grilled zucchine and a few thyme leaves. Return the pizzette to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden. They are best eaten straight from the oven but will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container – all you need to do is reheat them before serving.
LINGUINE WITH ASPARAGUS AND PROSECCO
Linguine con Asparagi e Prosecco
Cooking with Prosecco always seems rather extravagant, but less so if you take it as an excuse to enjoy the rest of the bottle with your meal. You could, of course, make this using white wine or a splash of vermouth but there is something about the delicacy of Prosecco that works particularly well here. You can almost taste the bubbles in the sauce. If you can use fresh egg pasta, better still.
Ingredients (for 4 serves)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
400g asparagus, trimmed and cut
into 3–5cm lengths
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
30g salted butter
30g Parmesan, grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, over a low–medium heat for 5–10 minutes, until the onion becomes translucent.
Add the asparagus and Prosecco, then season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated, and the asparagus is tender. If it is not quite done by the time the wine evaporates, add just enough water to cover the base of the pan and cook for a little longer. Stir in the parsley.
Meanwhile, cook the linguine in a large saucepan of generously salted boiling water until al dente. Just before you drain the pasta, scoop half a cup of the cooking water out of the pot and set to one side. Drain the pasta, toss it back into the saucepan and mix in the reserved cooking water, little by little, and the butter. Stir well, then add the asparagus mixture. Give everything one last good stir and top with the grated Parmesan.
ASPARAGI DI BASSANO
HOW TO SET A COLOURFUL TABLE