The American sense of “Italian food” is derived from a limited and
commercialized repertoire ultimately derived from Sicily and Calabria.
But a mountainous land that was not unified into a single nation until
the 1860s has evolved over the centuries to offer many distinctive local
culinary traditions that survive.
Nowhere is this
stronger than in Venice, the sole region never overtaken by the ancient
barbarians, and the last region to join a unified Italy. Among Venice’s
distinctive dishes are cicchetti. Cicchetti is the Italian plural of
cicchetto. And a cicchetto is a primer - not of the paint or A-B-C
variety, but a primer for your appetite.
A nibble. A nosh. An app. A starter.
are a big deal in Venice. There are specialized bars called bácari that
are dedicated to them. There are cicchetti tours available to those who
feel they can't manage it on their own. (Trust me, you can manage!)
Cicchetti are Venice's answer to Spanish tapas, French aperitifs, and Middle Eastern mezes.
at home, we occasionally host hors d'œuvres nights, where we make an
entire meal of small plates, consuming them with friends, sometimes
while watching a movie. For us, it is a festive way to pass hot summer
nights (in the comfort of air conditioning!).
Venice, these hors d'œuvres nights take on a different social
structure. You meet friends at a designated spot and then you hop from
bácaro to bácaro and nibble and sip the night away.
enter, peruse the glass cases filled with cicchetti, place your order,
and then stand among the locals and enjoy the snacks come i Veneziani.
Generally, this is not a sitting occasion, but a few cicchetti places
have some seating.
Because we were new to this
scene, Roque and Gabriella (our Venetian friends who both graduated from
the University of Arizona) navigated our way to several of their
We, along with throngs of
other locals, enjoyed our cicchetti with glasses of local house wine,
using a wine cask as our high-top table.
first stop was Vini al Bottegon, also know as Cantine del Vino gia
Schiavi, across a canal from some "squeri" - the somewhat chalet-looking
repair shops for gondole.
We went next to Bácaro de Fiore,
which was closed, but luckily we had been stumbled upon it two nights
before prior to a mostly-Vivaldi concert in the Chiesa San Vidal.
We paused in Dai do Cancari,
where locals bring their empties from home for a refill from huge
demijohns. (They also have an amazing selection of the best Italian
wines available.) We chatted with the amiable proprietor and some
patrons from Germany about wines of the Veneto. Our third stop was
Osteria I Rusteghi for our final nibble and tipple. This one is in the
center of a maze of streets very close to our apartment, but we would
never have found it without Roque and Gabriella’s guidance. Truly a gem
for the locals.
After such tiny greatness, who
needs dinner? A final glass of wine or prosecco rounds out the evening.
And that is exactly what we did.
observations, there are two basic kinds of cicchetti - hot and cold. The
hot varieties tend to be coated and fried: sardines, anchovies,
eggplant, mozzarella balls, etc.
For the most
part, the cold cicchetti were served on a small round of bread,
sometimes toasted, sometimes not: shrimp, prosciutto, lardo, bacalà
(salt cod), white anchovies, ricotta with pumpkin, etc. Sometimes they
skip the bread and just give you a wedge of mortadella with a pickled
pepper on top. They also offer small panini of cured meats, sausages,
marinated vegetables, and cheeses.
cicchetti are specific to Venice, Italy has many great little appetizers
that we enjoy serving, but the experience of bácari and a cicchetti
crawl (of your own making) is incredibly special.
should also mention that cicchetti are not only for the evening. They
are readily available at mid-day and even breakfast. In fact, when Roque
met me to introduce me to the market, we stopped first at All'Arco for a
couple of porchetta panini and a small glass of wine for breakfast.
What a great way to start the day!
cicchetti recipes will feature one we had there, one we like to serve
here at home, and a recipe for the world-famous Venetian spritz.
Venetian cicchetto that was served to us at Vini al Bottegon was new to
both us, as well as to Roque and Gabriella - a slice of bread with a coarse
tuna purée dusted with bitter cocoa powder. Unusual, for sure, but quite
tasty! Interesting to use cocoa as a spice rather than a sweet.
addition to the repertoire is fried sage leaves. We generally make
these for our most special occasions - birthdays and holidays. I made
them for Mark's 60th birthday, and we made them again recently,
ostensibly so that I could photograph them, and share the recipe with
you. They aren't difficult, but do take a little fussing. We find that
even people who don't like anchovies love them!
A couple of cicchetti with a Venetian spritz... what a lovely way to start an evening.
Cicchetti al Tonno e Cacao
15 slices of a baguette
4 ounces tuna packed in oil, drained (preferably Italian)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Toast slices of bread.
a fork, break up the tuna and add mayonnaise and olive oil. Mix well -
it shouldn't be too stiff. If it is, add a little more olive oil.
Spread tuna onto the toasted bread slices. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Foglie Fritte della Salvia
40 sage leaves (unblemished and large)
2 tablespoons anchovy paste
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
olive oil for frying
and dry the sage leaves. Mix anchovy paste, two tablespoons of flour,
and just enough water to make a thick, spreadable paste with the
consistency of cream cheese. Spread this filling evenly onto half the
leaves, and top with the remaining leaves. Put the sage 'sandwiches' on a
Heat 1/4-inch olive oil in a large
skillet over medium-high heat. Place the remaining flour in a bowl.
Slowly stir in enough water to make a thin batter, whisking all the
while; the batter should flow like heavy cream. Dip the leaves into the
batter and fry in hot olive oil until crispy. Drain on absorbent paper
towels, and serve immediately.
3-4 ice cubes
2 ounces Aperol
3 ounces prosecco
1 ounce soda water
Put the ice cubes in a large goblet and add the Aperol, prosecco, and soda water. Stir to mix, and garnish with an orange slice.
Makes 1 drink.
Labels: anchovies, Aperol, baguette, cacao, cicchetti, cocoa, fried sage leaves, sage, sage leaves, spritz, tuna, Venetian spritz