Our cookbook of the week is A Table in Venice by Skye McAlpine, creator of the blog From My Dining Table. To try a recipe from the book, check out: zucchini pizzette; artichoke, fava bean, farro, and mint salad; and spaghetti with lobster.
From labyrinthine canals and narrow alleyways to grand palaces and art museums, visitors have valued Venice’s many charms for centuries. But it’s the beauty of Venetian cuisine, author Skye McAlpine says, that remains the city’s best-kept secret.
“It’s almost as if Venice belongs to the world rather than to the Italians or to the Venetians,” says McAlpine, who has called the city home since age six. More than 20 million people visit Venice each year, which is an especially significant number given the population of the historic centre is roughly 55,000.
For legions of tourists, the Floating City is all too easily equated with “a Disneyland,” she adds. Many visitors leave Venice – after seeing the sights and eating an adequate plate of pasta or pizza near Piazza San Marco – completely oblivious to the splendour just beneath the surface.
“If you amble away from the beaten track and you find the food the Venetians eat, that’s really special,” McAlpine says. “There’s this whole fascinating culinary culture that’s laced with history… Venice is such a melting pot of a city because of its part of the spice (trade) route.”
Spice is quite unusual in other Northern Italian cuisines, but in Venetian cuisine it’s essential. As McAlpine underscores in her debut cookbook, A Table in Venice (Appetite by Random House, 2018), spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and saffron are central to seafood and fish dishes, risottos, pasta sauces, and desserts.
“Venetian is what we think of (as) Italian. It’s simple: simple ingredients, simple flavours, local, seasonal. It’s a lot of seafood because it’s on the sea but there are these layers of spice,” she says. “And I think that really adds a level of interest and flavour to the food.”
If you amble away from the beaten track and you find the food the Venetians eat, that's really specialSkye McAlpine
In presenting the 100 recipes in A Table in Venice, McAlpine highlights characteristic locales and habits: vegetable recipes from the historic Rialto Market, fish and game from the Venetian lagoon, and the “cultural institution” of lo spritz (drinks and small bites to “tide you over until dinner”).
The recipes are representative of home life in the city – dishes that McAlpine grew up eating – and can easily be achieved in kitchens around the world. More elaborate or involved traditional Venetian foods such as baccalà alla Veneziana (soaked, milk-poached and whipped salt cod), she leaves to the restaurants.
“It’s as much about a spirit of food and an attitude to food as it is actually the food itself,” she says. “The vast majority of Venetian food – based on principles of simplicity and beautiful, informal, casual dishes – translates incredibly well. I really wanted that to be the message.”