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   From Your Own Rialto,
   the Refreshing Tastes of Venice

   by Nigella Lawson

  Tell anyone that you are going to Venice and you are likely to hear how bad the food is there. This is partly because people are keen to show how street-smart they are: to be loftily disdainful of the food is to show you are no mere tourist.

  It is pitifully easy to eat badly in Venice, but the food is not as terrible as people say. It's just that the restaurants seem to vie with one another to disappoint.

  But you can eat well, and for those of us who also travel to take back something savored, there is much to feast the eyes on. I used to rent a little apartment there, and visited the city as much to cook as to wander along the water-lined ways. Last month I was there ostensibly for the Biennale, but found time to visit the city's perennial and breathtakingly beautiful installation, the great market of the Rialto, with its operatic displays of fruit, vegetables and fish so fresh you get no whiff of them even as you walk past the shimmering stalls.

  For those of us used to seeing fish sold as sad, denatured slabs bound in plastic, daring anyone to buy it, the fish in Venice is a miraculous spectacle. To see it is to want to cook it, even if the cooking had to take place on my return home. I would much rather come back inspired to cook the local speciality, bigoli in salsa — whole-wheat spaghetti in a syrupy sauce of slow-cooked onions and anchovies — or a plate of juicy coral shrimp with beans the deep damask pink of a Venetian palazzo's walls, than return laden with Murano glass and feathered masks.

  I am also not above recreating the pleasures of Harry's Bar at home. A Bellini — prosecco thickened and perfumed with puréed white peaches — is the perfect cocktail for a summer's day.

  You might as well cook bigoli in salsa at home, since you don't always find it in restaurants in Venice these days. I've never been lucky in finding bigoli, the only authentically whole-wheat pasta in Italy. It is a thick, buff-colored spaghettilike pasta with a hole running through the middle of each strand, the better to trap the oozing sauce. I often use perciatelli or bucatini instead, or linguine, which is robust enough for this hearty dressing. Feel free to buy whole-wheat spaghetti from the health store.

  As to the sauce itself, I change this according to the preferences of my dinner guests. Twelve anchovy fillets are enough to make a sauce to coat a pound of pasta if you want to keep the saline fierceness at bay: you can taste the anchovy but it doesn't dominate. Add half as much again if you want to make this dish zing with anchoviness. Either way, two factors keep the saltiness in check: cook the onion long and slow, till it is a sweet, almost caramelized mush, and add liquid in the form of milk. This, too, makes the sauce all soft and mellow.

  The shrimp-and-bean salad has many incarnations in Italy, but it is the borlotti, the pods so spectacularly creamy and pink when fresh, the beans a marbled rose when dried, that makes this seem so Venetian to me. (In the United States, borlotti are also known as cranberry beans.) Radicchio, the Venetian lettuce, lines the salad plate. My version of this salad uses dried beans, soaked and then boiled with onion and bay leaves, but canned cranberry beans will help you assemble it quickly. Indeed, you could use any beans. I've made it with both cannellini and pinto beans.

  You could also use ready-cooked shrimp. I can't pretend that the canned bean and cooked shrimp will be quite as good, but if you dress the salad well with good olive oil, lemon juice, some minced garlic and, if you can get hold of it, Maldon salt, you will still have something to be proud of.

  Arrigo Cipriani is strict about his Bellini in "The Harry's Bar Cookbook": he tells us to use white, not yellow, peaches and to mash them with a fork or push through a food mill. I must apologize to him, for I try to adhere to his first admonition but ignore the second. I pulp the fruit in my blender, and then stir it into a jugful of prosecco until I have a summer-scented pitcher of fizzy wine tinted a pearly, pale golden pink. Stir, pour and drink instantly: Venice in a glass.

  • Recipe: Pasta With Anchovy Sauce
  • Recipe: Bellini
  • Recipe: Bean and Shrimp Salad


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