When we speak of le verdure, le carciofaie, le castraúre, the Lagoon island Sant’Erasmo will come to our mind, and so it should. Yet there’s another island located between La Certosa and Sant’Erasmo, which was a favorite meta – place for a weekend excursion – of my grandparents’. Especially during harvest time which starts early in the Lagoon, usually by August. So visitors ae Vignole are greeted by a heap of zucche – squashes harvested on the island.
La zucca is actually a big favorite in the Lagoon, in addition to sparesi in the spring (asparagus) and carciofi almost all year long (artichokes). Even in spring, you can buy zucca blossoms at the Rialto Market. They can be used much like zucchini blossoms, which are their relatives, by the way.
Click below for our family recipe for fiori di zucchine ripiene (ricotta-filled zucchini blossoms) and use squash blossoms instead.
My Venetian grandparents loved talking about the island before the canal cutting through the island was consolidated and lined with grey stone. Un posto ameno – you couldn’t make out its rive (banks) as they resembled a jungle forest.
The banks of Vignole were overgrown with tamarisk and reeds. Much like the internal canals of Torcello still look like today. People went there resting in the shade on hot summer days.
From Vignole’s southern shores, you can see the bell towers of Venice looming to your left and San Michele (the island on which part of the Venetian cemetery is located) in front of you. And there are a few trattorie located amongst the mulberry tree-lined vegetable fields, which you reach walking along little canals used for irrigation, reeds and tamarisk groves.
A favorite is Tonino’s, or Trattoria dalle Vignole. When my grandmother was young, she used to visit here. A few simple tables put out on the lawn where seasonal food was served and still is. Cibo di strada even – simple but delicious food you could have eaten on the streets of Venice a hundred years ago, but enriched with these incredibly tender-tasting vegetables and edible blossoms.
Below you can see what such a dish looks on Vignole. And of course, you can taste vino di casa, for this has always been wine country in the Lagoon. No monastery was built here but a little church, Santa Eurosia alle Vignole with a rather low campanile, first constructed in the 7th century AD. Vignole was partly a military zone, so Forte di Sant’Andrea looms when you arrive in the Lagoon coming from the direction of Punta Sabbioni. The other part was farming and wine country bordered by sandy beaches.
Vignole is the ancient Bignola as the Romans residing on the coastline living in Altino called the island. They built sumptuous villas here, described by poet Marziale as beautiful just like the ones in Baia on the Gulf of Naples. The Romans loved the salty breeze and soil producing the salty-tasting vegetables we love to eat in Venice so much.
Tender white onions, sautéed or prepared in saor (sweet-sour) accompany sea food, but also slices of zucca and green onions, crisply fried in olive oil.
You might be surprised I’m writing about the scampagnata now, in mid-October. The simple explanation is that summer is too hot to (really) enjoy a picnic lunch. By late afternoon in summer, we mustn’t underestimate le zanzare – the mosquitoes ! But we all love those calm days in October when you can see the clear-cut mountain tops towering in the distance, and when you look south, the silhouette of Venice just a mile or so beyond the sparkling water surface at noon.
Since mid-August, le zucche (squashes) have been harvested in Venice, and they not only accompany but go into fish and clam dishes. It’s the tender vegetables, tasting slightly salty, and their blossoms, accounting for much of the success of cooking in the Lagoon. Above, you can see the first squash of the new season on sale in late July, almost hiding next to the artichokes.
Another great autumn dish is crema di patate viola e cepi – violet potato cream soup garnished with cepes. You will find the recipe soon in our food blog on Cucina Speziata.
PS. I’ve included a few images posted by Venetian and Venetophile Instagramers. Click on their names to view and follow their Instagram accounts.