When we speak of le verdure, le carciofaie, le castraúre, the Lagoon island Sant’Erasmo will probably come to your mind. But, there’s another island located between La Certosa and Sant’Erasmo, a favorite meta – place for a weekend excursion. Especially during harvest time which starts early in the Lagoon, usually by mid-August. And by early September, visitors to Le Vignole are greeted by zucche, the squashes harvested here.
In autumn and early winter, la zucca is a big favorite in the Lagoon, in addition to sparesi in the spring (asparagus) and carciofi (artichokes) which we love to eat in hundreds (!) of varieties almost all year long. We don’t just eat squashes when they are ripe: In spring, you can buy zucca blossoms at the Rialto Market. We use them much like zucchini blossoms, and fill them with tiny pieces of mozzarella and tomatoes, herbs and ricotta, fry them in olive oil, and that’s one of our favorite spring dishes.
My grandparents loved sharing stories about the island, for example, what it looked like before the main canal crossing the island was lined with grey stone. It was un posto ameno – the rive (banks) of the internal canal were overgrown with wild flowers, aglio selvatico (wild garlic), elderflowers, and other edible herbs! Now, that was in the 1950s and 1960s ..
The banks of Vignole were also lined with tamarisk and reeds and must have looked similar to the canals of Torcello. People went there and spent some time eating from their picnic baskets in the shade on a hot summer day.
From Le Vignole’s southern shores, you can see the bell towers of Venice in the distance 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 orchards, vineyards and vegetable fields lined with mulberry trees, in the midst of a network of little canals used for irrigation.
For example, there is Tonino’s trattoria, la Trattoria dalle Vignole. When my grandmother was young, she used to come here often. A few simple tables were put out on the lawn, and they served seasonal vegetable lasagna, or filled zucchini blossoms and even fried vegetables, much like cibo di strada, the simple but delicious food people ate on the streets of Venice until 120 years ago.
Below you can see what such a simple and rustic dish looks like. And of course, you can taste vino di casa, for here we are in the heart of the wine country. No monastery was built here but a little church, Santa Eurosia alle Vignole. Its campanile, of the 7th century, is rather low. Le Vignole was part of a military zone, and you can make out Forte di Sant’Andrea when you arrive from the direction of Punta Sabbioni. The other part of the island has always been farm and wine country, and sometimes the paths crossing little fields and vineyards take you to sandy white beaches!
Le Vignole is the ancient Bignola, the name the Romans who lived in Altino gave to the island. The Romans built sumptuous villas in Altino, described by poet Marziale as just as beautiful as the city of Baia overlooking the Gulf of Naples was. The Romans loved the sea breeze and soil producing the salty-tasting vegetables and created large vineyards and vegetable fields in the Lagoon.
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.
So this is a favorite place for a scampagnata during harvest time in September and October. You will love those calm days in October when you can make out the Alps as barrier north of the Lagoon, and the silhouette of Venice, just a mile or so beyond the sparkling water surface, in the clear autumn sun.
From mid-August, le zucche (squashes) are harvested on the Lagoon islands, and they also go into fish and clam dishes. It’s the tender vegetables, tasting slightly salty, and their blossoms, which are part of the ancestral flavors of the Lagoon. Delicious recipes, so worth rediscovering and enjoying!