Call the last few days of October and first two weeks of November in Venice mezza stagione, mid-season. We are half way through autumn, acqua alta will soon become a very real part of daily life in town. And the change in the season is now palpable .. it’s impossible not to notice the bright colors of the American vines around town. And of course, the bright red and golden glow of la zucca (squash) at the market.
The last two weeks of October are the peak season for the ingredients that go into our favorite autumn comfort dishes. This is soul food alla veneziana based on squash, chestnuts, rice, pomegranates and pears. By now, we can’t do without it: The cool breeze in the morning requires spicy food (and a more substantial breakfast!) to keep healthy, grandmother says.
Instead of drinking only caffé latte, she now looks forward to starting her day with a favorite recipe of her childhood, risi e suca. This is a sweet compote, rather liquid and flavored with three spices (family secret:-)), cooked and diced squash, raisins and pine nuts. All these ingredients go into rice flavored with cane sugar, lemon and cinnamon. Fall is also a good time to experiment with spices or unearth ancient spice recipes !
In Venice, we don’t have traditional sweets for Halloween but we do have very delicious sweet treats for Ognissanti – All Saints Day, called le fave. My favorite biscuits which I look forward to eating all year long.
To celebrate Halloween, Venetian pastry stores have become so inventive in the last few years. We now get all kinds of frosted biscuits, even sweet squash muffins and caramelle (‘e caramee). Cookies are painted red, orange and mauve with sugar frosting as you can see above in the image by Cioccolateria VizioVirtù. Muffins are colored orange and black, and there’s squash made from marzipan (do try them at Pasticceria Dal Mas :-) ).
Harvest and autumn feasts abound in Venice and the Estuary. For example, la Festa della Zucca is taking place in Salzano, on the mainland near Venice. A celtic feast, Samhain, is celebrated in Riolo Terme south of Rovigo. These ancient feasts all recall a sort of New Year’s Eve. A few towns in northern Italy started celebrating in 2011, the year of the Celts.
In the Veneto, the first day of November means a fresh start for whatever you cook or work in your orchard and kitchen garden. This is the first day of the New Agricultural Year, celebrated until about fifty years ago in the Venetian countryside.
Back in Venice, Serra dei Gardini organizes a feast for children on Halloween Night called Laboratorio della Zucca. In late October, you can also taste baked squashes in tramezzini and panini flavored with balsamic vinegar and dried tomatoes, a lunch I loved at Serra dei Giardini’s cafe. There is also pumpkin ale – birra profumata di zucca produced by Birrificio Artigianale Veneziano, a brewery that experiments with ancient recipes and spices.
Of course, you can also find zucca-flavored bread in Venetian bakeries and cafes (I ate this special bread based on an ancient recipe at Caffé Quadri’s last fall).
Red fruit abound at the Rialto Market, you see loads of pomegranates. red apples and pears. Sooo many carrots. Patate americane, as the reddish sweet potatoes are called here, harvested in the Bassa Padovana area south of Padua. And the red also reverberates in the gardens.
For example, you can’t overlook the persimmon trees. They start shedding their leaves now but they keep their fruit until late January if nobody picks them. By late November, their branches look like brown sticks decorated with flamboyant balls, the persimmons.
Of course, you can try a great variety of dishes made from zucca in Venice ! Pumpkins had been staple food in the Lagoon and in the Veneto long before Halloween arrived in Italy. Spicy soups which I will present to you later in November. Suca baruca is now sold at the Rialto Market, this is the zucca marina di Chioggia variety that you can see in these pictures. Pumpkins also go into risotti, velvet squash soups and baked squash.
At home, we bake squash cut in this slices in the oven, garnished with red wine-flavored sea salt and rosemary needles.
November 1st – Ognissanti – All Saints Day is celebrated with le fave. In Venice, we make these delicious biscuits, from very finely ground pine nuts – pinoli. In Trieste, they are made with almonds and are called le favette. In Verona, the biscuits are made from ground hazelnuts.
Fave come in three colors. Yellow fave are flavored with vanilla only. The brown ones are flavored with cocoa powder. And there’s a third variant, my favorite ! It’s the rose-colored fave, flavored with rose syrup and/or alchermes liquor. To me, these are the most delicious biscuits Venice has to offer us!
Each pastry store in Venice has developed its own variety, flavor and size. For a start, you could try them at Panificio Rizzo or at Pasticceria Rosa Salva. Both are located near the Rialto Bridge around Campo San Bartolomeo.
Fave, favette, baci di Romeo and baci di Giulia are simple to prepare so delicious !! You’ll find both the legend connected to fave and the recipes for the sweets in our upcoming book Roses and Spices. Yes, that’s news from us :-) We’ll announce more about this book project in our next blog post!