Neatly arranged. Pale green ones next to those with a glowing yellow hue. Ruby red and soft, speckled red, linden green. Vegetables in Venice come in many facets in the early spring, their color reflecting what we can expect in the days to come. Due to the late winter outbreak this year, while we were all looking forward to spring (click here to read more), the seasons in Venice seem to get mixed up. The weather must be confused, to say the least, and any happy feelings that spring is imminent are still on hold.
But then, like some magic was done behind the scenes and despite the Rialto Market still being veiled by early morning fog and exposed to rainy spells, the vegetables are getting ready for spring on the Lagoon islands. They seem to savor this wet weather which is rather mild and sunny at times. It was sunny during last week, for one day and a half, after all :-)
The seasonal mood I’m describing here is so reflected in the food we get at the markets. Now in Lent, winter salads still abound. Valeriana, insalate da taglio, soft pink and light green radicchio di Castelfranco. These salads are not nearly as bitter as the strong and sharp flavored, flamboyant red leaves of radicchio di Treviso which we harvest in the winter.
In former times, the period of lent – very early spring – in the Veneto also meant “carestia“. Food shortage in the sense that it’s still too early to harvest the lush spring greens – spinach, asparagus, peas, Lagoon herbs … Venetians love all sorts of greens. Just like the artichokes (castraure e botoi) you can see in the cover image, which will be here at the market in the last week of March. Currently, the mood + offer looks like you can see in the pictures below.
Traditional food for Lent in the Veneto comprised the pale red and green spring salads. The first brilliant red-and-white ravanelli – radishes. Menus in Venice acquired the look+feel of early spring, pre-Easter, making ample use of eggs. Polenta provided further touches of yellow – and yes, we also have the recipe for a spring polenta soup! Spices weren’t used so much in this simple way of traditional cooking in the northern Lagoon when Grandmother was young, but they did use cloves, cinnamon and black pepper to flavor food.
Here are the ingredients for a refreshing and warming early spring lunch. Its ingredients, if not flavored with salt and a few spices or tomatoes, taste slightly bitter, taking you to the Lagoon on your plate. We call a recipes like these piatto unico, hearty and restoring dishes which mustn’t necessarily contain meat. Just what we need in this strange season tasting of late winter and sweet spring.
Pasticcio di verdure della Quaresima - Lent Vegetables Pasticcio
Slice green salads (crauti, valeriana, lettuce, …) and previously boiled potatoes, fry all the vegetables in olive oil for a few minutes only. Season with passata di pomodoro (peeled canned tomatoes), cook for a few more minutes until all the vegetables are crisp. Add a red curry mixture (we use the family spice mixture for vegetable pots consisting of turmeric, paprika, tandoori and cayenne pepper), another spoonful of olive oil, turmeric and freshly ground black pepper.
Variant: You could also enrich risotto with fresh green leaves and serve with cialda di parmigiano or any strongly colored cheese you like. Grate the cheese, melt the cheese flakes in a pan with a little olive oil, fry until crunchy and golden brown, then serve as a topping for risotto, or to enrich any vegetable pot. We used it for the spring risotto al radicchio you can see to the right. We made it more spring-like by adding spinach leaves, water cress, and fried slices of fresh tomatoes.