San Martin and mid-November mark the time when Venetians traditionally start baking cookies and cakes flavored with strong spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. For this feast you can even find a the most colorful cake of the year in town – so of course it’s very popular!
You get this cake at all bakeries and pastry stores in town and it’s called Sanmartin de pastafrolla. It comes in the shape of a horse and its rider (Saint Martin) decorated with cream, sweets and pralines. Even tiny gifts may be attached to the flat cake. A children’s cake mostly and enjoyed when in the evening of 11 November they walk around town singing a popular filastrocca (children’s song) which you can read here (text is in Venetian and Italian).
I came across a video showing how Pasticceria Majer, a popular pastry store chain in Venice, makes their Sanmartin de pasta frolla (soft dough San Martin) is like.
Mid-November sometimes is soft and warm and for a few moments really recalls summer. It’s a time of harvesting the last grapes and a host of vegetables (yes, even in winter), so warm weather is welcome. For this reason we call it L’Estate di San Martino – Saint Martin’s Summer.
November is also the onset of the “poultry season” because temperature is so much lower than it was just a few weeks before. Mornings may be rather chilly and Venetians eat more substantial food than just fish. They love eating goose to celebrate San Martino and their recipe is called Oca in onto. I’d say that hers is a very opulent recipe for oca in onto (translating as goose in fat), so in the recipe below I’ve also included a lighter variant if you would like to taste it.
In the Veneto, you can find a special goose breed called l’oca del Mondragon (Province of Treviso), click here for its Facebook Page. At the San Martino fairs taking place in the little towns on the terraferma around Venice, you can taste many varieties of goose dishes, take a look at Piazzola sul Brenta.
To complete this special day’s menu, serve the goose with the cooked pears and castagne all’ amarena (chestnuts roasted in olive oil with salt and pepper and canned amarena cherries).
But this is also the onset of the season of spices, so you might as well try mela spezià – apple slices fried in olive oil with yellow mustard seeds, raisins, pepper corns, onions, potatoes and sour cream … the lighter variant than the ever-present polenta. Buon San Martino da Venezia !!