Mezzastagione is here: This is another, agriculture-inspired name for autunno, autumn. Mezzastagione, mid-season, means we are neither in winter nor in summer. And it shows in the food and cakes for All Saints Day such as pan tradoto and fave.
This year, in November 2018, we are missing a large part of mezzastagione, due to the excessive high tide of 29 October, which brought about much confusion in the cycles of the tides and the Lagoon. For this reason, we are currently closer to winter than summer, in spite of the “mild” breeze in town. This breeze feels like a gale at times, it is the scirocco wind responsible for shoving masses of water into the Lagoon, from southern direction.
Scirocco is responsible for the summer part in the weather. It brings on mild, rainy and heavy air that can really make you feel tired if you’re sensitive to weather swings. The air is more misty than usually due to this unsteady breeze, often feeling unpleasant like a gale, and at times, even cold.
Now, let’s look at the opposite, the winter part in our weather now. These are days when the bora, a northerly wind, clears up the skies. It’s a freezing cold wind, chases away the clouds, and usually, bright blue skies frame in the Lagoon in its wake.
Both winds have in common that they bring on “nervous weather”, as Lina calls it. You can feel instability and mood swings, a sign that autumn has arrived, which is also reflected in the food we eat. We know that from November, we need to cook in a different way to avoid colds, coughs, and flu.
So, which ingredients do we use in the kitchen to counter the side effects of unstable weather, AND celebrate All Saints and All Souls’ Day? The first days of November are dedicated to the memory of dead family members, but also to resurrection: On 1 November, l’anno agricolo, the agricultural new years starts in the Veneto, which is a new beginning. Ever since, this time of the year has been celebrated with food reminiscent of summer, and tinted with sharper flavors, and colors, of the cold season ahead.
By sharp colors I mean flamboyant orange, pomegranate red, and a deep green, color verza. The deep purple season, of which radicchio is a major example, is yet to start, because we need frost days to harvest radicchio.
The popular saying of l’estate di San Martin, Saint Martin’s summer, reflects this unstable season, which sometimes feels like summer, but actually brings on the most severe floodings in Venice of the year. There’s a reason why excessive flooding = acqua granda happened a few days ago: Venice is in danger of being flooded during the seven days before and after 1 November, as Lina recalls an old wisdom of the Lagoon. Cold and warm weather collide, bringing on adverse effects like storms, rain, gales, heavy and humid air, while the scirocco wind presses water masses into the Lagoon.
These climatic factors are the basis for our seasonal menu, and the ingredients that go into such a menu. While on the mainland, and in some trattorie on the Lagoon islands, you eat selvaggina, the other typical dishes are made from the following ingredients:
- Nut flours: Flours made from almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, or hazelnuts.
- Dried fruit and preserves: Sultanas, kiwi slices, and various preserves made in summer, such as persegada (peach preserve). We love mulberry jam and soon, cotognata (quinces jam) to flavor both main courses and sweets.
- Polenta, risotto, potatoes and patate americane (sweet potatoes, cultivated in the Veneto near Vicenza, Treviso, and Verona).
- Scirocco spice mix (which works well to keep us fit, so we’ll cover this topic in our culinary online courses, available from mid-November).
A three-course menu for All Saints Day is made from these ingredients looks like this:
- Crema di zucca (squash cream soup, using zucca marinara di Chioggia), spices balancing out the effects of the unstable season, and a topping made from sweet cream, cinnamon, red pepper corns, black pepper, fieno greco, and miole de suca (roasted pumpkin seeds).
- Contorno (side dish): Maroni (fried chestnuts), insalata di patate americane fritte (salad made from fried sweet potatoes). The chestnuts growing wild in the Veneto, along the Lagoon, were called maroni mati when grandmother was young. They were eaten roasted and according to Lina, are one of the best remedies to heal or prevent, il raffredore (running nose).
- Pasta spezià: Home-made pasta, flavored with a colorful sugo made from fresh and dried tomatoes, yellow mustard powder, dried funghi (mushrooms), Taleggio cheese, zucchini chips, chili-flavored olive oil and lots of black pepper. We also add a hint of cinnamon which enhances all flavors.
- Tressiàn (a sweet polenta cake that Lina loves), pan trandoto, also called ossi dei morti, and fave: Ossi dei morti are sweet breads made with yeast, coming in various sizes. Le fave, also called fave dei morti, translate as “beans of the dead”. The origin of these sweets cannot be retraced, but I found that the Greek and Romans loved green beans, and claimed to recognize in the form of their blossoms certain signs that their loved ones lived on in these plants.
- El piato de morti. On All Souls’ Day, in the Veneto (also Lina’s family, when she grew up in the northern Lagoon during WW2, reserved one place at the table for dead family members, and a plate was left on the table at night, next to a candle. This tradition is still observed in many families, so they put a plate with cake or soup and a candle on the window sill at night).
These are just a handful of recipes and menus from Lina’s recipe journals, and those we retrieved in historical recipe books,at the library of the former monastery of San Zaccaria, which is now in Lina’s home. You can find more soul food, autumn and winter dishes in our upcoming culinary online courses, dedicated to traditional and historical Venetian food, and how to use herbs and spices to stay healthy, available from mid-November 2018 in addition to the Venice Heritage Course.