In the late afternoon around 5:00 pm, you can feel the sun rays getting flat and less hot on Solstice Day in Venice. Parts of Riva degli Schiavoni are now tucked into refreshing shade, so it’s a good time to start exploring my neighborhood during a favorite time: Solstizio d’estate – Summer Solstice!
Before leaving our garden, I can smell the strong scent all over, like the garden is magically infused. Venice is literally overflowing with blossoming shrubs in early summer. There are the roses and in particular, white oleanders smelling of lemon and vanilla. The buds of Mirabilis jalapa, La Bella di Notte blossoms are still closed, but will open soon when the sun slowly retreats from the garden. La Bella di Notte are favorite flowers in Venice, opening their red, yellow and orange blossoms only at night. You can also find them on the mainland (many of these decorate the flower beds in Iesolo) because they are easy to grow if you remember to water them once a day in the early morning.
La ninfea (water lily) is closing her blossoms for the night and the flagstones feel still warm while I’m walking back into the house. The blackbirds are back on the lawn, and in the distance you can hear the voices of the day-trippers passing by our little campo. It seems that the thick jungle of plants in the garden acts like a screen keeping out voices. The garden looks very green, lush and cool like it has stored lots of water for the hot summer months ahead. Even wisteria is blossoming again, and as I said, the oleanders in Venice are a dream come true.
On Solstice Day and the weekend following the longest day of the year, Venetians celebrate outside. They eat dinner in their private corte (courtyard) or on the terrace and altana. Usually, they also feast on a campo in the neighborhood. Yes, our neighborhoods play an important role, also in working as teams while creating a meaningful future for the city .. In the eastern parts of town, in Castello, two feasts take place celebrate the onset of summer, the solstice feast on Campo della Bragora, and la Festa de San Piero de Casteo.
Castello is the most ancient part of town: It was first inhabited by Byzantine merchants when it was still all swamps and wild reeds (isola delle Gemine, isola Ombriola). These ancient part located on solid and large islands was cultivated by the nuns of San Zaccaria. Bragora means reeds and wilderness: Urbanizing this part of the archipelago and creating vegetable gardens and vineyards wasn’t easy as many shallow pools of salt water (piscine) were in the way. When the land was urbanized, the merchants from Constantinople built their homes with large gardens, and warehouses for their merchandise. Their cogs were moored on Riva degli Schiavoni.
Between the 7th and 11th century AD, the churches of Sant’Antonin and San Giovanni in Bragora were built, and in the 15th century, the church complex of San Giorgio dei Greci was erected. To this day, it is still the most important Greek Orthodox church outside Greece.
What I love about Castello is its large number of secret gardens, some of them quite spacious hiding behind the red brick walls. A beautiful reminder of the exotic gardens of their first inhabitants, for the merchants who had moved to Venice also brought their favorite trees, flowering shrubs and vegetables.
When you walk across Castello around Solstice Day, you can’t help noticing this secretive past. In our opinion, it’s no coincidence that Byzantine recipes are still used in particular in this part of Venice: Everywhere you go, you can taste special sweets and cakes in the pastry stores.
Solstice feasts in Venice don’t just last one day and on Campo della Bragora, local food and coffee are tasted, dances take place after sunset, and games are played together. Usually, vegetables from Sant’Erasmo are on the menu, and Lagoon-grown apricots. This is the last feast Venetian celebrate together before leaving for their summer retreats in the Dolomiti mountains.
So we need a very special menu to celebrate the onset of vacation time. It’s pleasant to join the crowds on a warm evening, talking to neighbors and relatives on Campo della Bragora in front of its ancient church.
My family has created a special menu for Solstice Weekend. Last year, I shared it with a friend from Portland, and it was tasted as solstice dinner practically on the other side of the world. It’s a five-course-menu, consisting of summer fish soup, tagliolini with crabs and lots of summer vegetables. It also includes some wonderfully refreshing drinks. Here’s the link to our complete menu on Ann-Amato Zorich’s Facebook Page.
I love the pomegranate spritz version, also served at Met, the restaurant of Hotel Metropole. The other drink on our menu doesn’t contain alcohol, it’s one of my favorite summer lemonades, limonata alla lavanda e miele (lemon-lavender-honey lemonade).
For the pomegranate spritz, mix one part dry white wine, one part pomegranate juice and two parts tap water. Add a bit of lemon juice or serve with raspberries (our favorite variant). Serve cold but don’t use ice cubes.
Tagliolini with crab: You can use canned crabs and pomodori passati – canned tomatoes or home-made tomato puree. Fry the crabs in olive oil with the tomatoes and herbs (freshly picked oregano from th garden would be great). Leave to simmer for about 20 minutes, then add a hint of white wine and bring to the boil. Season with sea salt, black pepper and sweet cream, stir carefully and add the pasta (we use tagliolini). Sprinkle with minced parsley and chili-flavored olive oil (optional).
Next, we’ll explore the fruit and vegetable markets in Venice during Solstice time!14