In, March we start celebrating spring cuisine in Venice. This is the month ushering in the official spring feasts which will last until mid-June. March 1st is not only the official start of spring, meteorologically speaking, but this day also marked the Venetian New Year more veneto until 1797. So yes, while in the other European countries the year started on January 1st, Venice was different …
Since the aftermath of WW2, La Festa della Donna has been celebrated on 8 March in Italy and of course, in Venice. If we are lucky, Venice is positively glowing, enveloped in a golden-yellow light reflecting the mimosa blossoming in the gardens.
Until about 50 years ago, March also used to be the first month when Venetians were harvesting edible blossoms. They have always grown in walled kitchen gardens, next to aromatics and vegetables, or in sunny corners in the horti conclusi. One of these blossoming shrubs were mimosa trees.
Today, usually we don’t bake or cook with mimosa in Venice. What remained from this tradition is the candied spring blossoms. Rosa Salva, one of my favorite pastry stores in Venice, is now offering a marvelous candied blossoms and leaves selection, violets, rose buds, mimosa, mint and verbena leaves. I bought some candied mimosa blossoms to decorate a traditional Venetian spring sponge cake whose recipe I’ve shared below as special treat for Women’s Day.
Italy started celebrating La Festa della Donna in the poor years following WW2. No money was usually left to buy expensive gifts, though. But then, Italy has what to my mind is the most precious gifts of all, incredibly lush and beautiful plants. To celebrate the glowing yet changeable spring sun, Italy chose mimosa to give to women on 8 March.
Here is our suggestion to enjoy a Venetian early spring menu with a benefit, for its ingredients are all concurring to fight off spring fatigue. We are still using mostly winter ingredients, so in early March, we include spices that regenerate and strengthen the immune system, adapting body and mind to the terse colors of spring. Any kind of tiredness or dizzy head can be avoided, says Grandmother, just by using the right herbs and spices.
Our risotto primavera – spring risotto for Women’s Day contains the first spinach leaves, tomatoes and red peppers. It is enriched with a light spice mixture made from ginger, lemon grass, saffron and the yellow curry mixture you can buy at Drogheria Mascari’s. To add a decisive touch, we grate yellow cheese, melt it in a pan in olive oil and thus make cialde di formaggio – cheese slices – to decorate the risotto.
As main course we suggest branzìn ai peperoni rossi, oven-baked sea brass with fried potatoes, sweet red peppers, fried onions and dill. We season the vegetables dish with yellow curry, mustard seeds, a few chili flakes and dill. Only when we finish frying the vegetables do we sprinkle them with coarse sale marino – sea salt from Chioggia. In that manner, we avoid that too much salt is soaked up while cooking.
What makes this menu special is the mimosa cake – pan di spagna vanigliato al bergamotto con glassa al bergamotto, cioccolato bianco e fiori di mimosa canditi, which is vanilla-bergamot-flavored sponge cake decorated a frosting made from candied mimosa blossoms, bergamot-flavored pudding and white chocolate.
Here’s your recipe:
How to bake the cake: 3 eggs, 60 gr sugar, 50 gr flour, the peel and juice of half a bergamot (or lemon), 1 1/2 packets vanilla sugar. Beat eggs and sugar, carefully add the flour in spoonfuls, the grated bergamot (or lemon peel) and juice and the vanilla sugar. Pour the dough into a buttered cake form and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the cake turns golden brown.
How to make the frosting: Leave the cake to cool and in the meantime prepare the bergamot pudding: Slowly heat 1/8 liter milk with 2 tablespoons cornflour starch, one heaped tablespoon brown sugar and 1/2 tablespoon vanilla sugar. Stir until the mixture starts boiling, take the pan off the heat and continue stirring with a wooden spoon, adding a few drops of bergamot essential oil. Pour the pudding frosting on top of the cake and while still hot, decorate with the candied mimosa flowers and a bar of white chocolate which you have melted carefully in a pan.
I find this cake reflects the taste of mimosa blossoms – rather fresh like a lemon zest while holding a deeper note perfectly expressed by vanilla. There is of course the original version of the Italian mimosa cake which is based on the same sponge cake recipe. To make this cake, you would cut part of the sponge cake into little pieces to decorate the frosting. We love to drink a bergamot-lemon flavored black tea with this cake, it’s like inhaling a bunch of mimosa blossoms :-)