Veneto recipes for a complete menu: Sarde in saor, Risi e bisi and Baccalà alla vicentina. No worries, they’re all easily replicable at home.
Premise: speaking about regional cuisine is reductive. Italy consists of localisms that are such precisely because they are compared and opposed to other localisms. And these should be shared as they are, without resorting to artificial superstructures. Otherwise, to put it in the words of Jean-Louis Flandrinand Massimo Montanari, “the screen of the regions risks hiding the truly identifying characteristics of Italian cuisine, it’s absolutely local and, at the same time, profoundly national nature”. A necessary premise, before facing a journey made of recipes that we commonly call “regional”, but which are often homespun. We apologise, therefore, if the following Venetian recipes do not match those of your grandmother or your mother.
Sarde in saor
The saôr method is a typical Venetian Lagoon preparation dating back to pre-refrigeration times, cooks needed to mask the unpleasant aroma of not properly fresh fish. Anchovies and small fried sole are prepared in the same way. It is a truly delicious dish that we recommend preparing in abundance: after two or three days, when the flavours are all well blended, it tastes even better.
600 g fresh sardines, eviscerated and scaled, heads and tails removed
50 g sultanas
50 g pine nuts
2 white onions, weighing 400 g total
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Olive or peanut oil for frying
300 g good quality white wine vinegar
1 handful of flour for dredging
A pinch of whole black peppercorns
1/2 glass white wine
2 or 3 cloves
1 tsp coriander seeds
Rinse the sardines and pat dry.
Rinse the sultanas in lukewarm water and revive them in white wine. Once plump, drain and pat dry.
Pour frying oil in a large frying pan filling it by half, heat it on high.
Dredge the fish and shake away excess flour; when the oil has reached 180° C, fry small batches at a time, evenly on both sides. Fish them out and place on kitchen towel to absorb the oil.
As the sardines are done, salt them and set aside changing the paper if necessary.
Peel the onions and slice them thinly.
Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil and sweat the onions in it, stirring often to avoid browning too much. Cook until translucent, then deglaze with vinegar and add the pepper, coriander and cloves. Boil for 2-3 minutes and then switch off the heat.
In a small terrine, layer the sardines alternating with the cooked onions and a sprinkle of pine nuts and sultanas. Continue layering until you run out of ingredients, topping with the onions.
Pour on the obtained terrine the vinegar sauce and cover with plastic wrap, allowing to rest for at least 24 hours before serving. Store in the least cold part of the fridge and serve at room temperature.
Risi e bisi
The history of this dish is linked to the auspicious use of the dish by the Venetian Doge on the celebration of the Republic of Venice on the day of Saint Mark, the city’s patron saint. Combining rice, cereal symbol of fertility, with the peas grown in the lagoon gardens, the dish was traditionally offered to all members of the Venetian government. A tastier version of this typical Venetian soup includes replacing the meat broth with a vegetable broth obtained by boiling the well-washed peas shells for an hour in salted water, and then passing it all through a food mill.
1 kg sweet spring peas
200 g Vialone nano rice
50 g butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 slices of rolled pancetta, cubed
1+ litre of broth
50 g Parmigiano, grated
2 fresh spring onions, minced
Shell and quickly rinse the peas. Heat the olive oil with half the butter and simmer the spring onion, chopped pancetta and parsley in it over very mild heat.
As the onion starts to lightly colour, add the peas and a couple ladles of hot broth. Adjust seasoning, cover with a lid and stew the peas over moderate heat for approximately 10 minutes. Add the remaining broth and the rice and cook, stirring often.
Off the heat, complete the rice with grated Parmigiano and the remaining butter. Serve immediately.
The result should not be too liquid yet not too thick either: it should be a compromise between soup and risotto.
Baccalà alla vicentina
Few other foods are as representative of Vicenza as cod fish. If you decide to soak the dried cod at home, before doing so, you’ll have to beat it vigorously with a wooden mallet for about five minutes, on both sides and all along the length of the fillet. To avoid scales and small pieces of skin flying around, it’s advisable to wrap the fish in plastic film. At this point place the cod in a basin (if necessary split it in two) and keep it under a trickle of running water for two or three days. The codfish must be completely immersed in water and it is therefore necessary to put on it a grid surmounted by a weight, in order to avoid it floating to the surface.
1,2 kg revived codfish
500 g white onions, sliced finely
50 g Parmigiano, grated
3 salt-preserved anchovies
1/2 l superior quality extra virgin olive oil, preferably delicate
1/2 l milk
100 g flour
Salt and pepper
Put the sliced onion in a deep, heavy bottomed pan with olive oil and stew them over very mild heat for approximately 2 hours.
The onions must not simmer or darken, keep a close watch and add a tbsp. of water if necessary. Once cooked, add the chopped anchovy fillets to the onions. They will melt into the sauce.
Take the pan off the burner and add a handful of chopped parsley. After removing the fins with a pair of scissors, butterfly the cod fish from the abdomen and remove any darker bits with a paring knife. Be sure to remove any bones by carefully feeling with your fingertips and using tweezers.
Cutting vertically, divide the codfish in two parts. Season with salt and nutmeg, and dust with the cheese. Place equal amounts of onion on each piece along the middle, lengthwise.
Fold the codfish over to enclose the onions and then slice in 1-inch steaks. Dredge each steak in flour to coat evenly.
As you do this, place the floured steaks in a heavy casserole with the cut part upwards. Calculate the size of the pan so that all the steaks fit snugly in one layer. To finish, pour the milk and olive oil over the contents of the casserole.
Place in a larger pan filled half way with water and separating each pot with two chopsticks or anything to lift the smaller one off the bottom of the larger one. Heat and as the water starts to boil, set it at the lowest mark.
The fish will need to cook, uncovered, for approximately 6 hours (adding boiling water as needed). During this time, it should never be stirred. Serve hot alongside creamy polenta.
Whatever is left over can be stored in the fridge and warmed the next day always in a double boiler, it will be even better!