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Growing up Italian: The real Italian job

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There is a lagoon famous all over the world that attracts millions of tourists every year. There is a city built on sand that inspired movies, books and intriguing  love affairs. There is a port that made history worldwide. There are buildings that endured centuries, wars and domination. There is a unique culinary experience that accompanies it all.

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Landing at the Marco Polo airport in Venice gives me goosebumps, always!

 

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How my first morning in Venice usually looks like …

 

Venice is everything one would imagine, and then some.

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Vintage postcard from Venice

People often ask me, what is the best time to visit Venice? Every day is a great day in Venice I say!

In winter, the Serenissima ( aka Most Serene, a title given to the Republic of Venice) is often wrapped in mist. Like a shy girl, she shows  her real self only to a few selected friends. Away from the seasonal tourist crowds, Venice is mostly enjoyed by its residents.

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Venice at Midnight in December. Photo by my friend and Venician resident Stefano Minetto

Then, also in winter, there might be some snow. There is high water.The lagoon might freeze, and the scenery gets really surreal. Some of these weather conditions are not suited for carrying on the best everyday routine for the residents, but as a tourist …..it has its own unique appeal for sure!

Venezia, 01/12/2010 - Non c'è tregua per i veneziani, questa mattina, dopo una breve pausa è tornato il cattivo tempo con vento freddo e pioggia accompagnato dall'acqua alta.
High water in Piazza S. Marco (St Mark square)
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Ice in the Lagoon during the winter 2012
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Snow in Venice, a rare occurrence. Seen from the window of my friend Stefano’s apartment. Peaceful !

 

There are no cars in Venice. The ambulances, fire trucks, taxis, buses and even the funeral vehicles are substituted with boats. Other than that, Venitians walk everywhere!

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You recognize the logo..it’s not what Brown can do for you. Here is Mr. Blue 🙂 delivering in Venice.
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Firetruck, in Venice.

There are a million bridges in Venice. Some are famous, some are not. Some are large, some are tiny. Each is unique and can lead to a magic corner of the city. I never travel with a map. I really enjoy getting lost and finding my way back through a different route. Venice is a treasure chest, with little trinkets scattered everywhere.

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On our way to the hotel, the Bridge of Sighs.

 

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Rialto bridge at 6am. The only time of the day when it’s not crowded by tourists and it can be seen like it really is: Majestic.

 

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Just another little bridge somewhere in Venice.

Then there is the bird that represents Venice the most: Pigeons! They are everywhere, comfortably living the lazy life, like a cat on its chair.

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Pigeons in St.Mark Square
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Local residents.

Summer is when Venice really comes alive. In July the city turns into a gigantic Tailgating party for the Festa del Redentore. The Redentore Festival is celebrated on the third Sunday of July, with a grandiose fireworks show on Saturday night as the main attraction. The Venetians take part in the spectacle of fireworks right from their boats, which are usually decorated with balloons, festoons and lights. Starting before sunset, the boats make their way to the Saint Mark’s Basin and to the Giudecca Canal. The waters sparkle with the reflection of boats and lights. On the boats, among song, dance and typical food, people wait for the fireworks that begin at 11.30 p.m. and go on for almost an hour. Along the banks thousands of people also wait for the fireworks at long tables set up for the occasion. I was fortunate enough to attend a few of these celebrations over the years, and I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list!

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Italians do it better: it’s a party boat! Festa del Redentore 2010

 

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Sitting precariously in a tiny gondola, getting dusted by the ashes coming down from the fireworks. I remember taking this picture and shedding tears of happiness.
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Magic night for the lagoon that repeats itself only one day a year.

In September then, there is the Historical Regatta that re-enacts the one hosted in 1489 to commemorate the welcome to Caterina Cornaro,  the wife of the king of Cyprus who renounced to her throne in favor of Venice….now…do you blame her? 🙂

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Original reproductions of costumes and boats make the lagoon most colorful.
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St Mark Square night (foot) traffic

Then, for the night owls, Venice has a variety of al fresco dining experiences stretching as wide as your wallet allows it. Cafe’ Florian in St. Mark Square sells over-priced drinks with an unlimited view of one of the most beautiful squares in the world, and a string quartet that plays the soundtrack to an unforgettable Italian night.

The Islands! Yes, there are the famous islands in the lagoon. Burano and Torcello are my favorite, the last one off the beaten path.

Burano is charming, cozy and cheerful with its brightly colored homes. Tradition has it that the wives of the fisherman would paint the houses so bright they could be seen for miles, even in bad weather, by their husbands at sea.

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This color combination wouldn’t look this good anywhere else. Burano Island

 

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Fresh flowers, colors and religious symbols. Burano Island

 

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Bill and I in Burano 2012

If one stays clear of the “touristy” areas, Venice will surprise even the most discriminating traveler. Its people are friendly and the living is fun, just embrace the lagoon…

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Locals shopping at the “market” in the island of Murano.

As a foodie, Venice offers infinite opportunities to enjoy the traditional cuisine of the lagoon. Ernest Hemingway had his favorite fishmarket. It didn’t take long to understand why.

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Rialto Fish Market. Fresh fish, daily

Seafood is a key ingredient in the Venitian diet. It has been like this for centuries. Housewives go to the market daily to purchase the freshest elements for their meals. Same thing for the vegetables and fruit.

When in Venice every day is a “heyday” for me when it comes to food. A constant celebration of flavors, history and human creativity.

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Squid ink pasta (typical of Venice) with shellfish from the lagoon, and a Caprese Salad. Perfect lunch!

And then after the glorious summer, Venice goes back to her serene state again, coming to life briefly in February for its CARNEVALE (Carnival) when people crowd every single corner of the city in a joyful celebration. Magnificent costumes, artfully constructed, enhance the Most Serene city, if that is possible at all. Everyday life attire, coexist- for a day- with the pompous medieval fashion. Plumes, colors and paillettes bring sparkle to an otherwise grey town.

For a weekend in winter, Venice shines of its own light.

 

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Carnevale a Venezia
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Glorious crisp cold day in the lagoon

My friend Stefano, born and raised in Venice says: “There are no strangers, just friends whom you haven’t met, yet”.  This is the spirit of Venice. A city that has always embraced changes, adventures, colors, diversity, and mostly….love, in every aspect of living.

The recipe I’m enclosing today comes from Stefano’s wife, Paola. She is great cook, and she made this for me one warm summer night.

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My long time best friends Stefano and Paula. As Venetian as it gets!

It’s a ridiculously simple recipe, but so deliciously decadent. For those who believe that cheese and fish don’t mix…oh well, too bad, so sad.

Another reason to try this recipe.

This dish is rich, bold, vibrant and surprising. Just like a day in Venice. Enjoy!

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NOTE: since this is a very simple recipe, the quality of its ingredients is crucial. I use homemade butter or the best unsalted butter you can afford. Kerrygold is a good choice.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 400 gr pasta (Spaghetti are ok, or I like to use maccaroni)
  • 100 gr Tuna. ( Again, the best tuna you can buy. Home canned or in oil, not the one in water)
  • 3 anchovies
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a generous pinch of freshly chopped parsley
  • 3/4 stick of butter

DIRECTIONS:

With a fork, mesh the tuna, anchovies, and the butter to a paste.

If using fresh tuna, you can sear it and slice it. Then mix it lightly with the butter instead.

Cook the pasta according to the package direction.

Strain it and put back the noodles in the pan, coat the pasta with the butter and tuna, add some parsley and taste for salt.

I usually add a generous handful of grated cheddar cheese. My Italian family would not approve of it, I’m sure..but it tastes sooo good!

Dust with pepper before serving. Serve immediately.

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Until next time, Mangia, Enjoy, Ciao!

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