Welcome to the section of the blog dedicated to the authentic flavors of Venice and the culinary excellence of the lagoon! Here, you will find a selection of traditional and representative recipes, prepared with passion in the kitchens of our restaurants, ready to enrich your gastronomic experience.
Castradina and Goose “in Onto” on the Table
written by Claudio De Min
In a season rich with extraordinary and versatile products and irresistible flavors, Veneto rediscovers in November two extraordinary and unique dishes. One has always celebrated the end of the great plague in the lagoon, the other celebrates the conclusion of the agricultural year. Pumpkin and chestnuts, mushrooms (discussed on page 5), and sweet potatoes, Treviso radicchio and artichokes—the list of autumnal flavors (and their recipes) in Veneto is long and varied. For example, pumpkin is a wonder good for all uses: from filled tortelli to risottos, to start, but also in cream to dress short pasta, instead of beans, for instance, or in the form of a velouté. Not to mention its use in pastry: if you’re skeptical, try the pumpkin and chocolate cake from the Pettenò pastry shop in Mestre. Treviso radicchio is a marvel that the world envies us (and that waits for the cold to do its best) and here too you can make any greedy use of it: dress spaghetti, accompany it with pasta and beans, make a salad, a savory pie, a pâté, even ice cream, and even beer. But among the countless indulgences that Venetian cuisine offers, there are a couple that go beyond taste, are part of the celebration, often refer to tradition and religiosity, and a strong sense of community. One is typically Venetian, Castradina, the other is popular in much of the region, the Goose.
“… they cross the bridge, buy the candle, / the saint, the sausage, the rosary, / and towards noon the beautiful custom / wants them to go eat the castradina.” With these simple verses, the poet Domenico Varagnolo tells the Venetian custom of eating Castradina on the occasion of the feast of Madonna della Salute, on November 21 (this year falls on a Saturday). A very ancient tradition dating back about four hundred years – to 1630-31 precisely – the period of the great plague, the same one told by Manzoni in “The Betrothed,” which led to the votive construction of the Basilica by Longhena that dominates the entrance of the Grand Canal, at the behest of Doge Nicolò Contarini, following a vow by Patriarch Giovanni Tiepolo (both, incidentally, victims of the plague). Castradina is a dish based on salted, smoked, and sun-dried lamb leg, with which a tasty soup is prepared by adding cabbage leaves, onions, and wine. The meat thus prepared came from Albania and Dalmatia, sold to Venetian ships passing through the ports. For centuries, Castradina in Venice has been a dish “de obligo su le tole, sia dei povaréti che dei siori, nobili o mercanti.” The dish entered tradition as a sort of homage to the Dalmatians, who during the period of isolation due to the dramatic epidemic were the only ones to supply the city with food. Castradina arrived in Venice until the beginning of the First World War on trabaccoli and Albanian tartans flying the Turkish or Austro-Hungarian flag that moored along the Riva degli Schiavoni.
And then – as we were saying – there is the Goose, whose story is well told on Michele Littamè’s website, a great interpreter not only of breeding (in his estate in Sant’Urbano, in the Paduan area, in the last month of life the geese are raised on milk and honey) but also of its “onto” declination. Here too, autumn is the right time, and the reference to religiosity concerns San Martino. “Once upon a time – writes Littamè – in the Venetian countryside, with geese, sausages and hams were produced – especially where Jewish communities were present – and, in more recent times, even liver pâté. Using all parts of the bird, a particular preserve was made: goose “in onto,” good for preserving the meat for many months. In early November, for San Martino, the first geese were slaughtered and eaten. But San Martino was – and still is today – also the closing feast of the agricultural year, the moment when accounts were settled with the landlord and it was celebrated with dishes based on pork or goose, the “poor man’s pig.” For preservation in “onto” (also called goose in a pot), the geese are separated from their fatty parts and cut into pieces. The meat rests in salt for a few days or is cooked with herbs, aromas, and a little red wine, and then placed directly in a terracotta or glass jar, the last layer is completed with melted fat, and the jar is closed. A processing that allows long conservation of the meats, which last in this way throughout the winter and, if desired, even a couple of years. It is excellent with horseradish sauce, with potatoes or peppers, and in any case with polenta.
in collaboration with Andrea De Marchi, for the Ristoranti della Buona Accoglienza
The recipe for “Castradina” is proposed by Paolo Lazzari of “Vini da Gigio,” where it will be possible to savor the traditional dish during the week of the Feast of Health. Boil a castrated lamb shank of about 2 kg for 10 minutes in water with celery, carrot, and onion; Remove the water and repeat the operation; Bone the shank, shred the meat, and boil it again with celery, carrot, and onion until it is very tender; Apart, boil washed cabbage leaves in salted water. Drain them and add them to the castradina broth. And adjust the salt; Serve hot with bread croutons, a grind of fresh pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Article from “Il Gazzettino” of Sunday, November 8, 2020.
Curious Character, San Martino: A Legend of Fog and Feast.
San Martino is indeed a peculiar character: there’s fog, rain, strong winds, and the sea is in turmoil (see Carducci), yet he finds time to climb up to the attic to meet, unsuccessfully, his sweetheart (San Martin goes to the attic…, the bride is not there…). Jokes aside, the feast of San Martino – whose celebration was just yesterday (November 11) – is a significant figure in European religious and popular culture, particularly in France and Italy.
Born in Pannonia – present-day Hungary – to a pagan family of Roman military, he served in Gaul in the Roman army. There, he converted to Christianity, leading a monastic life. He spent much time in Italy, especially in Milan, but mainly lived overseas. In 371, he was elected bishop of Tours, gaining enormous popularity, especially among peasants, whom he courageously defended.
The legend of sharing his cloak with the cold poor man is too well-known to be retold. The extent of his popularity in France is reflected in the number of churches, over 4,000, and locations, more than 500, dedicated to him.
In Italy as well, there are many connections, even in language. For example, colloquially, “doing San Martin” meant moving, relocating, as traditionally, November 11 – the day San Martino is celebrated, in memory of the day of his burial in Poitiers – coincided with the end of seasonal agricultural contracts. On that day, farming families gathered their belongings to move to new estates. Or “A San Martin, tuto el mosto deventa vin,” because November 11 would conventionally be the date when grape juice turns into wine, to be celebrated by uncorking some bottles of new wine, accompanied by roasted chestnuts. Even in Venice, the feast of San Martino is highly significant and has a long tradition. His cult in the city is very ancient, to the point that the homonymous church was founded in the Castello district, near the Arsenal, in the 8th century, probably by Lombard colonies or Ferrarese families. Tradition, however, suggests that the church was erected at the end of the 6th century at the behest of the Vallaresso and Salonigo families. The current building dates back to the 16th century, designed by Jacopo Sansovino, and it preserves as a relic the saint’s shinbone. Next to the church, in a bas-relief from the 15th century, is the classic representation of the Saint giving his cloak to the poor, located on the door of the Oratory of the School of San Martino of the calafati, the craftsmen involved in the construction of wooden boats in the nearby Arsenal.
Although today the consumeristic celebration of Halloween has somewhat supplanted a tradition that should still be preserved as much as possible, on November 11, Venetian children gather in groups in fields and alleys, making noise with pots and lids, singing the traditional “Viva, viva San Martin” and asking for sweets from shopkeepers, who are more than willing to satisfy them, just to get rid of the noise.
Obviously, San Martino is not only celebrated on the streets but also at the table with the typical shortcrust pastry dessert shaped like San Martino on horseback, covered with icing, candies, and other decorations, challenging pastry shops, bakeries, and home cooks, each with their own recipe and creativity. And from today, it can also be found on sale.
For those who (next year, if you want to be strict, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing it whenever you feel like it) would like to indulge in making their own San Martino at home, the recipe is proposed by the Estro Restaurant in Crosera San Pantalon in Dorsoduro, run since 2014 by Alberto and Dario Spezzamonte. The basis of everything is the dough of the so-called “Pastafrolla Milano,” which has the characteristic of using icing sugar instead of granulated sugar. With the indicated doses, you can make three or four medium-sized “San Martini.” With any leftover shortcrust pastry, you can make excellent biscuits.
500g icing sugar
Aromas: lemon and orange zest, and a pinch of cinnamon
1000g Flour OO.
Before starting, of course, you must have the San Martino-shaped mold. Sand (that is, crumble into tiny crumbs) the butter with the flour, aromas, and salt. The butter must be cold, just taken from the refrigerator. Then add the eggs and then the icing sugar. Knead by hand or in a planetary mixer with the “worm” (that is, with the spiral tool) until you get a homogeneous and firm mixture. (Even “sandblasting” can be done by hand and with the planetary mixer). Wrap the resulting dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator at 4 degrees for no less than 3 hours. Roll out the dough to the desired thickness (5 mm is recommended) and cut out San Martino with the mold. Bake for 20/25 minutes, depending on the oven, at 150 degrees. Once cooled, decorate as desired. Seasonal products such as candied fruit, glazed chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts can be chosen, but candies, chocolates, and confetti also work well.
Il Gazzettino di Venezia on Nov. 13th 2023
A little quiz: What is a “gregallu”? And a “manicaio,” or a “manego de cutelo”? Simple, these are regional names – respectively Sardinian, Tuscan, and Ligurian – for our very popular “capelonghe,” known as “razor clams” in Italian.
Until a couple of decades ago, it was easy to spot them on our beaches, peeking with their two siphons at shallow depths, ready to flee at the slightest movement. Today, they are almost gone, victims of climate change and, especially, the massive fishing carried out with so-called “turbo blowers” that have destroyed – and continue to destroy – sandy seabeds near the coasts. To be precise, what was mainly caught just a few meters from the shore or with a mask and fins slightly further out to sea was the marine razor clam (Ensis minor), the most prized variety, which also existed inside the lagoon, where it coexisted with Solen vagina, commonly known as “tabachina.” This is a less valued variety, still fairly common today, which prefers muddy bottoms, darker in color, with a less pleasant odor and taste, although edible, but widely used as bait. The ones you find in fish markets today mostly come from Manfredonia and the Atlantic coast of France.
Once upon a time, razor clams were so abundant along the beaches that it is said that in late medieval Venice, they were considered a defense against coastal erosion, contributing to its consolidation (there were no “Murazzi” at the time). It is even said that fishing was strictly controlled, and “poachers” were severely punished by having their two fingers – the thumb and middle finger – used for fishing cut off.
Regardless of industrial methods, there are two techniques for harvesting razor clams. The first involves locating the two small siphons on the seabed, introducing a finger laterally into the sand to block the shell, and then gently pulling it out. It’s not that easy because the razor clam is highly sensitive and quick to escape, disappearing into the sand. Caught this way, it is called “capa da deo.” This technique is the most valuable because it preserves the mollusk perfectly inside the valves. The alternative is to use a long, thin iron with a kind of small harpoon at the end with which you can impale the razor clam and extract it from the seabed, even from a boat. However, this method carries the risk of damaging the mollusk and letting in sand. That’s why “capa da fero” was considered less valuable and sold at a lower price in the market.
Until the 1960s, these artisanal techniques were still used for commercial purposes. Back then, fishermen, after finishing their work in the late afternoon, would come to the city to sell their catch. It was already dark – the period is during low tides, between December and February – and to illuminate their basket (corbàto) full of razor clams, they would place a candle wick in a glass next to the price tag. These traditional images have now disappeared, along with the razor clams from our beaches.
Razor clams, naturally, are delicious simply sautéed or grilled. Tomaso of Ostaria Da Rioba in Fondamenta della Misericordia, however, offers linguine with razor clams, chickpeas, and coriander.
Ingredients for 4 people: 360g linguine, 500g razor clams, 250g dried chickpeas, a bunch of coriander, extra virgin olive oil, pepper, salt to taste.
Soak the chickpeas overnight, then rinse and cook them for 45 minutes in slightly salted boiling water the next day. Once cooked, use half to make a cream by blending it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, while keeping the other half aside. Sauté the cleaned razor clams in a pan with hot oil and garlic. Meanwhile, finely chop the coriander, which will be added at the end. Combine the chickpeas and the cream in the pan with the razor clams. Once combined, drain the linguine and finish cooking them by sautéing them in the pan with their sauce and coriander.
Association of Buona Accoglienza restaurants