The island of Giudecca has always been the closest Venice gets to ‘edgy”. From early medieval times until the end of the eighteenth century, Giudecca was the garden island for the city rich, a place of stunning churches, (Redentore and Zitelle), spacious cloisters and orchards sloping into the lagoon.
The permanent lay inhabitants were mostly fishermen but a century after the fall of the Republic, the industrial revolution made its most conspicuous mark on Venice there, with tanneries, tobacco warehouses, brickyards and the two great mills, the Stucky and Fortuny springing up amongst the workmen's cottages. Whilst buildings such as the Palazzo Vendramin and the church of Sant’Eufemia bear witness to the island’s more refined past, the architecture of Giudecca is still very different, later, utilitarian, frankly far less picturesque than the rest of the city. At one point, it was the poorest of the sestiere- even by the twentieth century a quarter of the houses still had no running water, cholera was rife and unemployment led to alarming rates of crime and suicide.
It would take a brave man, however, to suggest that Giudecca was ever a slum. Amongst Venetians, people from Giudecca speak with a different accent and dialect and even now speak of “going to Venice” when they take the Number 2 vaporetto over the canal. A proud, secretive place, Giudecca still confounds even the most experienced visitor with its huge hidden gardens and secret calle. And the people look after their own- in 1910 Venice was rocked by a gruesome murder after a dispute between workers and bosses at the Stucky flour mill. One of the unfortunate owners had his throat slit whilst buying a newspaper at the railway station, but no-one ever talked.
From the lagoon side, the wasted industrial landscape of Giudecca is more Detroit than Doge’s palace. In recent years, the former workshop and warehouse spaces have been taken over by galleries, and it seems appropriate that Venice’s most dangerous neighbourhood should this year be hosting a huge show by Wiener Secession artist Hermann Nitsch. 20th Century Painting Action is vast, bloody, confrontational and unnerving check it out here.
Giudecca isn’t all guts and grit, of course. The island is also one of the places where Venice’s most joyous delicacy, moeche are harvested. The spring season for these soft shelled crabs (captured biannually as they change residence, then traditionally kept in buckets of flour and spices so they eat their own stuffing before frying, yum, yum), is in full swing and if you know where to go you can watch the crabs being scooped out of the wooden cages which line Giudecca’s canals and allowed to run along a sort of giant ridged washboard, watched over by the expert fishermen known as molecanti who identify which are suitable for capture.
Gruesome but gorgeous…
Using a long rake, they separate the doomed moeche from their peers who will live to scuttle another day, surrounded by an expectant crowd of cats (another of Giudecca’s peculiarities is its resident colony of Maine Coons). After what one hopes is a cheerfully gluttonous few days, the moeche make their last journey “to Venice”, but they’re too delicious to get any further. This week’s recipes then, are crab-based, but you still have to come to Venice for the real thing.
Cold Roasted Vegetables with Crab and Orange oil
This recipe is a good way of bulking out expensive crab meat but is also great on a summer’s day. The vegetables need to be served cold, but it is nice to slightly heat up the orange oil to create a contrast that can be mopped up with crusty bread.
4 red peppers
10 plum tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
1 courgette thinly sliced at an angle
1 cucumber, peeled deseeded and sliced
handful of basil, save some for source
6 tbsp of olive oil, extra for serving
400 gr of picked white crab meat (or you can cook it yourself)
1 tbsp of butter
1 Orange, zest, half in oven and thinly grated for finishing
Preheat oven to 220c. Slice peppers in half but leave the tomatoes whole. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil, salt pepper. Smash garlic cloves and hide them along with the basil leaves and orange peel under the red peppers.
Roast for 20 minutes then reduce the temperature to 160c. After 20 minutes, add the sliced courgettes and roast for another 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and save the oils which will now be infused with vegetable flavours as well as the orange, basil and garlic. Let the vegetables cool fully, ideally let this rest in the fridge overnight.
In the meantime, peel and deseed the cucumber. Slice into 2cm slices. In a pan melt a tablespoon of butter a pinch of salt. Add the cucumber and slowly cook the, until they have slightly darkened in colour, to taste really. Feel free to add any soft herbs at the end of cooking.
When ready to serve mix the orange rind, basil leaves, crab meat and olive oil together and sprinkle over the top with a squeeze of orange juice. Finish with the reserved roasting pan oil which can is especially nice when it is a little bit warmed through for contrast.
This works really well as an impressive starter that can be made beforehand. Or it can be added into small pastry bases.
Anna writes-This morning at the market the only crabs I could get my hands on had already been promised to someone else, so the photos shows only the vegetable base, but imagine this with a pile of shredded white crab meat and a crack of black pepper.
Another very popular recipe in Venice uses Granseola, spider crab, simply boiling it, retaining the shell, and refilling it with just lemon, olive oil and parlsey. If you want to, as we do, appreciate this delicious meat for its flavour this is the best way to go.
The final recipe is a bit zingier, using a previous recipe that we know works well on its own but is absolutely brilliant with the addition of crab. Fantastic as canapés or a really whizzy first course.
Crab and Lime Artichoke
For the full lime artichoke recipe follow this link. But we can are going to slightly modify it for this recipe.
Serves 4 starter
Large Fresh Artichoke Bottoms 4
Olive Oil 3 Tablespoons
Juice from Half a Lemon
Garlic Clove 1
Dry White Wine 1 Cup
Water 1 Cup
Bay leaves 3
Salt & Pepper to Taste
large egg yolk 1, at room temperature
fresh lemon juice 1 tsp
dijon mustard ½ tsp
grainy dijon mustard ½ tsp (optional)
rapeseed oil 180ml (either fully or half and half with olive oil)
2 lime (Zest)
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the artichoke bottoms. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned, then add the lemon juice, garlic, bay leaves, wine, and water. Reduce the heat to low, and cook until the choke bottoms are fork-tender, about 15 minutes. In the meantime prepare the sauce.
In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice, mustard and egg yolk together. Then start adding the olive oil mixture drop by drop, whisking all the time. It is slow at first but have faith, try to keep your bowl as cold as possible (ice underneath if necessary). Beat together until you have soft mayonnaise. You will see that it starts to come together increasingly quickly, and you can be more generous with the olive oil at this point. If you have picked crab meat then all that is left to do is to stir through a bit more brilliant extra virgin olive oil and season to taste.
Pile the crab meat high on the soft mayonnaise and artichoke quarters (if serving as a canape). Finish with a very generous grating of lime zest.