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Deaf in Venice
Scoops and Scams
Lisa writes…This week’s newsletter was supposed to be about past visitors who had met unfortunate ends from the Rialto Bridge, but sadly a lady died of a heart attack there this week, despite being attended for forty minutes before someone called the ambulance by the Vigile, who were measuring the possibly illegal extrusion of a cafe terrace nearby. As this no longer seemed a respectful topic we thought we could feature the official confirmation of Venice as Italy’s sweariest city, with Venetians cursing 19 times per day as opposed to a national average of 8.9, but the Times pipped us to the scoop. Which left us with the angry priests-
“The Captured Thief”-on the rob Commedia dell’Arte style
Given that the Venetian air is apparently as blue as the lagoon these days, the serene silence of the churches might seem ever more soothing, yet to the fury of the clergy, worshippers and visitors are being dissuaded by thieves. Sadly, something which all visitors to Venice should be aware of this year is a scam which is operating ever more widely across the city, to which numerous parish priests have been trying to draw attention. Moving between the most popular churches, the fraudsters pretend to be deaf, and carry explanatory notices in several languages which claim that they are collecting for charity, implicitly with the permission of the Church. When kind tourists agree to give, they are asked to sign a form to register their “official” support and while they’re distracted have their pockets picked. The grift used to be worked on the Academia and Rialto bridges, but has now moved into the churches of Santo Stefano, San Moise, San Pantalon and the Carmine.
“As if that wasn’t bad enough” complained Father Domenico of Santo Stefano, “they’re using the confessionals to dump the stolen goods!”
On average, he continued, he finds two rifled wallets or bags per day in each of the three churches he serves. The priests have complained to the Commune that the Vigile (the community branch of the police) are not paying enough attention to the invasion of sacred spaces by thieves. Many churches have only one custodian in attendance and both worshippers and tourists are vulnerable. Several priests also report that they have been physically threatened when they have tried to interrupt the gangs’ activities. The priestly protest has drawn attention to the shocking neglect suffered by many Venetian churches. Although their unparalleled collection of art treasures is one of the principle tourist attractions of the city, they receive no practical or logistical support from the Commune, and there are no clear overall strategies for how such problems could be collectively addressed. Whilst the living idiosyncracy of combined art museum-church-community centre is often what gives Venetian churches their charm, the priests are frustrated at how unprotected they are. as do many Venetian residents, pious or not, who love to pop into a church for a few minutes of peace and meditation. Please don’t be put off, but do be careful.
This wasn’t our jolliest newsletter, but Anna did the recipes in anticipation of the story of the German professor who tumbled from the Rialto Bridge into the engine of one of the first vaporetti, so no ketchup but uplifting yumminess nonetheless.
Polenta Prawn Sandwich
This wonderful sauce is an invention of my mother’s and is one of the founding fathers of my childhood flavour memories. The introduction of it into this deep fried prawn sandwich was a very happy coincidence but I think it works brilliantly- all credit goes to Nancy.
1 large tbsp of Curry paste
4/5 cup Greek yoghurt
1/5 cup Crème Fraiche
2 large tbsp of Mango Chutney
10 Large Prawns
200 gr Polenta
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp Salt
1 egg with a splash of milk
Red pepper, sliced
Lettuce, thinly sliced
Start by preparing the prawns. In one bowl mix together the polenta mix and in a separate bowl beat the egg with a splash of milk.
Heat 4cm of frying oil in a pan, but not so hot that it smokes. Drop the prawns first in the polenta then the egg mix and then again in the polenta. After they are all breaded, drop them in batches in the oil, turning after 15-20 seconds.
Then remove onto kitchen paper.
Once that is done, slice the baguette in half and toast under the grill for 3 minutes until golden brown.
Mix all the sauce ingredients and adjust to your tastes.
The fillings are up to you, but I would recommend cucumber and lettuce for freshness, pickle for acidity and red peppers for sweetness. These flavours are important but what you choose them to be made of is up to you.
Smear generously the sauce on both inner sides of the baguette, then fill with all the ingredients prawns and squeeze of lemon.
Aubergine and Sundried tomato Polpette
These polpette are not your classic fried ones because I wanted to find a version of these that could happily remain in the fridge, waiting for a snack occasion or picnic. But the idea did come from the fact that some of the very best aubergine polpette can be found around the Rialto, in particular at Al merca.
Peel and dice the aubergine, then layout on a baking sheet with garlic cloves (wrapped in tin foil) dowsed in olive oil. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, then remove and let cool.
Once cooled put all of this in a blender, with one egg, and 4 tablespoons of polenta with paprika. Add the sun dried tomatoes and mint leaves.
Blend until smooth and then transfer to cling film. Wrap into a sausage shape and leave in the fridge for atleast 30 minutes. This helps it firm up and absorb the polenta so that you can handle it without adding more ‘filler’.
Preheat oven to 180c and then with slightly damp hands, shape the polpette mix into small balls (smaller than ping-pong balls), press slightly to make them flatter and decorate with mint leaves. Bake for 25 mins
Enjoy hot or cold, in a sandwich or as a snack