Ogni Santi- when the dead walk…
Hallowe’en isn’t really a thing in Venice. In recent years attempts have been made to commercialise the American version, with plastic orange pumpkins and spooky tat, but apart from the chance for children to collect sweets (“Trick or Treat” translates rather charmingly into Italian as “Sciocettino o regaling”- little fright or little gift), no-one knows quite what to do with themselves. The big festival here is All Saints day on November 1st. When the Commune is in funds a bridge is built from the Fondamenta Nuova to the cemetery island of San Michele and Canareggio is full of families clutching bouquets of lurid chysanthemums waiting to pay their respects. Even if you’re not paying a call on the ancestors, San Michele makes for an evocative outing- the exquisite Mauro Codussi church, considered to be the first pure example of Renaissance architecture in the city, is briefly opened, and devotees of music and ballet have been known to leave a glass of vodka on the graves of Stravinsky and Diaghilev. Festoons of cobwebs and fake blood feel a bit unnecessary when taking the last vaporetto across the mists of the silent lagoon is creepy enough…
The tradition of setting an extra plate at table for the dead has largely-ahem-died out in Northern Italy, but as a seasonal ingredient pumpkin itself has always played a part in the traditional All Saints menu, appearing in soups with beans, risotto and as stuffing for ravioli. Our recipe this week suggests roasting and pureeing the flesh, which gives more flavour and can also be used as an excellent base for risotto or soup. Obviously we were thrilled to discover a recipe for Dry Bones biscuits, which maybe aren’t so thrilling on their own but would make a nice finish to lunch with a glass of dessert wine and a plate of dark ripe figs.
500g short pasta eg fusilli
400g pumpkin or squash, cut into rough chunks
4 cloves garlic whole and unpeeled
a good grate of nutmeg
handful fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
200g speck or smoked pancetta
small glass white wine
3tbsp olive oil
handful of crumbled walnuts
Parmesan cheese to serve
Heat the oven to 180. Place the pumpkin pieces, nutmeg, garlic cloves, oil and a splash of water from the kettle in a baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven, giving the tray a shake now and again until the pumpkin is soft and melting (timings will vary according to the type of squash used, approximately 25 minutes). Leave to cool, then pop the garlic from its skin and puree with a hand held mixer or a potato masher until smooth.
(NB this can be done in advance. If you want to serve the pumpkin puree on its own-it’s very good with duck- leave it a bit rougher)
In a frying pan, cook off the speck or pancetta and pour away the fat. Return to the heat and throw in the wine and sage, frying for a couple of minutes so the wine bubbles down, then stir into the pumpkin puree. Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than the packet instructions, return to the pan and quickly stir in the butter, then mix with the sauce and the walnuts. Check for seasoning and serve with parmesan and a little chopped parsley if liked.
Ossa dei Morti
Literally “bones of the dead”
150g crushed almonds
1 egg white beaten until fluffy
150g plain flour
2 tsps cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1tsp ginger, pinch of nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 160 and prepare a baking tray with greaseproof paper.Toast the almonds lightly in a dry pan, taking care not to let them burn as they catch quickly. Leave to cool, then mix with the sugar and egg white before stirring in the flour and spices to form a thick, dry-ish dough. Venetian bakeries manage convincing bone shapes but if your skills aren’t (ours aren’t) up to it roll the dough into a long cylinder about an inch thick and slice into rounds. Pinch the ends to give a lozenge shape and bake in the oven for 15 mins until golden and crispy. These are traditionally served with a sweet wine.